Sunday, 8 September 2013

ResearchED 2013

About six months ago Ben Goldacre and I were having a twitter conversation about how one might mobilise the burgeoning collective interest in research amongst teachers. We'd agreed that a grassroots conference would be a great thing...but that sounded like a lot of work. Who would be crazy enough to take on that kind of a challenge in their spare time? I half-jokingly asked Tom Bennett on the grounds that he was a) a teacher b) had written a lot about research c) is well liked across the political/policy spectrum and d) is just about crazy enough to take on a project like that...

To be honest I didn't actually think he'd do it.

Anyway fast forward six months to yesterday and I found myself watching Tom presenting Ben to an audience of 500 expectant educationalists - most of them - uniquely in my experience of attending research conferences - classroom teachers. Taking that germ of an idea to reality in such a short space of time has been a heroic effort by Tom and his small team of volunteers; especially Helene Galdin O'Shea. They deserve all the praise they're getting.

The event itself was the best I've attended on the topic. Partly because of the speakers but also because of the shared sense that this was a real tipping point for the profession. There are now enough teachers engaged in research to make a conference on a Saturday at the beginning of term viable (with another 400 on the waiting list). This movement is only going to get stronger....

As for the speakers Ben Goldacre summarised his DfE report with great humour. I particularly enjoyed his caricatures of the sort of people who will try to put teachers off research (especially the smug git who once read about a methodological problem with RCTs and now thinks it's smart to dismiss them completely...)

I stayed in the main hall to watch Amanda Spielman talk about the ways in which ARK schools use research for school improvement. As usual when listening to Amanda speak I found myself wondering why more schools aren't just copying ARK given the strength of their systems and the robustness of the results to date.

After that I rushed over to another building to listen to Joe Kirby and Becky Allen talk about Teach First. Joe's excellent presentation is here and I've already blogged about Becky's research here. I did think Becky's presentation was masterful in its careful use of caveats and refusal to make overblown assertions about the findings. There were lots of questions at the end but no time left to answer them. I did, though, see Becky furiously scribbling them down so I'm hoping for some more analysis in the future.

Then it was on to my favourite presentation of the day from Laura McInerney. She challenged us to think up 7 "touchpaper" problems for education that were focused on cognitive development, would of direct relevance to classroom teachers and would have a clear end point. She had a couple of interesting ones herself including (I'm paraphrasing) "if you wanted a class to learn 20 chunks of knowledge between two lessons what's the most effective homework you could set"? She's promised me she has thought up seven and will be blogging on it shortly. I think it's an idea that the DfE or a education foundation should pick up and run with.

I missed the next set of sessions to compose myself before my own talk on evidence-based policy-making. I had a decent crowd who seemed receptive to my musings. It was filmed so I'll post a link when I have one.

I then really wanted to see Katie Ashford talk about her views on teacher training based on her own experiences and subsequent research. Unfortunately the door was physically blocked because there were so many people in the room. I'm told it was fascinating.

After the event finished a large group of us went off to the pub. I met many tweeters I'd only known virtually before and had some fairly spirited debates...

I got back home at 11:00 after a great day wondering what I should ask Tom to do next...

Anyway my proposed slogan for ResearchED 2014:

"The geeks shall inherit the earth"


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