Making their mark

Written by: HTU | Published:

The badge of ‘research-engaged school’ is appealing recognition for a school’s achievements in research, but what does it mean in practice? Caroline Fisher looks one school’s evidence for the NFER Research Mark.

Using, taking part in and carrying out your own research are core elements of research engagement, but pulling together the evidence to demonstrate this can be a daunting prospect for schools. The Rofft School in Wrexham did just this recently to become the first primary school to receive the NFER Research Mark in recognition of excellence in enquiry-based practice. So what exactly did this involve?

Outcomes and rigour

The Rofft School spent 12 months working with Futurelab at NFER on its Enquiring Schools programme. This helped the school to identify their goal (improving vocabulary), agree the success criteria (increased understanding and use of technology), and devise the indicators they would use to measure the impact (see graph, above). 

Culture and leadership

“The research culture established at the school is important,” explained headteacher Geraint Morris. “Our emphasis on action research has enabled us to develop further the school’s high performance by creating a strong culture of self-reflection and continuous professional development.”

Professor Graham Handscomb, who helped to develop the criteria for the Research Mark, added: “A research-engaged school has a research culture through which research is valued and promoted. The support of senior leadership brings credibility to research development; it endorses and empowers participation. The leadership can ensure research is built into school policy and practice.

“There is a major expectation that research should be a significant contributor to how a school reflects upon, reviews and improves the quality of learning over time. This could include using research, carrying out practitioner research and being part of the research of others.” 

For their case study, Rofft School looked at “extending and enriching children’s vocabulary through a variety of strategies including the use of mobile technologies”. The first step was to do a literature review, looking at aspects of vocabulary instruction. 

Simon Fisher, the project’s facilitator, explained: “We used technology in the classroom that places an emphasis on language and vocabulary. For example, children used the Morfo app to bring historical characters to life and the Tellagami app was used to write narratives describing different locations around the school and during school trips. 

“Pupils created videos, writing scripts and voice-overs. We set up a radio studio and children made a variety of programmes, developing their questioning and interview techniques for visitors.”

Enhance teaching and learning

Mr Fisher agrees with the observation from one of his colleagues that one of the benefits of undertaking research has been more collaborative working – sharing ideas and exploring possibilities. He said: “We spend time in staff meetings examining the research. Staff engage in reflection and critical debate followed by a consideration of how it might apply in our setting.”

For a whole school to be engaged in research, all staff should be involved to an extent and The Rofft has involved teaching assistants from the outset by funding after-school development sessions so that they could participate: “By involving teaching assistants, we have engaged them in their own learning and this has had a direct benefit,” Mr Morris observed.

Reflection and self-evaluation should also be built into the school’s approach and The Rofft included reviews from all staff involved in their portfolio. Prof Handscomb says a research-engaged school has due regard for evidence and “lets the data speak”, even when the results are potentially surprising or unwelcome. 

It is important that learners benefit from the school’s research activity and engagement too. Mr Morris continued: “We have a tradition of keeping portfolios to share and celebrate many of the things we do, such as our work on pupil voice and metacognition. The Enquiring Schools portfolios, and particularly the annotations by teachers, really matter. They encourage discussion and reflection, they become important school improvement documents.”

Tracking the data is a useful tool to measure improvement impact and The Rofft did this by reviewing their ICT and reading criteria against their baseline measurements. Finally, they have taken action to ensure this is sustained in the future and not a one-off initiative. Mr Morris added: “The leadership and senior management team has transformed the annual professional development calendar to allocate time for action research. Protecting the time available for professional development allows our teaching teams to rationalise, reflect on and incorporate new ideas.”

  • Caroline Fisher is product manager at The NFER.

The NFER Research Mark

The Research Mark recognises the achievements of schools in doing their own research. Schools provide evidence of research engagement across 10 criteria before an NFER Research Associate visits to give feedback and recommendations. Visit

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