Back in 2013 I wrote a piece for The Guardian in response to a paper published by Ben Goldacre. Ben attempted to argue that teaching should become a research-led profession, driven by teachers themselves and reliant on the Randomised Controlled Trail (RCT). It received a few comments and circulated around Twitter for a few days, inflating my ego as well as adding a little bit to the debate. During this time I was contacted by Tom Bennett (who probably doesn’t remember this particularly crucial moment in his life), a teacher and TES columnist and a man who seemed keen to answer (or at least critically discuss) Goldacre’s battle cry. Tom had an idea – he wanted to run a conference on a Saturday in September and gather together as many like-minded teachers, academics and other interested parties in an attempt to debate and discuss teaching as research-led. He had read my Guardian piece and thought I might be such a person. I was intrigued but declined due to family commitments. To be honest, I was also very sceptical – there was no way that teachers would turn up on a Saturday during the first precious weeks of a new term and discuss educational research.
How wrong could I be?
I arrived home at about 10.30 last night; having travelled back from what has become one of the key education conferences in the teaching calendar (the ResearchED National Conference in London). This time last week I had recently returned home from the first ResearchEd Scotland event in Glasgow. The movement (or is it a ‘cult’?) has grown so fast it’s difficult to keep track of all the events carrying the ResearchED brand (it’s even travelled to Australia and the United States). The most amazing thing is that it’s still very much ‘owned’ by teachers, with speakers giving their time for free and seminar rooms packed with eager young (and not so young) minds. I have to say that I’ve caught the ResearchED bug (better late then never, I suppose) and find myself still buzzing from all the wonderful things I’ve seen and heard over the past two Saturdays.
Around 700 delegates gathered at South Hampstead High School for ResearchED15 (most of them teachers – ON A SATURDAY!). If you weren’t there, this is just a teeny tiny taste of what you missed.
Kieran Dhunna Halliwell (Ezzy Moon to those on Twitter) started off my day by using some rather offensive language in her discussion of Race and Culture in the Classroom. Kieran had conducted an interesting survey into how comfortable teachers were with discussions around race, ethnicity and culture (although we all had problems defining these terms). Essentially, teachers really aren’t that comfortable with discussing such issues although, not surprisingly, History and RE teachers are more so. Media representations are a major problem, insisted Kieran; I nodded in agreement, knowing full well that my own students often base their understanding of complex issues on whatever is on the front page of the tabloids.
Next I went to listen to Nick Gibb (Minister for Schools) and immediately wished I hadn’t (but was just too polite to get up and walk out). I listened to a speech that cherry picked blogs, books and individuals that simply supported current political ideology and emphasised the tired old false traditionalist-progressive dichotomy and praised Chinese teaching methods.
Thankfully, Claire Waghorn managed to banish Gibb to farthest corner of my cluttered unconscious. Her talk was on how South Hampstead High School (our host for the day) was adopting a Growth Mindset approach for pupils and staff. Claire provided the audience with a well-designed blueprint of how interventions should be implemented. There was also some discussion on Mindfulness (another hot topic at the moment).
I was up at 1pm but was too nervous for lunch (I was reliably informed that it was ‘lush’ – cheers Ezzy!). Mark Healy and I were talking critically about Mindsets only Mark couldn’t make it so I was on my own. If you’re interested the slides are here.
Stuart Ritchie (University of Edinburgh) talked IQ tests and used lots of complicated graphs. IQ remains controversial with teachers and although I’m not keen on the tests myself (I suspect partly in fear of being of below average intelligence) I can’t deny they have a strong empirical basis. Stuart certainly believed in what he preached and had the evidence to support every word he spoke (including an MRI scan of his brain). His talk also suggested that A-level Psychology textbooks really need to catch up with the research.
I was flagging by the time I made it to Jack Marwood’s session. We arrived to the sound of 80’s pop sensation Prefab Sprout (according to Wikipedia they still exist!). Jack talked about research and what we understand about what actually works in the classroom. I enjoyed the session but left with the frightening conclusion that nothing we ever do will make any significant difference to the outcomes of our pupils – of course I was very tired by this point and might have misunderstood.
The hard wooden benches in the sports hall woke me up a little (but did nothing for the wonky disc at the base of my spine *reaches for the Ibuprofen* ). I’d arrived to listen to Professor Rob Coe, good friend to the whole ResearchED movement/cult). Pof. Coe returned to the core of ResearchED – How can we know what actually works? The answer I think is that sometimes we don’t but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. His slides are available here.
Tom Bennett drew the day to a close by asking for some volunteers to put some chairs away. Then everyone went to the pub.