Research roles & activities

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To grow their capacity for R&D, schools in the ‘expanding’ phase need to involve a widening group of people in research and enquiry. Our survey of teaching schools shows that responsibility for R&D is shared amongst a range of actors:   

As research engagement begins to grow, colleagues will share responsibility for a range of research activities, such as: 

  • gathering and filtering external research and making it accessible

  • planning, running and monitoring research projects and collaborative enquiry

  • providing or commissioning training, coaching and mentoring

  • acting as a research advocate or champion and driving R&D activity in the wider community


Grow your own research leaders

Effective R&D depends on the active commitment of leaders at all levels, setting of clear strategic priorities based on rigorous analysis of school needs and selection, planning and scoping of projects to meet those needs.  Take steps to grow future research leaders by:

  • Designating a senior leader champion and empowering middle leaders

  • Involving teachers at an early stage in making decisions, helping to construct the projects and taking the lead as they are ready

  • Building capability, confidence and commitment through cycles of enquiry, with project participants taking a lead role in future cycles


Grow research communities in the school & beyond

While small schools can involve the whole staff in research activity, this is often not practical in larger schools. Large primary and secondary schools need to think carefully about ways of building capacity and engagement, which may include the following types of activity:

  • encourage every member of staff to make a Teaching and Learning pledge, setting out an area in which they want to improve their practice over the course of the year

  • introduce Teaching and Learning Bursaries as an incentive for staff who engage actively in collaborative R&D and share their findings from research with colleagues within and beyond their team

  • suggest research activity to staff during their performance reviews; encourage staff to develop research skills by taking part in Masters level programmes

  • hold an annual ‘Showcase’ or Celebration event to recognise the contribution that staff have made to teaching & learning through engaging in R&D


Develop common approaches & enquiry tools

Expanding research activity across a cluster or alliance of schools will be greatly helped by the joint use of common processes and tools to guide and structure the process of enquiry and evaluation.  

Groups of schools can make use of existing tools and frameworks for collaborative enquiry, such as the 'Connect to Learn' (C2L) resource developed by Harris and Jones (2012), the Spiral of Inquiry developed by Helen Timperley and colleagues (2014) or the Handbook for Lesson Study developed by Pete Dudley (2011).  

Research leads can also make use of an increasing number of tools and frameworks developed and shared by other schools, such as the research tools for teacher inquiry developed by Nick Rose at the Turnford School, and the ‘research wheel’ developed by the Mead TSA.

As partnerships develop and mature, lead teachers in participating schools may wish to collaborate on developing their own enquiry tools and common research frameworks.


The role of external support

Drawing on the specialist knowledge and research expertise of higher education partners and other external experts is crucial in planning for further growth and expansion. 

  • Schools in our survey were more likely to feel confident about their current position and future direction when they could draw on the advice and support of external experts and critical friends.  

  • Likewise, research leads from case study schools and alliances in the Teaching schools R&D network national themes project 2012-2014 pointed out that they were not experts in educational research and stressed the need for 'HEI support to make sure their enquiries were rigorous and valid and to provide quality assurance' (Maxwell and Greany 2015, p. 40).


References and further reading

Dudley, P. (2011) Lesson Study: a handbook,

Harris, A, and Jones, M. (2012) Connecting Professional Learning. Nottingham, National College for School Leadership (NCSL) (copyright Harris and Jones)

Maxwell, B. and Greany, T. et al (2015) Approaches to Research & Development for ‘great pedagogy’ and ‘great CPD’ in teaching school alliances, Nottingham: NCTL

Timperley, H. et al. (2014) A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry, Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Series Paper No. 234, April 2014

Key issues involved in expanding research and enquiry activity within the school and across an alliance are discussed in the final reports  from the National College's Teaching Schools R&D network national themes project 2012-2014.