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ResearchEd - Research Lead reports

11 August 2016

Between 2014 and 2015 we (the Education Development Trust research team) formed a strategic partnership with ResearchED. The outputs of this relationship included a ResearchED website and three publications which focus on the role of the Research Lead.

This particular interest remains dear to the hearts of the research team at Education Development Trust and Tom Bennett and his colleagues at ResearchED. The suite of reports offers three different but complementary perspectives on the same topic.

The first report in the series (authored by Tony McAleavy) recognises that today many schools are seeking to make professional practice better aligned to research findings and they are reviewing the way that involvement with research is managed. In schools where individual staff members have been designated as Research Leads this is an exciting moment for them and for everyone else interested in the development of teacher professionalism. It is also a challenging moment because they are in uncharted waters without a compass. There is no blueprint for the work of the Research Lead and the coordination of research activities in schools is not necessarily straightforward.  Tom Bennett's account  supports this offering up a typology of how the research lead is being operationalised  in schools right now. He distinguishes helpfully between the gatekeeper, the consigliere, the auditor, the project manager and devil's advocate.

Our empirical study of research leads working at the time revealed some interesting findings.  The Research Lead role is at an embryonic stage of development. Most are new and have been performing this role for less than two years. While the role is new, the work of this group of pioneering Research Leads is already paying dividends, particularly in the area of improved whole-school professional development. Our interviews with Research Leads suggested that at its best the Research Lead role can greatly enhance professional development and support an improved professional culture. There was evidence in some schools of more evidence-informed school policymaking.

Approximately a third of the surveyed Research Leads indicated that they had real influence over the way decisions were being made at a school level. As one Research Lead said: 'When we look to make significant curriculum change and development within school, we would look to be informed by the latest thinking, research or ideas.' Despite these encouraging findings there is also a large degree of informality about the role of Research Lead. The schools represented in the survey are almost certainly untypical in that they have an unusually enthusiastic advocate for evidence in the staffroom. And yet, even in these 'early adopter' schools, the arrangements for whole-school research engagement are often fragile and key person dependent. Most Research Leads have taken on the role, not because of an organisational commitment to the use of evidence, but because of their own personal interest and enthusiasm.

The more tentative characters are waiting to see how the role will develop over time but there are those playing a more tactical game.  This latter group are attempting to formalise the role, to strengthen the links between research and professional development, to engage staff more systematically with academic research enabling more staff to read research relevant to subject area or areas of school need and there are those attempting to strengthen the relationship between research activity and SLT decision-making.  For Education Development Trust the next key area of interest is in research leadership – what can and should the school leadership team and the headteacher do to support the quest to connect professional practice and decision making to research and evidence. 

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