Support from senior leaders ‘crucial’ to getting teachers to engage with research

Two independent evaluations of pilot programmes published today by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggest that support from senior leaders and collaboration between networks of schools are ‘crucial’ to improving teachers’ attitudes towards research.

The trials of Research into Practice and Ashford Teaching Alliance Research Champion programme were funded as part of the EEF’s £1.5m drive with the London Schools Excellence Fund and the Department for Education to improve the link between academic research and classroom practice. They are published after earlier EEF research found that many teachers struggle to interpret and act on findings from academic research, despite there being a growing appetite to do so.

10 primary schools in the Rochdale area took part in the EEF-funded pilot of Research into Practice, delivered by the Inspirational Professional Learning Community Network. Teachers received half-termly training sessions with a ‘Research into Practice lead’ that focused on a particular area of research, and worked collaboratively to apply specific interventions to real classroom issues as well as sharing experiences of implementation and impact.

The independent evaluation by NatCen Social Research reported a statistically significant increase in teachers’ positive attitudes towards academic research at the end of the programme, as well as an increase in the proportions of teachers who said they felt able to relate research to their own contexts and use information from research to implement new approaches in the classroom. The engagement of senior leaders was viewed as critical to the success of the pilot.

In the trial of the Ashford Teaching Alliance Research Champion programme, a senior teacher based at one of the five participating schools became their ‘research champion’. They worked with researchers, teachers and senior leaders to promote engagement with research in a number of different ways: from research symposia and termly ‘twilight forums’, to bespoke research brokerage.

But the independent evaluation, also by NatCen Social Research, found no evidence that teachers’ attitudes towards research changed over the course of the one-year programme. The researchers reported that time constraints affected teachers’ ability to commit fully to the programme, meaning engagement from staff was occasionally low. This was related to competing priorities in schools and varying levels of buy-in from senior leadership teams.

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today: “Teachers and school leaders now have access to a significant and growing body of academic research with enormous potential to improve pupil attainment and save schools money. But to do this, we need to make sure that research findings get into the hands of teachers in ways that are most likely to have an impact.

“Today’s two reports tell us just how crucial it is that school leaders are on-board with their staff’s professional development needs, providing time for them to learn more about using research to inform their classroom teaching.”

Also published today are the results of a pilot trial of Powerful Learning Conversations, an intervention delivered by the Youth Sport Trust that took insights from feedback in sports coaching and applied them to English and maths teaching in Key Stage 3. The programme is based on the idea that techniques used for successful feedback in sports coaching may be transferable to feedback for pupils in classrooms.

Although researchers from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found no evidence that this approach improved attainment in English, they did find a positive impact on maths attainment though this was not secure enough to draw firm conclusions.

The fourth and final report published today is Talk of the Town, a whole school approach developed by The Communication Trust that trained teachers to identify pupils with speech, language and communication needs, and to support the communication development of all children in the classroom.Speech and language therapists gave additional training to a smaller group of teaching staff to support them to deliver evidence-based targeted interventions for children with language delay. The evaluation, conducted by the Centre for Effective Education, found no evidence that it had an impact on pupil’s reading comprehension.


1.The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by The Sutton Trust, as lead charity in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £75.4 million to 127 projects working with over 750,000 pupils in over 7,500 schools across England.

2.The Teaching and Learning Toolkit is an accessible summary of educational research developed by the EEF in collaboration with the Sutton Trust and a team of academics at Durham University led by Professor Steve Higgins. The expanded Toolkit covers 34 topics and summarises research from over 10,000 studies. The Toolkit is a live resource which is regularly updated.

3.NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.