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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

Research Plus Evidence = Wisdom #rEDBlackpool

Thanks to everyone who made #rEDBlackpool such an enjoyable event to be part of.  The brilliant team who organised it; the generous speakers who came to present and the fabulous attendees who gave up half their weekend to come and listen.  This is my presentation and a few notes.

Starting with one of my favourite quotes from Professor Robert Coe, “what we really need … is teachers with greater wisdom” I attempted to give my reflections on how that wisdom might be attained.

To ensure we don’t become too inward facing and satisfied with the status quo or fail to learn some of the interesting lessons from research we need to engage with it.  There is a but and it’s a big BUT.

Be Cautious About Research …

  • Many interventions that are researched don’t have any/much impact; these tend to go unreported
  • Laboratory based research deliberately tries to isolate and control variables; they seek to simplify whilst the classroom environment is inherently complex

So …

  • Work with evidence from researchers that is well established, has stood the test of time and been implemented in various contexts.
  • Note how experts in their field are much happier to embrace uncertainty than Twitter
  • Experts who bring a common sense approach to suggestions about implementation are well worth listening too

The first part of the presentation looked at 5 evidence based papers all teachers should read; with other 5k views in the last two weeks you may want to have a look at the post.  They provide a year or two worth of professional development; we have just started reading them as a leadership team.

There is a real danger that we are beginning to overlook the rich insights classroom experience can bring to our schools.  This has to be held in tension with the dangers foreseen by Coe, “The problem is this could be taken as a licence to say, whatever feels good, is good”.  Experience is honed through reflection and deliberate practice.  It’s viewed not through what you do but through the impact on pupils’ learning; data and feedback informs experience and takes it to greater insights.

The combination of being rooted in strongly evidenced substantive research with the type of experience that has seen data, feedback and reflection as easy accompaniments on the journey leads to a focused, informed and methodical approach to school improvement.

It’s difficult to give the full detail of the presentation in the blog but in the second half I attempted to go through how we are gradually changing our approach to school improvement.  Looking at attendance letters as an example (details here and with 12k+ views I imagine many schools may have adopted them); for limited effort/cost we have seen a small improvement (+0.6%) to attendance for the group.  Since the letters were targeted at 219 pupils around the 90% attendance the headroom for improvement was limited; for most pupils a maximum of 10%.  Of the 219 pupils, 129 had improved at the mid-point of the year; average improvement +4.6% and more pupils out of persistent absence.  It’s not simply that it has made a big difference to these 129 improvers (90 pupils had worse attendance); it’s very little effort and the outcome will help move attendance up from the national average where it has been stuck for a number of years.

The next two examples centred around Bedrock Vocabulary and Lexonik; our guts are saying these will really help our pupils become better readers.  A number of our pupils are struggling to access the new GCSE papers or are struggling to understand a question due to one or two words.  Our guts are no longer our only or possibly key guides in decision making.  The data around Bedrock Vocabulary looks positive for those pupils who complete the two weekly sessions.  Cue the Bananarama principle; too many pupils, particularly those who most need to improve their Tier 2 vocabulary, aren’t engaged.  No intervention, no matter how strong and positive the evidence base, can survive poor implementation.  We need to go back to the drawing board and get greater fidelity; more pupils completing the various units.  St. Mary’s is considering a radically different approach to homework in Year 7 next year; Bedrock Vocabulary monitored by an administrator, who contacts home via text message if it is not completed, might be one way to ensure we get more pupils on board.

The final input was around setting up a simple randomised control test to look at the impact of Lexonic; the past two days of staff training have been great.  Next Monday to Wednesday will see the baseline WRAT (word sight recognisition tests) completed.  After Easter, six one hour sessions a week apart, will be delivered to an intervention group with a matched control group.  Both groups will then be reassessed using the WRAT at the end of the six weeks.  What if any difference is there?  We’ll be able to assess the impact and how certain we can be about the impact of the programme.  If it works in the way we expect we can then deliver it to the control group.  This is not rocket science nor is it everyday practice in schools up and down the land.  The work of our Research School and ResearchEd continues.

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