The government has no coherent strategy for the development of teachers’ professional capabilities once they enter the classroom, according to an 18 month joint inquiry by BERA and the RSA into the use of research in the teaching profession.
Teachers’ experience of professional development in most parts of the UK is “fragmented, occasional and insufficiently informed by research”, in contrast to that of internationally well-regarded education systems such as Finland, Canada and Singapore.
And too often, schools’ ability to make a long-term commitment to creating a research-engaged workforce is being undermined by a target culture and short-term focus on exam results, the report said.
Research and the Teaching Profession: Building the Capacity for a Self-Improving Education System concluded that, instead, teachers across the UK should be supported to become research literate. This should include being given frequent opportunities to read up on the latest findings, with every pupil entitled to lessons which are informed by the best evidence.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland should follow the example of Scotland, which has set out a more systematic approach to helping teachers use the latest research to improve their lessons, although even there, there is room for improvement, the report said. It concluded that:
In Scotland, “it is now government policy to develop a systematic and coherent approach to [research-informed] career long professional learning”, with universities given a prominent role, following the Donaldson review for the Scottish government.
However, across the rest of the UK there is a more fragmented and piecemeal approach to the use of research than that displayed by high-performing systems such as Finland and Canada.
There were some examples of good practice in England, such as the London Challenge initiative, which ran from 2003 to 2011, which had seen schools work together to share improvement strategies. But there is no “co-ordinated strategy” to replicate its success across England.
The report acknowledged that pressures, including time pressures, facing teachers made this agenda challenging, but called for a cultural shift so that, over time, engaging in and with research becomes an everyday part of teachers’ jobs.
Professor John Furlong, of the University of Oxford, who chaired the inquiry, said:
"Teachers and students thrive in the kind of settings that we describe as research-rich, and research-rich schools and colleges are those that are likely to have the greatest capacity for self-evaluation and self-improvement.”
RSA Director of Education, Joe Hallgarten said:
“The four UK nations’ attempts to create world class, self-improving school systems will fail unless greater prominence is given to teachers’ engagement with research, and attempts are made to ensure that all teachers become ‘research literate’.
“Research literacy (which does not require all teachers to be researchers) matters because it will give the teaching profession the capacity to create a genuinely self-improving system, and the clout to force governments and their regulators to reduce their intervention roles.”
The inquiry recommended establishing a National Network of Research Leaders in Education in each country within the UK and changes to the regulations governing teacher training and school inspections across the UK to emphasise the importance of professionals engaging with research findings.
The report said that all involved in education including teachers’ unions, professional and subject associations, local authorities and – in England – academy chains, should unite to promote the use of evidence, enquiry and evaluation in schools so that all teachers became research literate.
It warned that recent initiatives such as the coalition’s new network of Teaching School Alliances had been found not always to have given research the attention it deserves.
In Wales, the report said research capacity and its contribution to teacher education is weak; while in Northern Ireland, although in theory the system was set up to recognise the importance of research, in practice it received little emphasis in schools.
Even in Scotland, there was the danger that the findings of the Donaldson review, which had laid the policy foundations for a “research-engaged teaching profession”, would not be regarded as a priority by teachers, in secondary schools in particular.
Notes to editors
The inquiry investigated how research contributes to the success of education systems which are widely regarded as of high quality, partly through having performed well in international tests. It cited evidence that teachers in top-performing Singapore and Finland used “methodologically rigorous research-based knowledge” to inform their practice, and that this was central to their development.
The inquiry laid down 10 principles for self-improving and research- rich education systems, and 20 recommendations, embracing both teacher education and teachers’ professional development once in the job.
Reservations about the engagement of Teaching School Alliances with research were expressed in the National College for Teaching and Leadership publication “The teaching schools evaluation: Emerging issues from the early development of case study teaching school alliances” (2014). See: http://bit.ly/1juiLpL