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Can teachers be researchers – on top of everything else?

Published: May 1, 2015 5 min read

Fran Dainty

Science CPD Lead

National STEM Learning Centre

Teachers often feel like they are not only expected to be a teacher but also fulfil the role of social worker, police officer, parent, advisor and general expert in everything in their day to day practice.

So it is of no surprise that Professors John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam have recently raised concerns over another expert role that a teacher is now expected to fulfil; researchers. Yes, to be able to evaluate the strategies you are using with different classes and use the current research that underpins these choices is key to having an impact with students, but do teachers really have the necessary skills to be able to be effective researchers in their own classrooms?

Having taught science in a variety of secondary schools for 16 years, I have always been keen to try out new strategies, learn from my peers and ‘magpie’ what I think will work with my students. I’ve tried action research as part of a pilot in schools and have encouraged colleagues to try this too. We have seen varying degrees of success in what we have trialed, shared and implemented. We’ve called this ‘action research’ but is it really? I would never claim to have the research skills or methodology of an academic but putting something new into action, keeping things fresh for my students, then evaluating the impact to decide whether I will include it again in my teaching has always been quite an empowering part of the job.

Presenting research to teachers

Working at the National Science Learning Centre in York has really opened my eyes to the massive gap between the wealth of educational research analysed by academics such as Hattie, and how this can be packaged effectively so that teachers can make full use of the current research and be expert evaluators of the impact in their own classrooms. The way that research is presented to teachers is therefore crucial. I’ve often found myself buying a multitude of books during the six week holidays with a view to ‘gen up’ on the latest research but, then come September, the decision between spending time marking and planning or reading a few chapters of my latest purchase rarely goes in the favour of the latter option! I have found the  Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and learning toolkit, where teachers and schools can get involved in educational research projects a powerful tool that can be used effectively. A collection of research and evidence that supports a range interventions is described, alongside the impact on pupil progress and a cost analysis.

Bridging the gap between research and the classroom

So what else can be done to help bridge the gap between the academic research and ensuring it is understood and has an impact in the classroom, without expecting teachers to do this as additional role? The Continuing Professional Development (CPD) team at the National Science Learning Centre do the work for you. All CPD provided is underpinned by the latest educational research and teachers are given the opportunity to really explore and discuss what works and why throughout each course. With the latest guidance from Ofsted stating that no one set teaching style is prescribed but teachers should be able to justify their choice of strategy, this can only give more power to the elbow of teachers if they are able to make clear reference to what works and explain their evidence base. A model of teacher change that has informed my own practice and is embedded throughout all aspects of CPD across the National Science Learning Network was originally presented nearly two decades ago by Guskey (1986).


The Guskey report describes ways of measuring impact through a sequence of events from a range of professional development experiences to a shift and change in teachers’ attitudes and perceptions. It goes on to put high quality professional development at the heart of improving education by measuring impact. It is noted that it is often difficult for teachers to recognise and identify what impact they should be looking for as a result of research and interventions, so models to support this are certainly welcomed.

Wellcome Trust Neuroscience and Learning Project

A further area of current research linking neuroscience and learning has been launched by the Wellcome Trust which aims to provide an opportunity for teachers to have conversations with scientists about the research on how young people learn.This area of collaboration with the National Science Learning Centre will not only enhance the high quality CPD currently offered, but would provide another layer to aid teachers’ understanding of cutting edge research and evidence.

What we all want is for learning to be maximised in every classroom so that students can learn to their full potential. Hattie and Wiliam are right; let’s leave teachers to do what they do best and become reflective and expert evaluators of their own practice and let leading CPD providers bridge the gap between the academic research and the classroom.