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What you Need to Know about Research into Education and Teaching

Tom Sherrington, education consultant and author, discusses his views on evidence-based classroom techniques, feedback and more...

  • What you Need to Know about Research into Education and Teaching

Download this article’s advice poster on evidence-based feedback, designed by Oliver Caviglioli, for free here.

You’ve had a long career in education – would you say your attitude towards research has changed since you started out? How?

The key change has been that research is more widely available and has entered the mainstream of our discourse.

Also, I think that cognitive science has been increasingly successful in providing insights to underpin classroom-based studies; it’s the combination of the two as embodied in, for example, Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, that is now so powerful.

What would you say is the most important thing you, personally, have learnt about teaching and learning over the years?

I would say it’s that the process needs to attend both to technical issues – around forming coherent schemas and building fluency through practice – and to emotional issues around motivation and aspirations.

Ideally you create a positive spiral where one fuels the other and, for sure, feeling that success is within reach is important if you want students to be motivated to put in the effort needed.

Do you think Twitter has been a force for good in education?

Without doubt, yes it has. Twitter has enabled teachers, leaders and policy makers to communicate across institutional barriers; there’s been an explosion of sharing and debate that wasn’t possible before.

There’s an ugly side to some online behaviours but I think that’s a fringe issue compared to the positive thrust of edutwitter.

If you had the power, what change would you make to the profession in order to improve teacher recruitment and retention?

I would dismantle narrow performance management cultures built on snapshot lesson observations and outcomes-related targets, and replace them with collaborative professional school cultures where career-long professional learning and coaching were embedded elements in every teacher’s experience, so that teaching was regarded as second-to-none in terms of the degree of professional support, especially in schools in challenging circumstances.

Are you pleased to see a renewed focus on the curriculum in conversations around education at the moment, and particularly from Ofsted?

It is heartening that lots of schools are talking about the nature of their curriculum. Now that the reformed GCSEs have been implemented, Key Stage 3 is getting a lot of attention, which is great to see.

Schools and teachers have plenty of scope to make choices so it’s exciting when they’re building up a curriculum from some core principles and values.

Ofsted seems to be supporting this, which is good – although, at the same time, I’m deeply sceptical about the capacity for small teams to properly evaluate the quality of a curriculum during an inspection. It’s just too big to do justice to.

What is the most important thing, in your opinion, that a young person should be able to take away with them from their time in secondary education?

Knowledge! But rather than anything specific, it’s a broad framework for understanding the world around them, inspiring them to pursue further study and giving them the tools to do it.

Secondary education should provide a broad platform of knowledge and experiences that not only allows them to function as citizens but also signposts an array of possibilities for what lies beyond; a solid foundation and a thirst to know more.

And finally… is it ever right, do you think, for a teacher to follow a ‘gut instinct’, even when it flies in the face of what research has shown to be the ‘right’ thing to do?

We’ll always need to follow our instincts because research doesn’t come close to covering all the variables we encounter everyday but the goal is for our instincts to be very well-informed.

You’d need a good reason to directly oppose a well-evidenced finding but in reality most research only offers broad guidance and we’ve got to respond to what we see lesson by lesson, making the best decisions we can.

Tom Sherrington is an education consultant and author.

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