How do teachers encounter research?

May 05 2022

Cathy Burnett

About project | Policy context | Primary literacy | Research context | Teachers

In the recent Schools White Paper Nadhim Zahawi includes a commitment to ‘placing the generation and mobilisation of evidence at the heart of our education system.’  The mobilisation of research evidence is a key concern of our current ESRC funded project, Research Mobilities in Primary Literacy Education (ES/W000571/1), which is exploring how research moves to and between teachers. The project is a partnership between Sheffield Hallam University, Lancaster University and University of Stirling.  Our starting point is that the mobilisation of research is an increasingly complex business.

We are interested particularly in research that has potential to speak in useful ways to literacy education in primary schools. Literacy is a huge area and there is a wide variety of research available internationally that could be of value and interest to primary teachers. Some of this focuses on pedagogical approaches (such as the use of drama or group discussion) but there is also work that provides useful insights into children’s experiences of literacy at home and at school, as well as that which generates searching questions about the purposes and priorities of literacy education.

Some research, such as that funded by The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) draws on the findings of randomised controlled trials to try to identify approaches that might impact on attainment as measured by standardised tests. Other research draws on qualitative methods to examine children’s experiences in depth and in detail. These different kinds of research all have potential to feed teachers’ professional thinking and decision-making but it may be that some kinds of research travel more widely than others.

In supporting the mobilisation of research the government has pledged to continue its support for EEF. EEF has done a considerable amount of work in recent years to fund and disseminate the results of randomised controlled trials and to synthesise the findings from research more widely. Consequently, for many schools, they are the go-to source of evidence to inform decision making and resource purchase. There are, however, myriad other ways in which teachers encounter research, linked for example to colleagues, universities, professional associations, social media, independent consultants and ‘research-informed’ resources as well as their own investigations and enquiries. And digital technologies play a role too,  for example through platforms such as Mesh Guides and through the work of algorithms in personalising search results. Given this, in order to understand how research mobilises and get better at facilitating connections between research and practice, we need to know more about how the work of different organisations and individuals combine with digital technologies to bring some research evidence to the fore while other potentially useful studies sink without trace. 

Through Research Mobilities in Primary Literacy Education we want to understand more about this complex area. Part of this involves identifying any patterns in the kinds of literacy research that gain attention and exploring what happens to the meanings of research findings as they move between individual and organisations. Are subtleties lost as research is summarised for different audiences? Are methodological caveats acknowledged? Are new meanings added as the findings of different studies combine?  By understanding these processes better we hope to arrive at effective ways to support teachers’ engagement with a wide range of literacy research which will be useful to schools and MATs, to policy makers, educational organisations and associations and to different research communities concerned with the mobilisation of research.

If you would like to know more about the project please get in touch with us via email (remple@shu.ac.uk) . If you are a primary teacher working in England and would like to be involved, you can find out more and register your interest to participate here: https://shusls.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0ceGu0gIKRinGpo.