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How do we know it works?

Cambridge Teaching Schools Network (CTSN) is a network of 3 Teaching School Alliances, 5 National Support Schools and many partner schools and organisations. One important strand of CTSN’s work is Research and Development with our R&D Network being established 5 years ago. This is coordinated by Saffron Walden County High School and a steering group of Primary and Secondary school leaders from across CTSN who are passionate about improving outcomes for children through research. Our philosophy is that ‘A researching school is an improving school’ and we seek to be at the forefront of educational research. We have been involved in two national projects: ‘Closing the Gap, Test and Learn’ with the National College of Teaching and Leadership and ‘What makes great professional development which leads to consistently great pedagogy?’ with the Institute of Education (our work featuring in the final report). Research Communities based in CTSN schools have connected with CamSTar (Cambridge, School Teachers and Research) to underpin classroom based research. Last year, CTSN R&D schools worked collaboratively on research projects exploring ‘Life after Levels at KS3’ and ‘Developing Growth Mindset in pupils, teachers and parents’. A conference sharing the outcomes of these projects, with keynote speaker Tom Sherrington, was attended by 100 teachers from across the network.

It was in early September that I met Karen Spence-Thomas from the Institute of Education, University College London, to discuss how CTSN R&D might collaborate with the IOE on a new project that would work across CTSN Schools. I had wanted to work with the IOE for a long time: at its core, the IOE has a commitment to help schools build capacity to engage in and with research in deep yet practical ways in order to benefit the learning of pupils and the education system as a whole. This moral purpose chimed with our commitment as CTSN R&D. Finding a research ‘hook’ that would be meaningful to a whole range of schools with different contexts would be challenging. But it was from this starting point that we devised the programme below.

‘How do we know it works?’

CTSN R&D and the Institute of Education, University College London

A great deal is known about the importance and potential impact of middle leaders in schools but the challenge remains of how to fulfil the role effectively in practice. In a culture of continuous school improvement, middle leaders are charged with the responsibility to ‘make it happen’. As a result, they are often caught in an ‘implementation trap’ with little time to evaluate whether new initiatives are making a difference.

21 middle leaders from across 12 schools within CTSN are working with Karen Spence-Thomas from the IOE to explore how to:

  • robustly evaluate the impact of initiatives run in departments and within school

  • share knowledge about excellent middle leadership practice within and across schools

  • provide the space, conditions and support for staff to grow and develop their practice

  • bring about evidence-informed change in pupil learning

  • better understand the relationship between improved learning and outcomes

  • better understand and develop the leadership conditions in schools that develop and embed cultures of outstanding practice.

On this Blog website, you can read about the progress of the participants on this programme as they share the challenges, obstacles and outcomes of their research.

Catherine Davis

Assistant Headteacher

Saffron Walden County High School, CTSN R&D

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