An Interview with John Tomsett

6 November 2016

1. Why were you interested in your school applying to become a national EEF/IEE Research School?

Well, over the past few years we have become increasingly engaged in developing evidence-informed teaching and learning. The Randomised Controlled Trial we had already undertaken with the EEF has been so beneficial to our school that becoming an EEF/IEE school was a natural next step in our development. Ultimately we were interested in becoming a national EEF/IEE Research School to help disseminate the evidence about what works in the classroom across the region and help improve our students’ outcomes.

  1. When did you first become interested in evidence-based practice in your career in education?

I am ashamed to say that it was 23 years into my career before I became interested in what the evidence says works best in classrooms. I had led the KS3 Strategy back in 2001 and much of that had a decent evidence-base but I didn’t really ask questions about whether what we were told to do might work.

  1. Why is research evidence important to busy teachers working at the frontline of our classrooms?

Good use of the available evidence of what works best does two things for busy teachers. Firstly, if they follow what the evidence says they have the best chance of being successful in the classroom first time round and secondly, their students will have the best chance of making good progress.

  1. Could you name one piece of research evidence that has changed your professional practice and explain why?

Flavell’s work on metacognition has been at the root of my work on metacognition in the classroom.  I am convinced that we need to model explicitly the mental processes involved in learning that we, as teachers, can often take for granted. I spend time modelling how I think when I approach a task and aim to hardwire those thinking processes in my students’ brains!

  1. What are the barriers to evidence-based practice in our current school system?

Medicine is not an evidence-based profession. I know, that’s remarkable isn’t it? The opposition from the medical profession to using evidence to inform what happens in the operating theatre mirrors the resistance you find in teaching, in that the teaching establishment consider evidence-based teaching an affront to their omniscience and authority, and dismiss it as both “old hat” (“everybody’s already doing it”) and a “dangerous innovation, perpetuated by the arrogant to serve cost-cutters and suppress pedagogic freedom”. What we have to do is demonstrate how evidence-informed practice can save precious time and help us all improve our teaching.

  1. How do you envisage the role of research evidence shaping our school system in the next decade?

With budgets tightening and the level of academic challenge in schools growing we do not have the funding or time to guess about what might work in the classroom. The influence of evidence-informed practice will only grow over the next decade as national policy drives school leaders to raise standards frugally. If we can grow the number of Research Schools so that in every collaboration of schools, large or small, there is a centre of research expertise which influences all classroom practice, then we will have systematically improved our schools.

  1. Name one piece of research evidence you would recommend for professionals working in schools.

If you wanted to know the best bets of what works in the classroom, I would suggest every teacher reads Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. Its subtitle says it all: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know!

Posted on 6 November 2016
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