'How do we know it works?' Leading Change



Doug Brechin, Chair of the CTSN R&D Strategy Group, reflects on the CTSN/UCL Institute of Education 'How do we know it works? Leading Change' project.


CTSN recognises the importance of being at the forefront of educational research and participation by our staff in R&D projects is vital to their ongoing growth and development. Within the CTSN R&D group we are incredibly fortunate to have school partners with their own well-established research communities; these groups are comprised of lively, enthusiastic and dedicated teachers at different stages of their careers involved in a wide range of 'action research' projects.

Since 2016, in collaboration with UCL Institute of Education, we have led the 'How do we know it works? Leading Change' project across a number of CTSN primary and secondary schools. The most recent cohort began in January 2019 and completed their projects in the Spring Term 2021. The COVID epidemic, when the majority of students have been learning remotely off site, has presented teachers with unprecedented challenges. It has also offered completely new and genuinely unanticipated opportunities. It is testament to the staff involved in the projects that they have grasped these opportunities to pursue their projects within fresh contexts.

Aims of the project


A great deal is known about the importance and potential impact of middle leaders in schools but the challenge remains as to 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.

The aim of the How do we know it works? Leading Change project was to provide a supportive and reflective forum for early middle leaders from CTSN schools 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

Participating schools

The following CTSN schools and Trusts participated in this cohort of the project:

Saffron Walden County High School, Hatton Park Primary, Somersham Park Primary School, Histon and Impington Infant School, Histon & Impington Junior School, Trumpington Park Primary School, Joyce Frankland Academy, Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust, Stamford Welland Academy, Cambourne Village College, Comberton Village College, and Swavesey Village College.

Project outcomes

The 'Leaders of Change' were expected to share their learning and research with teams in their schools, engage these teams in evaluating the project impact, and present their findings and outcomes to their Senior Leadership teams.

Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing blog posts from the project participants, in which they will present their findings and share their experiences. Having read all the blog posts, I have been struck by the richness and variety of thinking in each of the projects. The context of COVID has required participants to respond creatively to circumstances that none of us could have anticipated, or would have wished for, 18 months ago. It has been a pleasure to read about the learning experiences of colleagues and how they might inform my own teaching. Whatever stage of career we find ourselves in, we should never stop learning from each other. I hope you enjoy reading them over the coming weeks.


About the author


Doug Brechin is a Deputy Headteacher at Saffron Walden County High School and Director of the Saffron Teaching School Hub. He chairs the CTSN R&D Strategy Group.




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