Let’s stop relying on hunches – it’s time to use evidence in schools

7 November 2017

Author: Jen Devaney


Last week Tom Bennett wrote an article for the Guardian about using evidence to fix behaviour in schools. Whilst I’m not certain whether or not we do indeed have ‘a national behaviour problem’ as Tom claims, the article raises some really pertinent points in relation to the need for schools to use a collective evidence base.
 ‘Running a classroom or a school is a complex art, but we need to look at not just hunches and biases based on what our mentors thought worked for them, but a shared, collective evidence base of experiences – giving us a range of strategies that have been useful in many, or even most, circumstances.’
Tom Bennett is referring to behaviour in particular here, but this thinking could be applied to any aspect of learning and the decisions we make as a school regarding interventions and classroom practices to enhance school improvement.
Tom mentions that a lot of what passes for advice in this area is what he calls “folk” teaching. For many teachers and school leaders, the answer to the question “How should I encourage children to behave?” is too often “Here, try this thing I heard in the staffroom” or “I saw it on twitter’.


Since Shireland was first appointed as a Research School, we have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of teachers and School Leaders about initiatives they have introduced into school. You may be surprised to hear just how often a school offers a similar response when asked why they use particular practices in school. Often they just aren’t sure how they ended up using different approaches; they may have introduced numerous initiatives over many years without really knowing why, or perhaps after a recommendation from a local school or indeed a hunch. They often haven’t paused to evaluate, take stock and consider not just what to do next, but what we should in fact stop doing in school. When will we learn to be more critical and see that in terms of education perhaps less (and better) is more?
This is where your local Research School can certainly offer some support. We can help you to tap into a vast evidence base (such as the EEF Toolkit which currently collates over 12,000 research studies) and together, generate significant new understanding of ‘what works’. Whilst we can’t provide you with the definitive recipe for ‘success’ we can support you to evaluate the evidence and select your ‘best bets’.  With the increasing financial demands and ever increasing teacher workload well publicised, it is vital that schools take a critical look at current practice and promote professional conversations about what works.
Time and money is too scarce to stick with programmes which don’t make a difference.
“Research can never replace professional experience and teachers’ understanding of their schools and students but it can be a powerful supplement to these important skills.
Used intelligently, evidence is the teacher’s friend.”
Sir Kevan Collins, EEF
The Key: Informed Use of Evidence

As a Research School we can offer a range of support including:

      •  Supporting teachers to use independent, high-quality information in their classroom practice?
      •  Signposting clear and actionable guidance for teachers to make a difference
    •  Provide practical support (including CPD courses) to bring evidence to life
We know that improving the quality of teaching in the classroom has a big impact on student outcomes. To do this at a time when resources are stretched, we need to improve the quality of CPD in schools. Our course Leading Learning’ offers a comprehensive overview of the most important research in education, including the EEF Toolkit, so that School Leaders can devise a high impact CPD programme for themselves informed by current evidence. The three day course will support you with a range of evidence-based tools to help you lead learning with success and improve your CPD programme.]
We would love to see you there so please do get in touch. You can book a space here
Jen Devaney, Shireland Research Lead
Posted on 7 November 2017
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