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Report evaluating the Research Schools Network initiative published

4 December 2020

UCL Institute of Education (IOE) academics have conducted an evaluation on the Research Schools Network (RSN) initiative, and whether it is a viable way of supporting schools to develop evidence-informed practices at scale.

Headteacher and teacher in leadership discussion. Image: Phil Meech for UCL Institute of Education

Launched in September 2016, a national network of Research Schools were funded by the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) to share what they know about putting research into practice, and lead and support schools in their regions (and beyond) to make better use of evidence to improve teaching practices. They do this through regular communications, continuing professional development (CPD) and training, and supporting schools to develop innovative ways of improving teaching and learning.

The mixed methods study, written by researchers from the IOE’s UCL Centre for Educational Leadership and published by the EEF, examined the lived experiences of the first cohort of five Research Schools over their initial three years. The research found that Research Schools were perceived by participating teachers and school leaders as playing a vital role in a systemic shift towards evidence use. Their activity was seen as a platform for the further advancement of staff professional development and capacity building, and an important source of support for increased understanding, awareness and use of emerging research and evidence-informed practice in schools.

However, the evaluation found that Research Schools cannot translate the EEF’s evidence into practice and scale it up in different classrooms to enact cultural and practical change on their own. The EEF’s continuing brokering, structural and specialist support, and credibility and reputation are essential in creating the right conditions for the Research Schools to establish their brand and broaden and deepen their reach and impact in the school system.

Also, the quality and support of senior leadership in schools that have received CPD training is equally important and is a necessary condition for change in schools. The survey results suggested the absence of senior leadership buy-in and support was likely to result in little or no change in behaviour or culture in participating schools.

The research found that ‘good’ and better schools and higher performing secondary schools tended to be overrepresented amongst the subscribers of the five Research Schools’ monthly newsletters. The newsletters act as a communication gateway to sharing useful resources for schools, as well as helping schools to develop innovative ways of improving teaching and learning.

Professor Qing Gu, principal investigator of the study, said: “Scaling up effort needs to consider the variation of school contexts, such as pupil intake, schools’ capacity and performance profiles, and education phase, and how the political, cultural, professional and leadership capabilities of the school shapes the process and outcomes of the evidence use.

“Transforming the practice, culture and outcomes of disadvantaged and vulnerable schools especially – which tend to struggle with weak and ineffective school leadership – should be a priority, but the Research Schools’ input, support and interventions can only form part of the systemic and policy solution for improvement.”

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Phil Meech for UCL Institute of Education