Project Oracle, the London School Excellence Fund’s Evaluation delivery partner and Terry Molloy, Head at Claremont High School Academy and a Director of London Leadership Strategy, recently caught up on evaluation.
Below you can find Terry’s responses to Project Oracles’ questions about applying evidence in school. In response to this Project Oracle have shared some top tips to support the right application of research findings, which you can find here.
Project Oracle asked Terry…
How does the shift that we’re seeing towards evidence-informed practice across all areas of public policy play out in the context of teacher development? What does it mean to you as a head teacher? How do you support your staff to take this approach?
Here’s what he said…
I’m constantly asking all of my staff – including senior/middle leaders – to provide the hard evidence proving the impacts of what they have done.
They often provide excellent narratives, which can encompass a year’s work to raise the attainment of a whole group, e.g. Pupil Premium students, or just a description of how their classes’ essay writing skills have improved. Narratives, whilst valuable, are only effective as an analysis tool when supplemented by robust data evaluation.
Recently we’ve made good use of responsive assessment systems like Go 4 Schools, which pull in national data, prior attainment data year on year and detailed analysis of what students have actually produced in a given period of time. We are also monitoring the progress of our most able students, especially year 10 and 11 boys. I insist on seeing data based on starting points and staged progress measures in areas like reading and comprehension.
We also provide support in a number of additional ways:
- Clarifying what assessment systems we’ll use to evaluate impacts of individual, team and whole-school improvement plans.
- Providing clear templates to support a balanced, systematic use of narrative and testable data.
- Challenging across all levels where we’re looking at impact and potential for future use of a strategy, or the possibility that it will be abandoned.
- Ensuring all school leaders, including myself, have a high-level understanding of what the data tells us and any actions we may need to take.
To get staff ‘thinking like researchers’, we have part-funded targeted CPD activities and over the past few years, Masters-level courses for staff. This helps them to present appropriate data alongside their research narrative; it’s a brilliant way to support the use of high-quality research across the system.
Project Oracle then asked…
How can we ensure that the often elaborate language of evaluation is accessible and meaningful/relevant to teachers?
And he replied…
Questions around the language of evaluation are complex; it depends on what is being evaluated.
A teacher/team of leaders looking to improve the teaching of reading and literacy in their boy-dominated classroom need to know what has worked, how it was implemented and the pitfalls of doing it wrong. ‘Quick fix’ evaluations like this can have high impact – as such it doesn’t need to be written in complex evaluative language. We can access a number of high-quality reports and best practice guides providing good examples of this approach; documents from The London Leadership Strategy contain real-life examples of how schools have improved outcomes in a range of areas.
Where more complex research is needed – e.g. with the aforementioned Masters-level qualification – there are university links where staff can access appropriate research and use this in their work at the academy.
I currently have a colleague completing a Masters in psychology. She’s made excellent use of her research by re-presenting it for all staff and making explicit the links between the research and what staff are doing day to day. To make research accessible, you need to ensure that there are practitioners who are skilled at interpretation and re-presentation.
The current debate around evidence-based versus evidence-informed education practice highlights the critical importance of understanding the context and conditions in which results are obtained; how can we best equip teachers to effectively use evidence and shared learning?
Where research is presented by researchers in its ‘original’ format, it’s less applicable to the day-to-day life of a teacher.
Masters-level qualifications are one way to engage all teachers with the concepts and requirements of high-level research. Having engaged at this level, there is more chance they will continue to access research in its original form.
In-house ‘teacher researchers’ are another way of engaging teachers with the skills and knowledge of research and shared learning. They can track and disseminate research in an accessible way and therefore make it possible to explore different methods/ways of working in their own classrooms. These posts could be in department teams or cross-faculty.
Most schools and academies have librarians whose skills and knowledge management experience we simply don’t make enough use of.