Research, review and repeat...

Written by: Caroline Fisher | Published:
The NFER Self-Review Tool

Knowing where to start when creating a research-engaged school is difficult. Getting an understanding of what's involved and recognising where you are on the journey is crucial. Caroline Fisher advises

Deputy headteacher and education blogger Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish) said recently, in a blog post for NFER, that: "One way to achieve a truly self-improving school system is to deploy research evidence as a buffer against the whims of political policies, and provide school leaders with the ballast of usable evidence."
This sounds great, but how does it work in practice? And who is going to do the work?

One answer may lie in the appointment of a dedicated "research lead" – a member of staff appointed to the task of facilitating and implementing evidence-informed practice within and throughout their school. This pioneering role is broadly defined by Alex Quigley as having a remit to:

  • Help teachers find the right question/s.
  • Help find the research evidence.
  • Help appraise the evidence.
  • Help translate the evidence.
  • Help share the evidence.
  • Help embed the evidence.
  • Help evaluate the evidence.

Such is the interest in this area that in recent months the flourishing ResearchED movement launched the Research Lead Network, to help research leads connect with like-minded individuals and foster closer collaboration between schools, universities and researchers.

Presenting at the inaugural event in December was Gareth Mills, head of the Enquiring Schools programme at NFER, who introduced the new NFER Self-Review Tool to explore how research leads might use it.

Designed specifically for those interested in research in an education setting, the Self-Review Tool enables individuals to review their school's research engagement against eight key statements and, importantly, is a free online tool, open and available to all. The tool adopts three steps:

  • Review your setting's stage of engagement against NFER's eight key statements.
  • You are provided with a chart and report giving suggestions on how to progress.
  • You are signposted to useful resources to help your school move forwards.

The eight key statements have been developed by NFER researchers in collaboration with teachers and other education professionals to show what a research-engaged organisation looks like. The statements come under eight headings:

  • Leadership and vision.
  • Learning and participation.
  • Managing resources.
  • Setting priorities and using research to inform action.
  • Using a rigourous methodology for enquiry.
  • The impact of evidence-informed enquiry.
  • Embedding and sustaining enquiry.
  • Working collaboratively.

Once a school has reviewed their engagement with research and in enquiry, they can use the report (which highlights "next steps") and the resources (which are linked to the review answers) to put together an action plan (linked to the school improvement plan).

Ideally, the school would then revisit the Self-Review Tool at a later date, repeat the process, and look at what has changed (and what hasn't). This would be an on-going process.

Looking at it in more detail, the Self-Review Tool asks the reviewer to state which stage of research engagement, out of a choice of five (from "starting out" to "going beyond"), they feel their school is at for each of the eight key statements.

Recognising that research-engagement takes many forms is important. Knowing what stage of engagement a school is at is the first and most important hurdle.

The next step is to put together a plan of action based on the report. Clear guidance for "next steps" help here and the resources that are signposted relate directly to the stage of engagement.

Designed specifically to help the research lead establish their current situation (before they put together an action plan), the Self-Review Tool should be seen as an aid or, as it says, a tool to help them recognise what is going well and what should be prioritised.

Recognising your efforts

Another way to gain recognition for engagement with research, is to apply for the NFER Research Mark.
Supported by Headteacher Update and sister publications SecEd and EYE, as well as the National Association of Head Teachers, the National College for Teaching and Learning and others, the NFER Research Mark asks a setting to provide evidence of research-engagement across 10 criteria.

An NFER research associate then visits the school to share expertise and insight, giving feedback and a report with recommendations for further engagement.

  • Caroline Fisher is product manager at The NFER.

Further information

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