Case study: School-led research

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
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Teacher research has been placed at the heart of teaching and learning at Wycombe High School and this has led to national recognition. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

A school that has been built around the words “courageously”, “faithfully”, “joyfully” suggests there are opportunities for those who wish to embark upon innovative and collaborative practice.

And this is true for staff at Wycombe High School in Buckinghamshire. Over the past four years, the school and its partner schools in the Cygnus Teaching Schools Alliance have been carrying out studies that have had a positive impact on student performance, teacher effectiveness and provided new and exciting strategies for learning.

The quality of their work has been recognised by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) which has awarded the schools its Research Mark accreditation at advanced level.

To gain the Research Mark, a school – and in this case, its partners – has to demonstrate a rigorous structure of how its enquiry programme works. This includes identifying the problem or aspiration, researching the solution, creating an intervention and testing it.

At Wycombe High, all of this is also underpinned with CPD sessions to help participants conduct the research, and analyse and present their findings.

When Wycombe High School first embarked on the action research scheme it was teamed up with academic colleagues from Brunel University’s School of Education.

More recently, the school and its partner have been working with Edge Hill University. The links to both institutions have enabled staff to use the research projects they have carried out in school to support their studies for Master’s and PhD degrees.

Senior leaders have created an environment at the school where staff are not only encouraged, but expected, to carry out often risky action research into aspects of teaching and learning.

All members of staff are entitled to take part in a Master’s action research programme, an internal scheme that enables staff at all levels to engage in research that is relevant to their professional role. The creation of Professional Leadership Pathways at the school demonstrates progression to Master’s level for any member of staff above NQT.

Liz Hankin, the author of the NFER report into the Research Mark awarded to Wycombe High, found that “involving the whole school in research and inquiry helps to develop a community of reflective practitioners”.

The report continued: “The clear belief that change can happen through impact is apparent and the visit to the school provided an insight into staff, of all ages and experience, gaining deeper reflective attitudes towards their roles.”

Staff were helped and supported through the process with a series of CPD sessions, conferences to which keynote speakers are invited, while documents and resources are made available which staff undertaking research can use for reference.

Coaching and mentoring sessions are provided and participants are shown how to use research tools and how to present their findings when their project ends. According to the Research Mark report, all staff members were generally aware of the research work being done by colleagues, and are encouraged to participate.

Working collaboratively offers opportunities to discuss enquiries with others, both within and beyond the school, which improves critical thinking and analysis and helped to identify the implications of findings.

Crucially, senior leaders ensure that time is allocated, and materials and expertise provided, to enable this level of engagement with research. This, said Ms Hankin, was “a clear indicator of the value the school places on research”.

One of the projects involved examining how maths is taught in China and whether there were any aspects to be learned or any common ground with British methods. The research project fitted in with Wycombe High’s status as one of 14 maths hubs in England and with visits to Asia by its senior leaders.

The results showed that while there were some weaknesses in the existing methods, there were aspects of the Chinese approach that would not be appropriate in a local setting.

The themes and topics for research undertaken by staff in the teaching alliance were many and varied. For example, one year 6 teacher and art co-ordinator in a partner primary school, Claudia Hawes, developed her project based on “To what extent can an intervention for writing boost motivation and subsequent attainment in 11-year-old boys?”.

Meanwhile, an English teacher and learning coach, Hannah Rogers, ran a project based on the question “How can coaching 3s be developed to have maximum impact on teaching and learning?”.

In each case, the staff produced a paper that indicated the research methodology used, the findings and their recommendations.

While compiling her report, Ms Hankin observed a number of research projects, including the trialling of a bring your own device (BYOD) scheme and the effects of using tablets on pupils’ engagement.

Liz Morgan, the GCSE textile teacher carrying out the research, reported that while there were benefits of using the devices for some pupils, there was a negative impact on others. She questioned where and how she could adopt a blended approach to using devices.

“The purpose of evidence-informed enquiry is to make a positive difference,” Ms Hankin said in her report.

“By evaluating impact thoroughly, schools can have confidence about the consequences, both intended and unintended, of any potential changes in practice.

“When schools are well-informed about their strengths and areas for development, they are able to target professional learning and research opportunities effectively. They engage in disciplined innovation to address school improvement priorities that lead to positive outcomes for students”.

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education writer.

Further information

For details of the Research Mark, visit www.nfer.ac.uk/schools/research-mark/


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