Knowledge Bank - Professional Development

The Research Engaged School

What distinguishes a research engaged school?

The concept of the “research engaged school was pioneered by Graham Handscomb and John MacBeath (2003). They described such a school as one in which teachers believe it is in their interest, and in the interest of their pupils, to be critical of received wisdom, to be sceptical of easy answers, to have a desire for evidence and to foster “aggressive curiosity”.  In a school that is research engaged, research and enquiry are integral to teaching and learning; they are built into the school’s culture which fosters groups within and beyond the school collaborating on research and enquiry activity. Above all what distinguishes a research engaged school is that research and enquiry are at the heart of the school, its outlook, systems and activity.  So summarising these essential features, a research engaged school:

  • has a “research-rich pedagogy
  • has a research orientation
  • promotes research communities and
  • puts research at the heart of school policy and practice
    (Handscomb and MacBeath, 2003)

The image of educational research is for many teachers and support staff something done by others in academic institutions – complex, difficult to access, and of limited relevance.  However, this is changing. Increasingly, classroom practitioners have discovered the merits of investigating an aspect of their work which directly contributes to improved practice and benefits the children they teach.

Of course, teachers have long been involved in examining their practice in order to make further improvements. When does such activity “count” as research? How is evidenced informed practice different to what good teachers do anyway in refining and honing their craft in day to day lesson preparation and evaluation? Well perhaps they are not different in kind but rather in terms of the degree of rigour and transparency involved.  In this respect a very helpful definition of research is “systematic enquiry made public” (Stenhouse, 1975). This can encompass both the individual teacher focusing on one feature of her craft, as well as larger scale enquiries involving a whole school or groups of schools (Handscomb, 2002). The important common feature is that the research is undertaken with rigour and is communicated to others.  We provide a range of links to articles and resources to develop the enquiring profession and research engaged schools.

Children are a fundamental part of this culture of enquiry in schools and effective teaching fosters investigation and critique (Handscomb, Frost and Prince, 2009). At the heart of good teaching, teachers encourage their pupils to engage in enquiry systematically, and with a concern for evidence.  The skills of enquiry are an essential tool to the learning process.  In recent years the value of young people developing enquiry skills has been recognised not just as valuable for investigation as part of the curriculum, but also in the contribution they have to make to researching the school. The growth of pupil voice and pupil participation have emphasised children as being key members of the school who should play an active part in how we reflect on and evaluate the school community. Involving young people as co-enquirers and fellow evaluators can pay great dividends in the process of school self-evaluation.

Indeed the shift from overdependence on external inspection to a greater emphasis on the school’s capacity to know and evaluate itself has been a significance development.  This in turn raises profound questions about how well prepared staff are to contribute effectively to school self-evaluation. The research engaged school plays a vital part in developing and empowering staff to be at the heart of the self-evaluation enterprise. The links below provide articles and resources for helping staff and pupils contribute to school self-evaluation. 

Graham Handscomb, September, 2012

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