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The self-improving school system from the classroom out

Chris Brown

When thought about at the level of the school or classroom, the self-improving school system involves teachers collaboratively engaging in evidence-informed practice to improve teaching and learning. With this blog I briefly explore what evidence-informed practice (EIP) is and the different ways teachers engage with EIP. I then illustrate the role of school leaders in fostering the collaborative use of research evidence by teachers in their schools.

Evidence informed practice (EIP) is the process of teachers accessing, evaluating and applying the findings of academic research in order to improve their teaching practice (Walker, 2017). Considered to be the hallmark of high performing education systems (Furlong, 2014), EIP is regarded by many as a prerequisite for effective teaching and learning. Research has also identified substantial benefits from EIP for both teaching practice and in terms of pupil outcomes (Brown and Zhang, 2016).

Recent studies examining the use of research evidence by teachers (e.g. Brown and Zhang, 2016) suggest that it is possible to characterize teachers’ EIP behaviors according to a combination of their attitudes towards using research for school improvement and teachers’ actual engagement with research. Conceiving teachers’ research-use attitudes and engagement as forming the axes of a 2 x 2 matrix these studies point towards four evidence-use ‘types’: with type-1 use representing teachers working collaboratively, using research to address school improvement priorities; type-2 use teachers are those willing to work collaboratively to engage with research, but who lack the skills/experience required; type-3 teachers are those who work individually, using research to tackle ‘local’ issues of teaching and learning; and finally, type-4 teachers who reject any form of research use. These types are shown below:




In terms of school and school system improvement, it would seem preferable for schools to have a high number of teachers who are type-1 evidence users. Given the vital role of school leadership to improving school outcomes, school leaders it would seem have three key roles to play to develop type-1 behaviours amongst their teachers:

Role 1: Giving teachers hand-on experience of EIP in a safe environment: First-hand experience is vital if individuals are to buy-in to new ways of working, such as that represented by using research evidence. Teachers also need to feel able to experiment if they are to fully engage in EIP type activity. Key to increasing EIP therefore is that school leaders ensure teachers are able to access, engage with and apply research when attempting to improve their practice and that they can recognise the impact of doing so.

Role 2: Developing a school culture that encourages research use: School leader support is also key to fostering a culture of research-use. As Earl and Katz (2006: 20) argue, ‘leaders have the challenge of convincing everyone who works in a school of the merits of using [evidence] for productive change and creating the conditions in which [evidence] can become an integral part of school decision making’. As well as establishing a vision for EIP, therefore, school leaders should be fostering conditions that include coordinated and protected time and space, as well as access to relevant research resource.

Role 3: Ensuring networked collaboration within and then across schools: Senior leadership support is also essential for collaborative activity to take root and flourish. In particular, however, senior leaders should promote the idea of ‘community’ while also ensuring staff are both encouraged and supported to engage in EIP in a networked way. Here all staff must move beyond the superficial exchange of practices and resource and towards meaningful research-related collaboration that has demonstrable benefits for both individual teachers and the school. Indeed, it is the use of networks in ways that produce a multitude of benefits at a variety of levels that is likely to be key to unlocking the potential EIP has for classrooms and schools. Once we have embedded such working and benefits at these levels, the next step will then be to move to engage in networked collaboration across schools.



Brown, C., and Zhang, D. (2016) Is Engaging In Evidence-Informed Practice In Education Rational? Examining The Divergence Between Teachers’ Attitudes Towards Evidence Use And Their Actual Instances Of Evidence Use In Schools, British Educational Research Journal, 42, 5, pp. 780-801.

Earl, L. and Katz, S. (2006) Leading schools in a data rich world (Thousand Oaks, CA, Corwin Press).

Furlong, J. (2014). Research and the Teaching Profession: building capacity for a self improving education system. Final report of the BERA-RSA Inquiry into the role of research in the teaching profession, (Lonon BERA).

Walker, M. (2017) Insights into the Role of Research and Development in Teaching Schools, (Slough, NfER).