Mind the Gap: Engaging Education Practitioners with Evidence

The report ‘Evidence Needs and the Welsh Education System released by the Public Policy Institute of Wales, focuses on understanding gaps in the evidence base and how it is used by policy makers and practitioners. It raises a number of important issues.

Engaging practitioners with an evidence base

One such issue is the importance of practitioners’ understanding and use of evidence.

Engaging practitioners with the evidence base of what works, how it works, and why it works is going to be crucial if Wales is to realise the ambitious agenda envisaged by the Welsh Government as it responds to the Successful Futures report and reforms initial teacher education in Wales in light of the Furlong Report.

Historically, practitioner engagement with research has been a weakness both in Wales and elsewhere which was why NFER developed Research in Schools and associated approaches like the Research-engaged School, the Self-Review Tool for research engagement in schools and other education providers, and the NFER Research Mark for Schools.

In light of these experiences, I agree with the suggestion that practitioners in Wales need to consider issues such as:

  • how teacher education providers can do more to facilitate engagement with research both as part of initial teacher education (ITE) and as part of practitioners’ continuous professional development (CPD)
  • what the regional consortia are doing/could do to promote practitioner engagement with evidence and how work in the future could build on what is currently happening.

Delivery of ITE and CPD

I also agree that ITE and CPD in Wales would undoubtedly benefit from research which highlights current international practice in those areas, and interprets this in light of the Welsh context. For example, discussions about the role of teaching schools and effective practice in ITE need to inform what is happening in Wales and should be analysed from the perspective of its needs.

At the same time, further research could focus on questions around how ITE and CPD can nurture ways of working that are research-aware/research-engaged, reflective, adaptive to new ideas, and creative. This evidence would be valuable for practitioners as they reflect on matters such as how to implement the new curriculum, how to refine the way they use assessment data, and how to tailor learning to meet individual learners’ needs.


The evidence ecosystem in Wales

The report talks about the ‘evidence ecosystem’ in Wales, and the need for it to be bolstered. One important issue is for practitioners to be able to access information about interventions that work, and for them to be supported and enabled to understand how those interventions might be used in their own classrooms. That is why policymakers and the research community in Wales need to think about how existing school support structures in Wales (such as the regional consortia and the Welsh Government’s networks like the Pioneer Schools) are effective at sharing such information and how their role could be developed further.

Moreover, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers need to think about how they can collaborate more closely to achieve two distinct but related aims:

  • to create better routes for practitioners and policy makers to make their knowledge and evidence needs known to researchers
  • for the system to be able to capture ideas and innovations for trialling.

One potential model is the Education Endowment Fund’s scale-up campaigns and support for implementation which have been helpful in England. This would require investment in evidence building around the key issues for schools in Wales.

All of this work should be helped by the size and cohesiveness of Wales’ school system which means that there is an opportunity to bring policymaking and practice closer together so that one informs the other.


About the author: Robert Smith is Research Manager at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). NFER is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. We are a charity, providing robust and innovative research, assessments and other services that are widely known and used by key decision-makers.

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