Breaching our Cosy Bunkers


Bruce Bairnsfather

For all the inducements to engage in research, to become more evidence-informed, our staff are largely happy to be in the ‘ole they’re in. We prefer to think we do things differently here, so looking outside for answers doesn’t really occur. On the rare occasions we invite in an outside speaker, we tend to duff them up. “They don’t work with our kids,” is a familiar refrain. I call this our ‘cosy bunker mentality’: things aren’t perfect here, but the grass really isn’t greener on the other side you know.

I don’t blame them really. Just when they were getting comfortable with just marking the kids’ work, I made them whip out their green pens and commence a dialogue with them too. They bought my promise that independent learning was ideal for lazy teachers, only to discover that it was just another way to work bloody hard. My school has been a Pedagogopolis these past few years, and its teacher-denizens have been a pretty LO-abiding bunch. Research engagement / practitioner enquiry has been a toolkit too far for most of them.

But, slowly, we are beginning to breach their cosy bunkers. Some credit for this goes to the SLT. We are a largely internally-recruited bunch, with limited experience of working in other schools, and traditionally we would have been as splendidly isolationist as the rest of the staffroom. But two years ago I inserted into our improvement plan that we become a ‘research community’, and though we don’t yet deserve that immodest tag we are edging that way. On Pupil Premium, life beyond National Curriculum levels, the gainful deployment of TAs, and how we measure the quality of teaching without grading lessons – on all of these we have trudged through the blogs, reached for The Key or looked up the EEF. We have refreshed the way we tackle internal reviews: now we start with an enquiry question, devise a review approach (observations, scrutinies, the like) then publish our findings in ways which are much more useful to the teams under review. So, we have looked outside and we have looked inside and altogether we have achieved a much clearer view.

But, given my professional development role, I need also to be busting the bunker from the inside – getting ordinary colleagues engaged in and with research. I have posted here before on my management of our Masters in Education programme. Being a North London school, we have access to the capital’s universities and libraries. Middlesex University operate an arms-length MA module, whereby I get to tutor and assess my colleagues on their action enquiries. I would not say that we as an organisation have learned enough from the research conducted by these individual colleagues; but 15 busy teachers have themselves read some of the latest thinking, and devised valid tests for gauging the impact of new initiatives. They have engaged in and with research, become informed, savvy and inspired. They have found better ‘oles.

Finally, if enquiry is to be embedded as a go-to means of professional development, I need to get to my teachers when they are still young and know no better. That’s why our NQT induction programme is built upon a succession of 5 or 6 mini enquiries across the year. On school priority issues (independent learning, AfL, literacy) they are introduced to some piece of research or a set of strategies; they then have to consider them, plan around and teach them, then reflect upon and present their findings in a blog (which they are encouraged to share and comment on.) It’s enquiry, rather than research, but it’s my attempt to get them to discover and exercise the muscles they’ll need if they are ever to search for the theoretical underpinning for their practice. I now have colleagues – two and three years past their NQTness – for whom this form of enquiry is an instinct. Not many of them, but some. They have climbed out of the bunker.

It’s not so cosy in there now.

Evidence- INFORMED education please!

@researchEd’s Tom Bennett makes an important semantic distinction between basing education in research, and using research to inform the art of teaching.