Research roles & activities

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Appointing a research lead or coordinator for R&D is an important first step for schools and alliances.  Whatever the name or title of the role, having a designated person to coordinate research within the school or across the teaching school alliance is important to drive R&D activity, act as a research advocate or champion, and align R&D with school development priorities.  In our survey of teaching schools, we found that:

  • 63% (n=105) have appointed a designated person to coordinate research activity across the teaching school alliance

  • 38% (n=64) have designated R&D leads in some schools in the alliance

  • Only 5% (n=8) have a designated lead in every school in the alliance


Form a research team or enquiry group

As our case studies illustrate, in the 'emerging' stage of R&D, research activity often depends on the commitment and energy of individuals, rather than being an established or routine part of the school's organisational culture.  As a second step towards promoting R&D, you should consider forming a research team or enquiry group.  Research involving schools shows that enabling staff to work together in a research team offers a number of advantages over acting as a lone researcher:

“By forming a team, research becomes a collaborative professional activity, making sure that learning is promoted and shared.  A group of people working together can maintain the momentum and see the work through to completion, even if individual members are unable to continue their involvement. Team working also helps to make the process of research more widely distributed, with greater potential for sharing and ownership among staff.” [1]


Engage the natural enthusiasts

  • In terms of who to involve, it makes sense to start with willing volunteers and natural enthusiasts, recognising that some staff may be more reluctant or disinclined to engage, at least at first. 

  • It can often work well to blend enthusiasm and experience, for example, by bringing together recently qualified staff with more established colleagues in cycles of enquiry (such as lesson study or action research).  

  • Having the chance to work with colleagues from other departments can also help to generate fresh insights and perspectives on endemic issues such as pupil motivation and engagement.  

  • You might also consider involving other people in your research team, such as pupils, parents or governors.


Encourage leadership buy-in

Past experience and research highlights the vital role of headteachers and senior leaders in enabling R&D to flourish:  

  • Having a member of the leadership team involved in the research team, or in a mentoring role for the research lead or individual project leaders, will help promote buy-in.  Try to make sure the team's activities are linked to whole-school decision-making and strategic priorities to demonstrate relevance and potential benefits for professional learning and student outcomes.  

  • Involving governors is also important: it is worth asking the chair of governors whether the value of R&D can discussed at the next meeting or invite the governing body to nominate a research champion. 


Seek advice and support from an external partner

There is also much potential benefit to be gained from working with a strategic partner or critical friend. [2]  At all stages of research, HEI partners and other external experts have an important role to play in supporting and strengthening support in schools. [3] While the nature of the relationship and dynamic will change over time, in the early stages of R&D, drawing on the specialist knowledge and skills of external partners will help you be really clear about your starting point, the difference you want to make - for pupil outcomes, professional learning and school improvement - and the active steps you need to take to get there.


References and further reading

[1] Sharp, C., Eames, A., Sanders, D. and Tomlinson, K. (2006) Leading a Research-engaged School, Nottingham: National College for School Leadership.

[2] National College for School Leadership (2005) What does a critical friend do?  Nottingham: NCSL.

[3] Greany, T. and Brown, C. (2015) Partnerships between teaching schools and universities: research report, London Centre for Leadership in Learning: UCL Institute of Education