What is Pedagogical Knowledge and Does it Matter?

Its the specialised knowledge of teachers in creating and facilitating effective teaching and learning environments for all students, independent of subject matter

Improving student outcomes depends on improving the quality of the teaching workforce and the quality of teaching.

Empirical research tells us that teacher quality is an important factor in determining gains in student achievement, even after accounting for prior student learning and family background characteristics.

So, it follows ,its important that energy, resources and incentives are directed   to improving the quality of teacher education and training. Although teachers’ education starts in ITT,  the reality is its  a lifelong process.  After all, if you are a member of any Profession, you are expected to have had a lengthy period of specialised training, as well as continuous professional development. And Teaching is a Profession.

An increase in the quality of teacher education and professional development, throughout the career (CPD) can contribute to an increase in student achievement through more effective teaching.  So giving access and support for teachers to regular,  high quality professional development is important.  Teachers are expected to process and evaluate (and be supported in this) new knowledge relevant for their core professional practice, and to regularly update their profession’s knowledge base.  Hence the concept (now a mantra) of ‘ research informed practice’. This means using high quality research about effective classroom interventions,  and combining it  with teachers’ professional judgment, to improve teaching practice and student learning. In short,  relying on research alone  is not seen as sufficient , as it underplays the potential importance of teachers’ professional experience. As teachers observe and reflect on student learning in the classroom, their decisions are influenced not only by a well -established knowledge base but also by their real-time experience.

Research is important. It can  tell us what works. For example, the work of John Hattie (2009), who conducted a synthesis of educational research studies, looked at which teaching practices had the most influence on student learning, and which didn’t.    Research is also telling us much more about how students learn, the difference between knowledge and information, how knowledge sticks, and how our memories work. There are learning strategies that have been identified, that clearly  aid the process of memorisation and knowledge retention, which is at the heart of learning.   The corollary of this is that this  also means dumping some traditional  practice that evidence shows has little ,or no effect on students learning.

We frequently hear the term ‘ Pedagogy’  or ‘Pedagogical Knowledge’ when referring to the nitty gritty or ‘ skills ‘ of teaching. Its accepted that a high level of pedagogical knowledge is essential for  competent teaching. So it really does matter. But what does this  mean?

The OECD has defined general pedagogical knowledge as ‘the specialised knowledge of teachers in creating and facilitating effective teaching and learning environments for all students, independent of subject matter ‘.  So we are talking about Teachers’ specialised professional knowledge that enables them to teach, and their students to learn.This knowledge is not simply acquired in teacher training.

Shulman (1986, 1987) proposed a typology of teachers’ knowledge base comprised of seven categories, of which ,the OECD suggests,  three have been particularly influential to further research:

First, general pedagogical knowledge (principles and strategies of classroom management and organisation that are cross-curricular)

Second, content knowledge (knowledge of subject matter and its organising structures)

Third, pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of content and pedagogy).

So what about the specific content of Pedagogical Knowledge?

A review of empirical evidence on teachers’ general pedagogical knowledge concluded three main overlapping components:

 instructional process (teaching methods, didactics, structuring a lesson and classroom management)

 student learning (cognitive, motivational, emotional dispositions of individual students; their  learning processes and development; student heterogeneity and adaptive teaching strategies)

 assessment (diagnosis principles and evaluation procedures)

For a detailed discussion and definition of general pedagogical knowledge, see Guerriero, S. (Ed.) (2017). Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession. Paris: OECD Publishing. Link to Research

Also see OECD Report

OECD- Understanding teachers’ pedagogical knowledge report on an international pilot study

Kristina Sonmark, Nóra Révai, Francesca Gottschalk, Karolina Deligiannidi, Tracey Burns 11 Oct 2017

OECD

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SUBJECT KNOWLEDGE AND CRAFT –THE ART OF TEACHING

The work of Professors John Hattie, Eric Hanushek and Robert Coe, among others, tells us that good teachers  arent just born, but they  can be made,  with good training and   support and  an openness to new evidence of what works.   .
There are many myths about what effective classroom interventions look like, but more robust research is challenging and correcting  these myths. We know that high quality teaching has a dramatic and positive effect on student progress, whereas poor teaching really does close off life opportunities, for some, indeed far too many..
In the UK teachers have been helped in this particularly by the work of John Hattie (Visible Learning) who has designed an ‘Effects table’ that orders the most effective interventions, but also the Education Endowment Foundation, which has reviewed research and designed a user friendly toolkit that guides teachers through evidence based robust interventions that improve outcomes. If you show teachers what works and they then apply it in their practice, the chances are that it will improve their students outcomes. (It might surprise you but reducing class size is one of the least effective interventions, whereas getting good feedback from students and acting on it. is one of the best, according, at least ,to Hatties work.) What works in terms of effective teaching, seems to be high-quality instruction ,using evidence of what works, and so-called “pedagogical content knowledge”—a blend of subject knowledge and teaching craft..
The Economist recently quoted Charles Chew, one of Singapore’s “principal master teachers”, an elite group that guides the island’s schools: “I don’t teach physics; I teach my pupils how to learn physics.”
Teachers like Mr Chew, the Economist pointed out, ask probing questions of all students. They assign short writing tasks that get children thinking and allow teachers to check for progress. Their classes are planned—with a clear sense of the goal and how to reach it—and teacher-led but interactive. They anticipate errors, such as the tendency to mix up remainders and decimals. They space out and vary ways in which children practise things, cognitive science having shown that this aids long-term retention.
These techniques work, according to the Economist (11 June) . In a report published in February the OECD found a link between the use of such “cognitive activation” strategies and high test scores among its club of mostly rich countries. A recent study by David Reynolds compared maths teaching in Nanjing and Southampton, where he works. It found that in China, “whole-class interaction” was used 72% of the time, compared with only 24% in England. Certainly Nick Gibb ,the schools Minister, thinks that our teachers and schools have much to learn from the East and has focused in particular on the way mathematics is taught there.  (Singapore, South Korea, Shanghai)
So ,there is plenty of high quality evidence out there about what works and what can really help improve the quality of teaching. The problem is that too many schools don’t take this seriously enough. How to identify the best and most robust research, to manage it ,to ensure that it is disseminated to the right people, who can use it, , and to ensure that it is applied in the classroom, is still a vast challenge, it seems. Broadly, awareness of research and utilising it to inform practice all comes under the umbrella of whats called ‘Knowledge Management’. And, Knowledge Management in our schools system is simply not good enough. Depressingly a recent survey of middle leaders responsible for Teaching and Learning in schools found that just a third thought education research important. We still have a long way to go ,it would seem.

 

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS-SIMON BURGESS

I was at a Roundtable discussion this week hosted by CMRE  in which  Professor Simon Burgess introduced discussions on  what we know about teacher effectiveness and the impact that teachers ,both good and bad ,have on student performance and attainment. The  discussions were  under  the Chatham House Rule  but  my  selected  key points listed below,  made by Burgess, draw on material already  published  by  him  and other researchers . (see Notes below )

In short, his research shows that teachers matter a great deal: having a one-standard deviation better teacher raises the test score by (at least) 25% of a standard deviation. Having a good teacher as opposed to a mediocre or poor teacher makes a big difference

Teacher effectiveness matters enormously. A pupil being taught for eight GCSEs by all effective teachers (those at the 75th percentile of the teacher effectiveness distribution) will achieve an overall GCSE score four grades higher than the same pupil being taught for eight GCSEs by all ineffective teachers (at the 25th percentile). A range of studies have consistently shown a very high impact of teacher effectiveness on pupil progress. While there are also papers contesting the validity of the assumptions required to identify true effectiveness, there is other research arguing that the results are secure.

Measures of teacher effectiveness are noisy. Numerous factors affect exam scores, from good or bad luck on exam day, through the pupil’s ability, motivation and background to a school’s resources. Research shows that it is possible to measure a teacher’s contribution to this, but it is an estimate with less-than-perfect precision. There is simple sampling variation, plus non-persistent variation arising from various classroom factors. For example, a teacher’s score is any one year may be affected by being assigned a particularly difficult (or motivated) class (in a way not accounted for in the analysis)

Experience doesn’t help beyond three years. Research shows that on average teachers do become more effective in their first two or three years. Thereafter, there is no evidence of systematic gains as their experience increases: a teacher is as effective after three years as s/he will be after 13 years and 30 years.

Good teachers are hard to spot ex ante. One of the more surprising findings to come out of the research on teacher effectiveness over the last decade has been that the characteristics that one might have thought would be associated with better teachers simply aren’t. Experience, a Masters degree, and a good academic record in general are not correlated with greater effectiveness in the classroom. These results have been found in both the US and England. We need to be careful what we are claiming here. The research shows that easily observable, objective characteristics such as those noted above, variables typically available to researchers, are no use in predicting teacher effectiveness. This is not to say that no-one can identify an effective teacher, nor that more detailed subjective data (for example, from watching a lesson) can be useful. No doubt many Headteachers are adept at spotting teaching talent. But there are enough who aren’t to mean that there are ineffective teachers working in classrooms (even in schools rated outstanding)

Very few teachers  (ie bad and mediocre teachers) are dismissed from the profession in England. (Dylan Wiliam has suggested that there are few long term benefits  in  seeking out poor teachers in order to dismiss them-much better to use your time and resources to  identify poor teachers  early  on  and give them the  crucial support they need from their better peers  to improve their teaching quality)

 

Notes-Sources

Aaronson, D, Barrow, L and Sander, W (2007). “Teachers and Student Achievement in the Chicago Public High” Schools Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 25, pp. 95–136.

Chetty, R, Friedman, J, and Rockoff, J (2011). The long-term impacts of teachers: teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood. NBER WP 17699. www.nber.org/papers/w17699

Hanushek, E (2011). The economic value of higher teacher quality. Economics of Education Review. Vol. 30 pp. 466–470

Hanushek, E A, and Rivkin, S G (2010). “Generalizations about Using Value-Added Measures of Teacher Quality.” American Economic Review Vol. 100, pp. 267–271.

Kane, T J, and Staiger, D O (2008). “Estimating teacher impacts on student achievement: An experimental evaluation.” NBER Working Paper 14607, NBER Cambridge

Kane, Thomas J, and Douglas O Staiger. 2008. “Estimating Teacher Impacts on Student Achievement: An Experimental Evaluation.” NBER Working Paper 14607.

Rivkin, S G, Hanushek, E A, and Kain, J F (2005). “Teachers, schools, and academic achievement” Econometrica, Vol. 73, pp. 417–458

Rockoff, J E (2004). “The impact of individual teachers on student achievement: Evidence from panel data.” American Economic Review. Vol. 94, pp. 247–252.

Rothstein, J (2009). “Student sorting and bias in value-added estimation: Selection on observables and unobservables.” Education Finance and Policy, Vol. 4, pp. 537–571.

Rothstein, J (2010). “Teacher Quality in Educational Production: Tracking, Decay, and Student Achievement*.” Quarterly Journal of Economics Vol. 125, pp. 175–214.

Slater, H, Davies, N and Burgess, S (2011). Do teachers matter? Measuring the variation in teacher effectiveness in England , Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cmpo/migrated/documents/wp212.pdf

Staiger, D and Rockoff, J (2010). Searching for Effective Teachers with Imperfect Information. Journal of Economic Perspectives vol. 24 no. 3, pp. 97–118.

SELDON WANTS A DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENT IN TEACHING QUALITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Sir Anthony Seldon ,the Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham ,in a new pamphlet for the Social Market Foundation think tank, lays out  his vision on how to enhance, professionalise and make more consistent the quality of teaching at British universities for undergraduates and postgraduates, without burdening universities with a heavy,  costly bureaucracy ,which runs  the risk of  delivering  drab, formulaic teaching.

Much can be learnt ,he says, from the Secondary sector. Sir Anthony  draws on his experience as a successful  teacher and Head , who transformed two schools in the private sector.(Brighton College and Wellington College)

There is a perception that Universities spend too much time focused on building up their reputation for research ,and too little in ensuring that their students benefit from, and are inspired by, good teaching.

Sir Anthony says:

” “Universities should be every bit as much about the interests of the student as the academics. Yet it is abundantly clear in too many universities today that the leadership and the academics care far more about their research than about the quality of the learning experience of their students”

Sir Anthony  identifies  the ‘Big Ten’ characteristics that all good teaching exhibits:

Engagement of all students. In the digital age, it is more vital than ever that teachers learn how to actively engage the attention of their students.

Deep teacher subject knowledge, informed by the latest research / scholarship. Digitalisation means that students more than ever before can have access to information in real-time. Teachers need, as never before, to be on top of their fields, and to have a depth of understanding, in order to set the ubiquitous information into context.

Clarity of teacher exposition / organisation, and understanding of course requirements. Far too often, teachers can be unclear in their communication, or can fail to spread the material to be studied out over the time available in a balanced way. Students need to feel complete confidence that their teacher understands what they need to learn, and the pace at which learning is to take place.

Forging of positive relations, and a genuine and felt desire to see students make progress. Students learn better when they have a good relationship with their teacher. Students have a right to feel that their teachers have a positive interest in their academic development.

Willingness and skill at engaging in discussion and debate, and asking challenging questions. The best teachers know how to pose the questions that make the students think. Great teachers let the students work out the answers, rather than tell them the answers themselves.

Highest expectations, which stretch all students. The best teachers know exactly how high each student can aspire, and helps them to achieve at that level.

Setting and assessment of purposeful and relevant assignments. Assignments are vital as a way of testing understanding, and consolidated learning. Assessment by the teacher needs to show the student what they need to do to improve.

Ability to communicate in a differentiated way appropriate to the capabilities and potential of students. Classes are made up of students of vastly different capabilities and needs. The great teacher understands each individual student and addresses them appropriately. Learning is the end, and the best teachers help the student to become autonomous learners.

Promotion and achievement of independent learning, recognising that most learning will take place away from the academic.

Technical mastery, e.g. a voice that projects well and is audible, and mastery of technology. There is no point in having teachers, however brilliant and empathetic, if they cannot be heard clearly, or if they can’t use technology appropriately.

Solving the Conundrum-Social Market Foundation -May 2016

http://www.smf.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Social-Market-Foundation-Teaching-and-learning-at-British-universities-Embargoed-0001-030516.pdf

Note- The most recent University Guide places the University of Buckingham top for  ‘student satisfaction’, ahead of Oxford and Cambridge and other elite universities in the Russell Group.

NO ONE WAY TO TEACH

 

Some see the world of teaching through the lens of a  Manichean struggle between traditionalists and progressives. Between the Blob   and the Germ fighting a great ideologically driven battle, with the classroom the battleground and pupils the subjects. One can always find some evidence to back these  respective   views.  But  many would argue that the  reality at the chalk face , now  at least, is much more nuanced, fifty shades of grey rather than black and white.

At the heart of good teaching is pragmatism, adapting to what the best evidence shows ,taking into account context, and feedback, accessing real time data, using professional judgement, sharing best practice. There is no single approach that works in all circumstances and contexts. Teaching is an adaptive craft.

Professor Larry Cuban of Stanford University, who has watched the ebb and flow of education reforms in the US, captures the reality better than most.   Cuban wrote in a recent Blog

‘No single way of teaching works best with all students. Because students differ in motivation, interests, and abilities, using a wide repertoire of approaches in lessons and units is essential. Direct instruction, small groups, whole-group guided discussions, student choice, worksheets, research papers, project-based instruction, online software, etc., etc., etc. need to be in the tool kit of every teacher. There are, of course, reformers and reform-minded researchers who try to alter how teachers teach and the content of their instruction from afar such as Common Core State Standards, the newest version of New Math, New Science, New History, or similar curricular inventions. I support such initiatives as long as they rely upon a broad repertoire of teacher approaches to content and skills. When the reforms do not, when they ask teachers to adhere to a certain best way of teaching (e.g., project-based teaching, direct instruction) regardless of context, I oppose such reforms’

 

https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/guiding-principles-on-teaching-learning-and-reform/

 

CLASS SIZE-DOES IT MATTER?YES, SOMETIMES-BUT OTHER INTERVENTIONS CAN BE MORE COST EFFECTIVE

As the size of a class or teaching group gets smaller it has been suggested that the range of approaches a teacher can employ and the amount of attention each student will achieve will increase.  So, intuitively, it seems obvious that reducing the number of pupils in a class will improve the quality of teaching and learning, for example by increasing the amount of high quality feedback or one-to-one attention learners receive

But Professor John Hattie revealed in his book “Visible Learning” that class size doesn’t  really matter that much .  Or rather, his research  showed that on a list of factors that affect student learning class size mattered the least, which is not quite the same as saying it doesn’t matter.

The average size of a class taught by one teacher on the census day in January 2014 was 27.4. Overall in England, there are more than 58,000 Key Stage 1 classes (pupils aged five to seven) of which almost 3,000 had at least 31 pupils in them about 12 months ago. So, although the number of students in classes with more than 30 children has trebled, we’re still only talking about one in 20 classes across the country.

As Professor Justin Dillon points out ‘One of the reasons why class sizes have risen is that there are more primary-aged children now. Since 2010, the number of Key Stage 1 pupils has risen by 11.2%, but the number of classes has only grown by 8.1%. The coalition government changed the rules on admissions – meaning, for example, that schools have to accept pupils whose parents are in the armed forces or who move into an area where there are no surplus places.’

In the US, a team of researchers randomly allocated pupils and teachers to one of three types of class within the same school. The three models were: “small” classes, which had 13-17 pupils; “regular” classes (22-25 pupils) with just one teacher; and “regular” classes which had a teacher and a full-time teaching assistant. The project involved more than 7,000 pupils in nearly 80 schools. The pupils were followed through four years of schooling, from kindergarten (aged five) to third grade (aged eight). Pupils in small classes performed significantly better than pupils in regular classes and gains were still evident after grade 4, when pupils returned to normal class sizes

The Education Endowment Foundation, here, says of class size ‘ overall the evidence does not show particularly large or clear effects, until class size is reduced to under 20 or even below 15.’ It continues: ‘The key issue appears to be whether the reduction is large enough to permit the teacher to change their teaching approach when working with a smaller class and whether, as a result, the pupils change their learning behaviours. If no change occurs then, perhaps unsurprisingly, learning is unlikely to improve. When a change in teaching approach does accompany a class size reduction (which appears hard to achieve until classes are smaller than about 20) then benefits on attainment can be identified’

Surveying studies on class size in the US , the author Malcolm Gladwell observed that although really big classes are a problem, there is a happy medium, and smaller classes don’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. This, he explains, is because teachers don’t usually adjust their teaching style to smaller class sizes; instead, they just work less. So, the “disadvantage” of moderately big classes isn’t one after all.

When Malcolm Gladwell talked with teachers about class size he found there was general agreement that large class sizes can impair learning. However, he also discovered that teachers believe that the same is true about small class sizes. Teachers agreed that when classes became too small the group dynamics in a class became difficult, and individual students were more easily able to dominate the group and disrupt learning.

Based on this, Gladwell suggests that the relationship between class size and achievement is actually not linear (as class size goes down learning goes up), but is best represented by an inverted U curve. As class size is reduced, learning improves until the optimum class size is reached. However if class size drops below the optimum learning declines.

Andreas Schleicher, of the OECD, says that  it’s a myth that small classes raise standards. He argues that “everywhere, teachers, parents and policy makers favour small classes as the key to better and more personalised education.” In contrast, he argues, high performing education systems invest in better teachers and high performing countries (many in East Asia) have large classes – so the size of a school class can’t be important. But PISA studies are not dedicated studies of the impact of class size but secondary analyses of data collected by others at just one point in time.

In England, Peter Blatchford directed the Class Size and Pupil Adult Ratio project which, instead of setting up an experiment, simply studied what went on in normal classrooms. Blatchford and his team followed more than 10,000 pupils in more than 300 schools. The pupils were tracked from when they entered school aged four to five-years-old, until the end of primary school, aged 11.

In this study Class size made a difference – children did better in smaller classes in both numeracy and literacy during their first year in school. The effect was greater for the pupils who started school with lower attainment. At the end of the second year in school, the effect was still evident in literacy attainment but not numeracy. Yet by the end of the third year the effects were far less evident in either numeracy or literacy. So, the evidence suggests that smaller classes benefit pupils in their first years in primary school but the effect seems to disappear as students get older

 Blatchford says in a blog ‘ What is needed to address the causal effect of class size are dedicated studies with strong research designs, which deal with the problem of potentially confounding factors, like pupil and teacher characteristics. Two main studies do this, each using a different approach: the experimental STAR project from the USA (pdf), and a large scale longitudinal study in the UK (CSPAR [pdf]). These studies show that smaller classes do have a positive effect on pupil progress especially in the first 2 or 3 years of schooling. Recent French research has found similar effects.’

To reduce class sizes you have to employ more good teachers and reduce the pupil teacher ratio. This all has a very significant impact on educational resourcing-so  it is vital that we are clear about the reliability of the evidence on the effect of class size.

What is clear is that high-quality teaching is the single most important school-based factor determining how well pupils achieve. Class size certainly, at the extremes, must have an effect. Ask any teacher and they will tell you its easier to teach a class of 15 than a class of 35.   But it can also be a nightmare teaching a class of  8  demotivated, disruptive pupils and a joy teaching 40 pupils   who really want to learn.

But reducing class sizes is expensive. And so the question is ,are there  other interventions that are more cost effective, having a greater effect on student outcomes. The answer to that has to be yes. (Hattie et al) Another interesting question is, what would be the effects on student outcomes if   the best teachers taught , larger classes and the weakest teachers ,progressively, the  smaller ones?

A final word to Blatchford ‘:  I think the most important educational questions are about how to adapt teaching to make the most of having fewer (or more) pupils in a class. It amazes me that there is next to no research which evaluates the benefits of class size changes along with specified changes to teaching, for example, the introduction of collaborative group work, which might well benefit from smaller classes.’

Look out for the work Blatchford is doing with the Leverhulme Trust, on class size

http://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/news/news_item.cfm/newsid/278

TEACHING-A RESEARCH BASED PROFESSION ?

Some teachers worry about what the concept means in practice

Move  though against top down prescription

Comment

Evidence based practice we know is firmly on the political agenda, and will still be after the May election. There is cross party consensus on making sure that evidence informs practice and policy.

There have been attempts to synthesize the findings of educational research through the conduct of systematic research reviews (for example, the work of the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre at the Institute of Education in London), and attempts to make the outcomes of research more readily available to different educational constituencies (for example, Evidence-Based Education UK [EBE Network], a network for teachers who want to know ‘‘what works’’ in education. The Education Endowment Foundation is doing its best to point out which interventions work best in the classroom, based on evidence.

Proponents of evidence-based education stress that it is about time that educational research starts to follow the pattern that has created the kind of systematic improvement over time that has characterized successful parts of our economy and society throughout the twentieth century, in fields such as medicine, agriculture,  and so on. They suggest that the most important reason for the extraordinary advances in medicine, agriculture, and other fields is the acceptance by practitioners of evidence as the basis for practice, and particularly the randomized controlled trial  of the kind championed by Ben Goldacre that can establish beyond reasonable doubt the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of treatments intended for applied use.

But we are struggling to make the connection between high quality research that has been identified   as of practical use to a classroom teacher, and their students learning.   Part of the problem is that there is quite a lot of  conflicting research out there  that muddies the water and is, well, contradictory. Distinguishing between good empirical research and not so good is a challenge. Politicians and officials of course  have a long history of cherry picking evidence in support of political agendas which doesn’t help much either . Look at the polarised debate for example on Swedish Free schools. You can easily summon evidence both in support of Free schools and against ,  There is also a practical problem in incentivising the dissemination of research within a fragmented autonomous schools system. Some too have worries   over what they see as the managerial agenda of evidence-based education and its linear, top-down hierarchical approach  to educational improvement.  Research should really come from the bottom up, and top down prescription can, it is claimed, undermine professional  autonomy  and judgement.

Gert Biesta of  the University of Exeter claims that educational professionals need to make judgments about what is educationally desirable. Such judgments are by their very nature  ‘normative judgments’. He writes ‘ I have argued that to suggest that research about ‘‘what works’’ can replace such judgments not only implies an unwarranted leap from ‘‘is’’ to ‘‘ought,’’ but also denies educational practitioners the right not to act according to evidence about ‘‘what works’’ if they judge that such a line of action would be educationally undesirable’. . He continues ‘ there is a real need to widen the scope of our thinking about the relation between research, policy, and practice, so as to make sure that the discussion is no longer restricted to finding the most effective ways to achieve certain ends but also addresses questions about the desirability of the ends themselves ‘  So the debate should not simply be a   technical one about what works-but one that is broader-  about what is desirable.

Carl Hendriks (Wellington Learning) and Tom Bennett at a recent conference on education research, articulated some of teachers concerns. Hendricks warned that evidence informed practice is a loaded, not neutral term.  It is not,  he said, about mandating a uniform or homogenised view of teaching. (Some teachers see it as a very personal attack on their own practice).  But Hendricks says it is about:

” Empowering teachers to harness the best available knowledge and evidence about teaching and then applying it in their own context using their professional judgement”   He wants  more informed practitioners” in constant dialogue with other teachers  and researchers”  There are two main Problems though -with capacity and implementation. How do you create the time and space for hard pressed teachers to get involved with research? And how do you meet the need to  mobilise high quality evidence,  presenting it to teachers, while  allowing teachers to reflect on it and how it can be  usefully applied in their own personal  context . Clearly though  teachers need to engage with a wider body of knowledge both subject knowledge and pedagogical knowledge, he said.

Tom Bennett says it shouldn’t be an evidence based profession but an evidence augmented profession-which  is very different. Teachers need from the ground up to engage with evidence. Research cant , for sure, he says, answer every question in education and indeed research is an ideological battleground  with  poor research  at times can hinder good teaching and learning. (Gary Klein the psychologist in his recent book on Insights reminds us that ‘research’ can obstruct in certain contexts  insights)  So, and here is a counter intuitive bombshell, the impact of research can actually be bad.  (Bennett cited the Brain Gym idea which purported to be evidence based but which he says  has been widely de-bunked) . Education is about craft too and teachers take years to develop their craft so its not just about accessing  the latest  evidence. A balanced approach is required to good teaching. There needs to be a research friend in schools, and schools need to nominate a research lead   with  researchers needing  to talk more to schools.. If teachers have a question they need to engage with research and reflect on it. . Research needs to be tamed and to be fully  integrated within the culture of schools, he said.

Clearly we are at the beginning of the debate on a research based profession, how best to apply research based practice in the classroom, and how to advance this agenda without alienating stakeholders. But one thing is for sure its now  firmly on the political  agenda . We need to  identify the best evidence on what works,  we need  also to look at areas where more good research is needed, we need to  make sure that  evidence   is read and understood by teachers , and we need to ensure that it can be applied not only in the classroom, at the chalk face, but is also integral to teachers’  professional development. In short, as the Sutton Trust recently pointed out ‘We need a profession with research, evidence and professional learning at its core’.