In our regular feature highlighting the work of members of the UK education suppliers’ trade body BESA, Education Today this month hears from Gareth Mills of NFER on being an “Enquiring School”; and Jean Davies of science education suppliers Timstar on their new Knowledge Hubs.

Putting evidence

to work GARETH MILLS, head of Enquiring Schools at NFER

There has been a resurgence in interest in educational research over recent years. Bottom-up movements like #ResearchEd have created a vibrant online community seeking to separate reliable evidence of what works from the dubious fads and fashions that are sometimes presented to teachers. At a recent ‘What Works’ conference in London a keynote speaker

posed the question, "What is evidence good for?" His answer was spot on… "Absolutely nothing... unless it gets into policy or practice!" If we don’t use the evidence to drive practical strategies and tools, its impact will be considerably lessened. Finding creative ways to maximise evidence is one reason the

National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) devised the Enquiring Schools programme. Its approach to teacher development puts engaging with professional research and in-school enquiry at the heart of a professional learning experience. Alongside the rigour, it’s also about creativity and learning through ‘doing’. Feedback from participating schools suggests it’s working. Dawn

Hanwell, a Year 6 teacher from West London stated engaging in enquiry “changed my view of teaching. It made me stop and think about what I'm doing and to look at current research. I've been teaching a long time and it's easy to get locked into a routine. The programme has opened me up to try out new things.” Trying out new things is part of the attraction. Depending on your

past experiences, the word ‘research’ can conjure up images of long hours of extensive reading and dissertation writing. In fact, engaging in enquiry, collaborating with colleagues and setting up small-scale projects can be fun and energising. Figuring out how, for example, peer review will work with your six-

year-olds or sixteen-year-olds is part of the creative process. An enquiry to try something new and evaluate its impact is part of the professional challenge. Several schools on the Enquiring Schools programme have gone on to obtain the NFER Research Mark – a national accreditation and award scheme celebrating the energy, creativity and rigour that schools put in to evidence-based learning. Creating a climate for evidence-informed innovation is not always

easy. In a culture of narrow accountability, innovation can be suffocated. Sometimes initiatives are overloaded, leading to feelings of tiredness and skepticism, especially if implementing a policy flies in the face of the evidence base. However, many teachers invest huge time and energy, seeking to improve their impact on students. We definitely need to do more to put evidence to work. Successfully

driving evidence in education should be a lively, collaborative and creative act. Enquiring Schools is a programme using evidence of 'what works'

to support disciplined innovation in schools. The Enquiring Schools programme is part of a suite of NFER services,

helping schools to engage with research, drive CPD and school improvement. This suite includes the Research Mark, Self-Review Tool and key resources, designed to aid schools at all stages of their journey. research-in-schools/

Timstar embarks on a new

venture in a changing world! JEAN DAVIES, technical and curriculum liaison at Timstar Laboratory Suppliers Ltd

Science and laboratory equipment and resource pricing has always been highly competitive. Historically, senior lab technicians were often in the profession for many years and would build up a wealth of knowledge and experience of using and managing the equipment. However, more recently a lot of senior

technicians have been leaving the profession due to poor pay; a very sad turn of events. Unable to afford the higher salaries, budget- pressed schools are replacing these experts

with less experienced technicians. It’s not that they aren’t capable and won’t build up the skills over time, but in many cases they just don’t have the proficiency to offer the support that science teachers need in a busy laboratory. We recognise that because of this, there is a growing need for more

than just competitive pricing on equipment, requiring suppliers to build up a new repertoire that includes value-added services. In order to make science departments’ lives easier, it’s important for

suppliers to ensure that they have the quantity of fit-for-purpose resources that schools really need. Unfortunately, the exam boards don’t liaise with suppliers. A new learning objective in the curriculum may introduce a requirement for a new data logger, for example. Naturally, the demand for data loggers rises, but without knowing what the exam boards are introducing, it can be very difficult for schools to obtain these resources from suppliers, simply because the supply chain hasn’t been established. At Timstar, in terms of supporting technicians’ development, we

have run a number of workshops to provide this value-added service, which has taken the form of online Knowledge Hubs. These hubs offer resources, videos and advice on things like how best to clean and maintain equipment, setting up effective storage and implementing the equipment in the classroom; all the information a budding science technician will need to get themselves set up in the lab. In order to solve the problems in the ever-changing supply chain, it’s important for the industry to work together. Therefore we are continuously working more closely with our sister company Technologies Supplies Ltd, to offer an increased amount of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, (STEM)-related support with design and technology resources including 3D printers. We are also setting up a permanent display in the National STEM Centre in York to help science departments to find the resources they really need. Further to this, no supplier can work effectively without consulting

its target market. Our new technician focus groups are helping us to react more quickly to science departments’ needs. Members of the focus groups help us with product testing, the content of our workshops, the Knowledge Hub advice they need, and which products we should be stocking. This gives us the on-the-ground insight that is crucial to us in supporting schools, no matter what changes may come in assessment and the curriculum. If you have any needs or support requirements, we are always here

to answer your questions; we look forward to hearing from you!

8 December 2016

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