Five research insights that got us thinking in 2021/22

The last word of every Schools Week edition is often the first you’ll hear of new educational research that goes on to make a big impact. Here are five of this year’s must-reads

The last word of every Schools Week edition is often the first you’ll hear of new educational research that goes on to make a big impact. Here are five of this year’s must-reads

19 Jul 2022, 5:00

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The nimble research revolution

Amy Ellis-Thompson, programme manager, Education Endowment Foundation

What if one aspect of Covid’s legacy was to revolutionise the very way we do educational research? That was one of the exciting prospects the EEF teased in our pages this year, as they set out the results of some new ‘nimble RCTs’. The randomised controlled trial is seen as the gold standard of research, but can take an age to design, implement, analyse and turn into practical tips for the classroom. The EEF did these in 18 months, and it’s changing the way they think about research. Where the EEF goes, it’s unlikely others won’t follow.

Teachers’ wheels

Iain Ford, senior data and reporting analyst, Teacher Tapp

As COP26 took place in Glasgow, and a DfE keen to capitalise on its focus on education promised and delivered a sustainability and climate strategy for schools, Teacher Tapp mined the profession for information about their commuting habits, and the result was a policy proposal ministers and civil servants seem to have missed. Setting out all the reasons why four wheels look likely to remain the profession’s chief means of transport, Iain Ford made the point that the transition to electric vehicles is inevitable and assessed how government might help. And that was before runaway fuel price inflation. An idea ahead of its time, and you read it here first.

Feeling included

Anthony Maher, professor of SEND and inclusion, Carnegie School of Education

Warning that ‘inclusion’ has become so prominent that it risks becoming meaningless ‘eduspeak’, the Carnegie School of Education’s Anthony Maher explained how his research showed the importance of centring children and young people’s own experiences of feeling included in order to inform best practice. With growing clamour in these pages and elsewhere for moving beyond our deficit model of SEND, Maher’s piece was a timely intervention noting that the recent green paper that kickstarted the discussion made use of student voice just twice. And that’s likely to set an important context for its journey to white paper and beyond.

Ghost policies

Gemma Moss, professor of literacy, UCL Institute of Education

As the children’s commissioner began her ongoing campaign to make attendance the primary focus of the Covid recovery, the UCL Institute of Education’s Gemma Moss responded to a nascent moral panic about ‘ghost children’. Citing evidence from FFT EduDatalab showing that persistent absence continues to disproportionately affect pupils with SEND, Moss warned of the limited effectiveness of ‘command-and-control’ policies like the DfE’s proposed live attendance tracker, suggesting instead that the best response is often locally informed and relational. If the political response turns out to be ghost policy – ‘scary but of little substance’ – will ministers heed Moss’s message to empower and support a resilient and resourceful school workforce?  

Gendered reading

Rachel Crowdy, school partnerships manager, ImpactEd

Despite so much research into early reading (including a piece in this column that called some near-universal practices into question), the subject remains a contentious one. This year, for example, saw the ‘reading wars’ temporarily reignite in response to new research from the UCL Institute of Education. In this piece, ImpactEd’s Rachel Crowdy set out new evidence that exposed some interesting gender differences in why, how and with whom children read at home. Noting the correlation between gender and ability, confidence and motivation, the article suggests that making sense of this with families and young people could provide a ripe – and perhaps less contentious – source of impactful interventions.

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