What did we learn from ResearchEd 2013?

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that thrives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed’.

Charles Darwin, On The Origin of Species, 1859.




Teachers are driving the development of the profession.


Inspired by teachers I met at ResearchEd, and teachers like Jo Facer, whose blog overflows with love for her pupils, her subject and her vocation – a blog which reminds me of Charles Dickens’ great words, ‘A loving heart is the truest wisdom’ – I want to start with an encomium to teaching. I love teaching; I love learning about teaching, and I love thinking about education. So spending a day with some of the greatest thinkers in education in England was unbelievably exciting.  That Tom, Helene, Alex and the team managed to film them is even better. ResearchEd talks will become the TED talks of the U.K., only better.

Soon after, teacher-bloggers took to the airwaves to distil what we learned from the day.

Mary Myatt captured my thoughts in the things she learned: first, the teaching community is doing things for itself – I love the simile that ‘Like a wood after a storm, new growth, vibrant, energetic and full of sap is rising’; second, the principles of research from other disciplines have much to tell us; but not everything; third, the vital importance of humility; fourth, that there are already some significant models out there, driven by classroom practice, scaled up, realistic, with robust structures.

Harry Fletcher-Wood pointed out the centrality of questions, the questionability of intuition, the implementation gap, and a wishlist of information architecture, every teacher thinking about research, and research-based school decisions, given time constraints.

Tom Sherrington said ‘Research-Ed embodied the concept of a practitioner-led system perfectly. It felt like the start of something’.

And Kev Bartle said ‘there was something for everyone in this banquet of professional learning cooked up by Tom Bennett and beautifully sliced and diced by his sous chef Hélène Galdin-O’Shea’.  A massive thank you to them, Alex Weatherall and team for serving up such an appetising array.

For my part, I only want to offer one silver thread I saw running through the day:

Teachers are driving the development of the profession.



In a single sentence, session-by-session, here are some of the challenges ahead for us in bringing education and research together:

Ben Goldacre set out a rallying cry to create the research architecture and networks to find out precisely what works, and to make it happen within a generation.

Brian Lightman asked us to join in a Great Debate on the purpose of education and what we think it is for.

Tom Sherrington encouraged us to lead our own redesign of schooling, and showed us how to develop a research community in schools where every teacher is engaged in a project.

David Weston set us the challenge of cultivating teacher-led enquiry and a research-driven approach to CPD.

Rob Coe (here) set out four steps to improving teaching practice, challenging us to improve the way we evaluate learning, CPD, teaching quality and impact.

Laura McInerney challenged us to think up 7 or so ‘touchpaper’ problems for education: what do we need to find out over the coming years?

Mary Whitehouse asked and modelled how curriculum design can be informed by research evidence.

John Tomsett & Alex Quigley urged us learned from our mistakes and showed us how to undertake focused research in schools.

Daniel Willingham said that every teacher inevitably has a theory about how pupils learn, and suggested that cognitive science could improve education theory.

Daisy Christodolou argued that much of this theory is ineffective, and that the root cause of successful teaching and learning will be effective theory, based on scientific research evidence.

Katie Ashford argued that much of her teacher training was based on such ineffective ideas, and that replacing them with research-informed ideas from cognitive science dramatically improved her classroom practice.

Tom Bennett steered us between the hubristic Scylla of thinking this will change everything and the nihilistic Charybdis of thinking this will change nothing, suggesting instead that we can change something: an open-access ResearchEd e-magazine might begin to bridge the chasm between teachers and research.

Becky Allen wondered whether we had to wait til next September for Research Ed2014, and urged us each to make some sort of contribution, asking: what’s yours going to be?

Doubtless, there were countless other sessions from the day that brought this silver thread to life. The point is, it’s now up to us as teachers to drive the development of the teaching profession. Over 150 years since the publication of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, collaboration, adaptation and natural selection still seem like the way forward.


 Ask not what ResearchEd might do for you, but what you might do for ResearchEd 2014.

About Joe Kirby

School leader, education writer, Director of Education and co-founder, Athena Learning Trust, Deputy head and co-founder, Michaela Community School, English teacher
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