School-based advocates for evidence

Can school ‘Research Leads’ improve education?
Alexas_Fotos,, CC0 1.0
Alexas_Fotos,, CC0 1.0

As the evidence around the science of learning grows, new ‘Research Leads’ in schools may help to translate this evidence to the classroom. Schools need to decide how best to utilise this new position, ensuring meaningful benefit for teachers and students.

There are many difficulties in translating research to the classroom, for instance: lack of a common language between teachers and scientists who conduct the research, limited time for teachers to access the latest research findings, the prevalence of educational neuromyths which can make unscientific programmes appear scientific, and a questionable evidence base whereby the research may not be trustworthy. A relatively new idea, the in-school Research Lead, may be part of the solution.

Research Leads are difficult to define because they are such a new concept, but the basic idea is that they are individuals based in school who champion the use of evidence within education. Research Leads are an exciting development for those in the educational neuroscience community, who face considerable challenges in promoting evidence-based practice. These new Research Leads have the potential to help their schools move forward in the most promising direction.

A recent study funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Department for Education in England trained senior school staff to become Research Leads, and investigated the impact over two years. The disappointing result was that Research Leads led to no significant increase in maths and English grades of the students – the primary outcome measure of the study.

A developing role

Despite the lack of academic improvement over the relatively short two-year period, the concept of the Research Lead should not be scrapped. The presence of a research-engaged individual in the school may have positive consequences not detected by the trial. There may have been improvements in subjects not tested, social or emotional improvements for students, or teachers may have felt more confident with their implementation of research-based techniques.

It is of course also possible that there really were no positive effects of having a Research Lead for the schools in the study, which would highlight the need for further consideration of what the Research Lead does, the time they spend on their duties, the training they receive, and the desired outcomes of their work.

This isn’t just another example of a failed school trial, and indeed one role for a Research Lead could be to better implement school trials. Research Leads have the potential to be a hugely valuable addition to school life, with the potential for wide-ranging impacts across many aspects of education. Going forward, schools, with the help of the research community, should consider how best to utilise this role.

“Research Leads have the potential to be a hugely valuable addition to school life, with the potential for wide-ranging impacts across many aspects of education.”

There are a number of possible activities for Research Leads to get involved in, to help the translation of evidence to school. These might include reading research literature and attending training to keep up to date with the key evidence, advising on decision-making processes, encouraging and supporting other teachers in conducting research, or speaking to students about the kind of research they’d like to see developed. The role has exciting potential for the development of research, perhaps in communication with scientists, as well as the implementation of evidence-based school strategies.

In-school advocates for evidence are undoubtedly a move in the right direction. It is now time for that role to be developed, likely in a unique way for each school depending on their needs and priorities. This worthwhile endeavour will hopefully prove to have positive outcomes for both teachers and students, through access to the latest science and expert translation of research to the classroom.

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