In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on “working out what works” in education. However, education research can only tell us the extent to which something worked in the research setting, and this is a surprisingly poor predictor of whether that thing will work in a different context. This has led Professor Steve Higgins, the lead author of the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, to coin what is known as “the Bananarama effect”: it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it – that’s what gets results. We now have mountains of research on what has (and has not) worked in various contexts. What is massively underdeveloped is the question of how to build on all this knowledge to bring about positive change in schools. This is the so-called problem of “knowledge mobilisation” – how do we translate what we know about what has worked in the past into social policies and social practices that have the desired effect when implemented at scale? In recent years, a new field of study has arisen – implementation science – that seeks to answer this question. This is what teachers, school leaders and education researchers now need to focus their attention on.
Dr James Mannion worked as a science teacher for 10 years, and has 8 years’ experience in school leadership positions. He has an MA in Person Centred Education from the University of Sussex, and recently completed his PhD in Learning to Learn at the University of Cambridge. James works part-time as Bespoke Programmes Leader at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at the University College London Institute of Education, working with schools throughout the UK to improve outcomes for young people through evidence-informed research and implementation. He is also the Director of Rethinking Education, specialists in evidence-informed school improvement and impact evaluation.
National Conference 2017
Silver bullets, magic wands and tooth fairies: why school leaders and education researchers need to embrace complexity (and how)
The year 2017. Education researchers and school leaders remain obsessed with finding silver bullets and magic wands – that elusive panacea that will cure all ills. One hugely expensive randomised controlled trial after another looks at a single factor in isolation: is it PARENT CLASSES that will make the difference? No? Then maybe SATURDAY SCHOOLS will do the trick. Nope, that’s no good either… Wait, how about IPADS?! Drawing on an idea that is well-established in other fields such as medicine and psychotherapy, James’s doctoral work is a 5-year evaluation of a complex intervention, whereby multiple strands of effective practice were combined so that the marginal gains arising from any single component stack up and interact to create a larger effect size overall (e.g. see Mannion & Mercer, 2016). Schools are complex places: we all need to stop searching for silver bullets and magic wands, and start designing educational interventions and research studies that take account of the complexity of social reality.
National Conference 2016
Rethinking Learning to Learn: Raising the Bar, Closing the Gap In 2010, James Mannion and his colleagues set out to re-conceptualise Learning to Learn as a so-called ‘complex intervention’, comprised of multiple effective practices. The resulting whole-school ‘Learning Skills’ programme (learning-skills.org) combines metacognition, self-regulation, oracy, formative assessment, growth mindset and small-scale research inquiry. A 5-year longitudinal evaluation found that ‘Learning Skills’ led to significant gains in academic attainment, with particularly profound academic gains among students eligible for the Pupil Premium.
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