Embedding and evidence-informed culture

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Why is an evidence-informed culture important?

There has been an explosion of interest in evidence-informed education in recent years, and with good reason. Evidence helps us to identify those ‘best bets’ that are more likely to have a positive impact on pupil learning and so outcomes. With each pupil only having one opportunity at school we have a moral imperative to make sure that we use these best bets.

However, this is not the norm – research suggests that evidence continues to play a relatively small role in influencing teachers’ decision-making. The NFER report on evidence-informed teaching showed that teachers are much more likely to draw on their own experiences, or the experiences of other teachers when making decisions about leadership or classroom practice, than they are to use research.

So, how can leader start to make a change to an evidence informed culture? I believe there are three key enablers that are crucial in helping an evidence-informed culture to develop. Once these enablers are in place, leaders can then then increase the understanding and use of evidence-informed practice at their schools, ultimately developing an evidence-informed culture.

The three enablers  

These are:

  1. Establishing effective relationships with high levels of relational trust so that colleagues talk about their problems of practice and value learning with and from their colleagues.
  2. Valuing the development of all teachers and recognises that we are all capable of making improvements to our practice.
  3. Applying an evidence-informed lens to decision making so that our efforts are directed towards the best bets we discussed previously.

Relational trust

Relational trust is the trust that occurs between groups of people in school, and for the purpose of this presentation, namely between school leaders and teachers, and between one teacher and another. Bryk and Schneider in their seminal work, ‘Trust in Schools: A core resource for school improvement’ identified four components to building and sustaining relational trust including: respect, personal regard, competence in your role and personal integrity.  

This is crucial to the embedding of an evidence-informed culture because relational trust can mean teachers feel less vulnerable and so they feel able to have honest conversations with colleagues without fear of judgement. They also have a positive attitude to innovation and risk, enhanced commitment and are more willing to work collaboratively to tackle tough problems together and value learning from one another.

So, how can we develop these components and so relational trust in our schools? Firstly, we can develop positive relationships by demonstrating a personal regard for our colleagues through our informal conversations. These are the small chats that often take place in corridors or at break time and may be about professional or personal topics but demonstrate that we care about how people are, how things are going and if they need support.

We can also use more formal professional conversations to develop trust. For example, staff at my school each complete an individual CPD plan at the start of the year where they identify any areas of their practice they would like to focus on and discuss their career aspirations and any personal needs from this. These discussions that take place with line managers demonstrate the importance of we place on our teachers and their development and careers.

Beyond this, leaders must demonstrate that they trust teachers as experts, that they trust their professional judgement. This can be achieved through giving teachers autonomy over how they teach, for example by allowing teachers to decide how best to implement whole-school T&L strategies in their subjects and lessons (often cited as a tight but lose approach), and by consulting staff, taking their views into account.

Leaders have to demonstrate that they trust their teachers to do a good job. This means removing monitoring or quality assurance activities such as work scrutiny and lesson observations used to evaluate or judge the quality of teaching. Instead, dropping into lessons can be used to show teachers they can trust in your support – by checking pupils are behaving well and doing what they should, providing support if necessary.

Leaders should also trust teachers to have autonomy over their professional development for example by being able to decide areas of focus and activities, and determine their own individual CPD plans.

Prioritising the development of all teachers:

The second enabler of an evidence-informed culture is prioritising the development of all teachers. This is crucial to an evidence-informed culture firstly because it means that all teachers feel the need to engage with those practices that are best supported by evidence, in order to improve.

Secondly, if we focus on development, rather than accountability, it means that teachers will feel able to trial new practices, make mistakes and make refinements over time – all crucial to evidence-informed practice.

As with trust, there are a number of practical things that leaders can do to emphasise development. One of the biggest tools here is the schools’ performance management or appraisal system. This must not include data-driven targets. Instead, engagement in professional development and evidence-informed practice should be enough.

Secondly, there should be no judgemental high stakes lesson observations as this detracts from a developmental culture where staff feel safe to try new practices and admit to any weaknesses. Instead, all lesson drop-ins should only be used to identify good practice, support teachers, check behaviour and identify any common areas for development that can feed forward into future CPD.

In order for all have to develop, leaders have to prioritise professional development. Here, they need to model their own ongoing development by discussing the areas of practice that they are currently working on, how they are learning and their own successes and failures.

Further to this, leaders have to prioritise the development of their teachers by minimising workload and competing demands from other areas – this may include sensible feedback policies, removal of admin meetings, shared behaviour systems, shared resources/assessments, reduced data entry, reduced reporting commitments, and reduced non-teaching duties.

Finally, leaders must ensure time for teachers to engage in development activities such as external courses and visits, protected time for internal CPD, protected time for collaboration meetings, time for observing others, and individual reading and reflection time.

Use of evidence:

The final enabler for developing an evidence-informed culture is unsurprisingly, the constant and ongoing use of evidence. This ensures that evidence-informed practices are valued and that all teachers engage with them.

Here, all decisions on all aspects of school life should, where possible, involve evidence, from teaching and learning, to the strategies used to improve attendance, increase parental engagement and best provide support for disadvantaged students. This has to be seen as the normal.

Furthermore, leaders have to explicitly explain the evidence behind all of these decisions and make sure that they always question the evidence behind for any changes or new initiatives.

Increasing the understanding and use of evidence-informed practices across the school

Once we have the three prerequisites in place, leaders can start to take practical steps to increase our teachers understanding and use of evidence-informed practice.

Again, there are three elements to this: ensuring a whole-school approach, research dissemination and engagement, and teachers undertaking research.

Ensuring a whole-school approach:

Taking a whole-school approach is crucial so that evidence-informed practice is implemented across the school, rather than only by those teachers that choose to engage with research.

To achieve this, leaders, and importantly the headteacher, must agree that evidence-informed teaching is a whole-school priority and must communicate this to all staff.

The development and use of evidence-informed practice should take a central part in the schools’ development plan and this should feed through into department development plans and individual performance management.

A shared framework of evidence-informed T&L should be created and shared with all staff. This gives a shared understanding of what great, evidence-informed teaching looks like.

Whole-school CPD can then be provided on these elements to enhance this shared understanding. This must be in-depth and be followed up with additional sessions and departmental meetings to encourage teachers to engage with the strategies deeply and develop a proper understanding of their successful implementations to prevent lethal mutations or cargo cults.

Research dissemination and engagement:

We are all very aware that one of the main barriers to teachers engaging with research is time. Most classroom teachers just do not have the time (nor, understandably, after a full day of teaching) the will, to read an extensive paper or book. Therefore, the summarisation and dissemination of research into a format which is accessible to teachers is crucial. This can take many formats including:

  • T&L Newsletters/blog
  • CPD library
  • Summaries/guides
  • Sharing papers, blogs, podcasts/pre-recorded/conferences/reading lists.

We can further encourage the engagement of teachers with research by providing them with direct opportunities to do so – this can be done through reading research/evidence together in a T&L research, journal or book club, or departmental research session, providing time for teachers to engage with research independently (flexi-time), or by offering teachers the opportunity to complete external courses such as such as CCT Certificate in Evidence-informed education.

Teachers’ undertaking research:

Finally, we can increase teachers’ understanding of evidence-informed practice by allowing them to undertake their own research. This can allow teachers to focus a specific area of interest to keep to their own professional development. This can be done in large groups such as a T&L inquiry group or small group inquiries, or as individua inquiry questions.

My Resources

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A quick summary of the resources I have published to date and how they might be used, with direct links.

Education paper summaries:

These are short summaries of seminal educational papers including:

  1. CESE – Cognitive Load Theory: Research that teachers really need to understand
  2. CESE – Cognitive Load Theory in Practice
  3. University of Washington – How to Use Retrieval Practice to Improve Learning
  4. Clark et al – Putting Students on the Path to Learning: The case for fully guided instruction
  5. Rosenshine – Principles of instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know about
  6. Deans for Impact – The Science of Learning
  7. Daniel Willingham – What Will Improve a Student’s Memory?
  8. John Dunlosky – Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Learning
  9. American Psychological Association – Top 20 Principles from Psychology for Teaching and Learning
  10. Evidence Based Education – The Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review

Links: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gchzustalz0gyib/AADRFnVwdRoDUcL0h4hsNsaPa?dl=0

Possible uses:
• These summaries can be used to improve your own knowledge of evidence/research and the strategies associated with evidence-based teaching.
• You can share them with teachers in your school to read independently.
• These summaries could also be used in CPD – You could ask departments to read a summary and discuss how this could be implemented in their subject or could use them in whole-school sessions.
• Lots of the summaries are accompanied with questions to help teachers to reflect on the content and the impact this may have on teaching. These could be used for your own reflections, or shared to support teachers reading the summaries independently or as part of CPD training. Link to questions: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/z9335ootyneeo3s/AAAxHGllwNFW9z52HaUXxUJNa?dl=0
• I also have a reading list which gives links to further educational papers. Link: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/of272uimr6noz1nn0ja01/Engaging-in-Research-Reading-List.docx?dl=0&rlkey=5bi0jhme7s2l3onmnz31gh9mr

‘An Introduction to…’ Guides:

The aim of these guides is to give a brief introduction to some of the main elements of evidence-informed teaching and learning. This includes:

  1. Cognitive Science
  2. Cognitive Load Theory
  3. Explicit Instruction
  4. Generative Learning
  5. Learning myths
  6. Retrieval Practice
  7. Literacy
  8. Questioning
  9. Homework
  10. Feedback

Link to the guides: https://www.dropbox.com/s/jbpft08xpkedn8b/An%20introduction%20to…full%20guide.pdf?dl=0

Possible uses:
• Again, these guides could be used to improve your own knowledge or shared with teachers at your school. They are likely to be most useful to ITTs, Early career teachers or those teachers that have not encountered these ideas/strategies before.
• They could also be used aa a initial reference for personalised inquiry projects as each guide has a list of references/further reading.
• They could also be used as a starting point for departmental or whole-school training, where one of these strategies is a priority.

Book summaries:

These are short summaries of the books that have been most influential to my teaching:

  1. Doug Lemov – Teach Like a Champion 2.0
  2. Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison – Make Every Lesson Count
  3. Pooja Agarwal and Patrice Bain – Powerful teaching – Unleash the power of learning
  4. Brown et al – Make it stick
  5. Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson – What Does This Look Like in the Classroom?
  6. Dylan Wiliam – Embedded Formative Assessment
  7. Daniel Willingham – Why don’t students like school?

Possible uses:
• Firstly, it is important to note that these summaries are not supposed to be accessed instead of reading the original work. Instead, they can be used to highlight the contents and main aspects covered to allow readers to decide those books or parts of books they will read themselves.
• If the books have been read as part of a T&L Book Club, the summaries can be used to refer back to or share the content with teachers who have not attended.

Retrieval practice resources:

  1. CPD presentation to introduce retrieval practice to your teaching staff – This includes what retrieval practice is, the important points to consider to ensure that retrieval practice is implemented successfully, and 20 examples of activities that could be used to implement retrieval practice in teaching.
  2. Staff guide to retrieval practice – a guide that accompanies the above.
  3. A presentation with examples of best practice of retrieval practice


Reducing written marking resources:

  1. Staff guide on the alternatives to written marking including live feedback, self-assessment, feedback on knowledge checks and whole-class verbal feedback.
  2. Staff guide to non-written feedback as a step-by-step process
  3. A presentation with examples of best practice for feedback (second half of the presentation)


Challenge resources:

  1. Staff guide to how to ensure all pupils are challenged, including practice examples of over 15 strategies.
  2. A CPD presentation that the guide accompanies.

Links: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/7kdlri76jeiugnd/AACMJMJ4bnv-BNX0m8nKNfOaa?dl=0

Rosenshine’s Principles resources:

  1. Summary of Rosenshine’s principles including examples of how the principles may be implemented into our teaching.
  2. A presentation with further examples that can be used to introduce the principles to staff.

Links: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/4h9zht9fda4kbbw/AABFJmBZ05Z0Ab6MCFMmVS_La?dl=0

Independent Learning resources:

  1. Pupil booklet – explains in a pupil-friendly manner the best ways to complete independent study including retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving and use of graphic organisers.
  2. Presentation – PowerPoint for pupils and parents to inform them of the above.



Teaching and Learning Research Group

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A brief explanation of my T&L Research Group and answers to some FAQs.

What is the T&L Group?

The T&L Research Group meets to discuss educational research. The aim of the group is to increase the number of staff engaging with research and the quantity of research that teachers engage with, to therefore increase and improve the use of evidence-informed teaching across our school. This is voluntary with staff choosing to attend.

How often does the group meet?

The group meets once every half term. I find that this allows us to cover a wide range of research articles whilst not overloading staff in terms of the amount of reading or the time commitment required to attend meetings.

How do you get staff to attend?

Firstly, before starting this T&L Group, I launched whole-school T&L priorities that were evidence informed. I explained what evidenced-informed T&L meant and why we wanted to use these strategies. This helped to develop the view/culture that using evidence-informed pedagogy is important. I also started to sending out blogs, research papers and articles to both the whole teaching body and where applicable, to individual staff and departments. This encouraged our teachers to start to engage with research themselves.

When launching the T&L Research Group I developed interest by pointing out the personal benefits of staff being involved – professional development, being able to say they have been included in driving forward T&L, gaining experience and insight outside of their department. I put the invitation out to all staff but personally asked some staff to attend. My Headteacher endorsed the group and urged staff to sign up. Finally, I asked our subject leaders to encourage at least one member of their department to be their representative. This helped to generate a lot if initial interest. Keeping workload manageable means staff feel able to keep attending, even at busy times of the year.

How do you decide what to read?

We tend to read research papers as these are concise and can be easily accessed. This includes papers on effective instruction more generally, for example Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, the Great Teaching Toolkit and the Sutton Trust Report on ‘What Makes Great Teaching? I also select papers that support our whole-school teaching and learning priorities. For instance, when introducing retrieval practice as a priority the T&L Research Group read a guide to effective retrieval practice. I find this helps to support the implementation of these priorities both in those teachers that attend the T&L Group and further members of staff that they are able to support. Finally, we have read papers on future T&L priorities such as cognitive load theory. Again, this helps to create teachers in departments across the school that are knowledgeable and supportive about future initiatives.

What happens before the meetings?

I send out a link to our chosen article/research paper before the meeting and ask staff to read it and reflect on the content. I also send out a list of questions in advance of the meeting. This helps to structure the discussion at the meeting but also makes the members of staff attending feel more confident to share their opinions. It also means they can prepare examples from their teaching where relevant. This helps to spread best practice across the school. This will sometime involve going though each part of the article and discussing our opinions, using the article as a prompt or just asking teachers to share examples of best practice from those techniques recommended by the article. I always ask teachers for their main takeaways – the changes that they are going to make to their teaching based on the reading and our discussions. This helps members to reflect on their practice. Examples of these questions can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/z9335ootyneeo3s/AAAxHGllwNFW9z52HaUXxUJNa?dl=0

What happens in the meetings?

In the meeting we firstly discuss the changes people have made to their teaching based on the article we read and discussed in the last meeting. I have found that doing this gives people the chance to reflect on the changes they wanted to make and encourages them to retain these changes in the longer-term. We then discuss the new article, going through the pre-published questions. This is done on a voluntary basis, with staff offering to share their thoughts.

What happens after the meeting?

After the meeting, I prepare a written summary of the discussions including the answers to the questions and our main takeaways – aspects that we are going to introduce into our teaching. I have found that this helps to cement any discussions and teachers have said they find it useful to refer back to. Examples of these summaries can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gchzustalz0gyib/AADRFnVwdRoDUcL0h4hsNsaPa?dl=0

I then ask all members to present/discuss the research and our reflections at their next department meeting. This is a crucial step in the process as it means that all staff are engaging with the research, not just those that attend the meetings.

I love our meetings and I hope this helps to answer some of the questions you may have about setting up your own T&L Research Group.

CPD – Improving All Teachers

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Why is CPD so important?

  • It is now widely accepted that the quality of teaching has the largest impact on pupil progress and outcomes.
  • CPD has the potential to make a huge difference to teacher quality.
  • Research has shown that without effective CPD teachers improve for first 3-5 years then plateau, CPD can continue this improvement.
  • CPD can increase teachers’ motivation, aiding recruitment and retention.  

What is effective CPD?

Research has demonstrated that effective CPD is:

  1. Evidence-informed
  2. Focused
  3. Subject-specific
  4. Collaborative
  5. Sustained

What does this look like at my school?

Whole-school briefings- These whole-school meetingsare initially usedto introduce evidence-informed teaching and learning strategies. For example, in previous years I have used these sessions to introduce staff to spaced retrieval practice, strategies to improve literacy, and effective feedback techniques. The presentation part of these sessions includes an explanation of the strategy and the research which supports it, examples of how it can be implemented into teaching, and modelling the use of the strategy. Here, whole school sessions are applicable as these are strategies which are going to form a large part of our approach to T&L, are new to the entire staff body, or include areas that we have not focused on before. An example of one of these presentations can be viewed here: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/8w9rom1ml5u7z7aqqmxre/Retrieval-Practice.pptx?dl=0&rlkey=skwp5sdjgsvx5rjz9cywjxujl.

After this initial introduction it is important to give time for individuals to reflect on their action points and to record the changes they are intending on making. This helps to prevent the new initiatives being forgotten when teaching resumes.

I always then give time for departments to discuss how these strategies can be best implemented in their disciplines. I have written previously about the ‘tight but lose’ approach my school takes – giving departments and individual teachers the flexibility to decide how whole-school priorities are implemented in their teaching. This gives ownership and develops buy-in, and also ensures that the initiatives are implemented in the most effective way for each subject.

As we retain our T&L priorities for the long-term, I use future whole-school sessions to revisit each priority, refining our approach and sharing best-practice from across the school. For example, when revisiting retrieval practice I highlighted the importance of using retrieval tasks to recover higher order knowledge and understanding, and gave examples on how this had been done in multiple subjects. This helps to keep momentum and improves practise across the school. A link to an example of these presentations can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/lr6zhsy0bhcf3lxeucthp/T-L-Priorities-2020-2021-Sharing-Good-Practice-v3.pptx?dl=0&rlkey=wobntgdi6feord3alot9b3oct. I also give staff the opportunity to revisit their action plans, enabling them to reflect on and evaluate any changes they have made to date and any further actions they wish to implement.

Collaboration meetings – These meetings are often held during INSET days, and give departments time to plan collaboratively, including developing curriculum plans and resources. This helps teachers to implement the whole-school priorities into their teaching and improves the quality of the implementation. Finally, it allows a small number of staff from each department to develop plans and resources for one topic/course/year group which can then be shared across the department, increasing consistency and more importantly, reducing workload for individual teachers.

Flexi-INSET time for engaging with research- We normally schedule two INSET days each year as Flexi-INSET days. Here, staff accrue additional hours throughout the year and then have these two INSET days off. One of the activities that staff can do to accrue this time is engaging with educational research. This includes any independent engagement such as reading an article, blog, research paper or book. I support this with a reading list and staff CPD library but staff can choose their own source if they wish. This gives teachers time to read educational research and also ensures that this research spreads further when teachers discuss this at department meetings. Finally, it gives autonomy by allowing staff to look further into an area of their own choosing.

Optional training sessions – These twilight sessions take place after school. ‘Engaging with research’ sessions include teachers meeting to read and discuss a piece of research and discussing how this may impact our teaching practice. We also run sessions on a specific areas of evidence-informed teaching such as cognitive load theory and its implications for teaching, retrieval practice and modelling. These sessions allow teachers to decide which aspects of their teaching they would like to focus on. They also enable us to meet the needs of teachers at different stages of their teaching career/with different levels of expertise. For example, we may run a session introducing spaced retrieval practice and how it can be implemented for recently qualified teachers, but will also run a session on embedding and refining the use of retrieval practice for more expert teachers. Again, attendance at these sessions can be used to gain flexi-INSET time. (Note – these sessions were planned to start this year but due to national restrictions are now planned to start next year).

The T&L Inquiry Group – This is a voluntary group which meets after school, once every half term. As a group, we Identify an area of teaching practise we want to focus on for the year (for example, last year this included the use of multiple-choice questions and whole-class verbal feedback, and this year we are looking at increasing boys’ attainment). In preparation for our first meeting, each member of the group completes a mini literature review on best practice. Here, I provide a reading list as a starting point. In the meeting each member summarises their reading and also explains any strategies that they are already using in their teaching. From this, we each identify the strategy(s) we want to trial, implementing them into our teaching in the coming months. At our future meetings we evaluate the impact that these strategies have had on teaching and learning. Finally, we share the best practice across the school, for example in a whole-school training session or staff guide.

Subject knowledge and pedagogy meetings – The purpose of these meetings is to improve teachers’ subject and pedagogical knowledge. This may include the department discussing the knowledge surrounding a difficult topic and how best to teach it to pupils, an article/book/piece of research, or a specific practice relevant to their subject. The focus of these meetings is decided by curriculum leaders, who also lead the sessions. Examples of these include:

  • The science department discussing the EEFs report on Improving Secondary Science and ‘Make Every Science Lesson Count’ and identifying strategies that could be implemented into their teaching.
  • The business studies department agreeing the most effective methods of teaching quantitative skills.
  • The maths department discussing the teaching of negative indices and to how best to implement interleaved and spaced retrieval practice.
  • The English department discussing the use of visualisers and whole-class verbal feedback in their subject.
  • The art department attending training to develop their photography skills.

The T&L Research Group – This is another voluntary group which meets after school, once every half term. Before each meeting, members read a research paper, journal article or blog. At each meeting we then discuss this in depth including what it may mean for teaching and learning and how we could implement the findings into our lessons. Members then discuss these findings at their next department meeting, further spreading the research findings across the school.

Dissemination of research for further independent CPD – I have written previously (https://mrspearce865924391.wordpress.com/2021/01/31/evidence-informed-teaching-and-learning/) about the ways in which I disseminate research and evidence-informed approaches to teachers across my school. To summarise, this includes:

  1. Sharing of blogs and resources
  2. A staff CPDL library
  3. T&L Newsletters
  4. Staff guides
  5. Sharing of best practice from within the school

Further personalised CPD activities – Staff can also engage in a number of voluntary personalised CPD opportunities. I facilitate the organisation of these (where needed) by sending out a form to staff at the start of each year. These activities include:

  • Visiting a colleague in another school in a certain role/with expertise in a specific area
  • Contributing to the Teaching and Learning newsletter
  • Contributing to whole-staff training
  • Meeting with/shadow a colleague in a leadership role and discuss this role with them
  • Other external courses/qualifications such as those offered by the Chartered College of Teaching.

Future changes:

There are many further improvements and refinements that I now plan to make to our CPD programme going forward. This includes:

  1. Individual CPD plans agreed at the start of the yearIn order to really place CPD at the heart of our school I plan on giving time for staff to make an individual CPD plan at the start of the year. This will allow them to identify any areas that they wish to focus on and will detail the CPD activities they are going to engage in. For example, the use of flexi-INSET time (from the options detailed above). This will be revisited regularly throughout the year.
  2. The expansion of instructional coaching (I will write more about this in a future blog).
  3. The inclusion of deliberate practice in other CPD activities. For example, as part of a session on behaviour management, attendees may spend time practicing giving instructions or using non-verbal techniques.
  4. A more in-depth Induction training program for new staff to cover our vision, values and T&L priorities.

Evidence-Informed Teaching and Learning

Achieving an evidence-informed approach to teaching and learning across my school

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Why should teaching and learning be evidence-informed?

I am passionate about evidence-informed teaching and learning for the following reasons:

  1. The quality of teaching can have the largest impact on pupil learning, progress and outcomes.
  2. CPD which is evidence-informed has been shown to have the largest impact on teacher quality.
  3. Being evidence-informed enables us to dispel learning myths which have long impacted classroom practice but have no basis in evidence. Examples include the ‘learning pyramid’ which has prevented the use of teacher-led explanations and instruction and ‘learning styles’ which resulted in lesson activities being tailored to these perceived ways of learning.
  4. It ensures that we base our decisions about which practices to use on evidence rather than hunches or experience. Doing this allows us to improve teaching, learning and pupil outcomes, making the biggest difference possible to pupils’ life chances.
  5. Evidence-informed teaching also enables us to reduce workload. In a profession that has long relied on teachers working in their evening and at weekends, and now suffering from a huge recruitment and retention crisis, it is crucial that we make teaching a sustainable profession. Evidence-informed teaching can allow us to do this by identifying those practices that have a large impact on workload but little impact on learning. For example, teachers in my school are no longer required to differentiate by resource or task, include written marking in feedback, or produce extensive written reports.

The rest of this blog will explain how I have developed an evidence-informed approach to teaching and learning at my school.

Evidence-informed whole-school teaching and learning priorities:

Before introducing any new T&L priorities, it was crucial that as a Leadership Group, we agreed that the use of evidence-informed T&L was going to be a whole-school priority. This then became part of our school development plan, and therefore a priority for all departments and teachers.

I identified those aspects of evidence-informed teaching that I thought were most important in my setting, limiting this to three areas (retrieval practice, literacy and feedback) initially. When introducing these as whole-school priorities I explicitly stated that these strategies were based on evidence and referred to multiple examples of this evidence. This heightened the profile of using strategies that were evidence-informed. I then ensured that teachers implemented these evidence-informed strategies into their own teaching, increasing the use of evidence-informed teaching across my school. This was achieved through training, modelling, staff guides, department time, sharing best practice and involving parents and pupils.

Dissemination of research/evidence to teachers:

It was not enough to introduce a small number of evidence-informed practices. In order for teaching across the school to be truly evidence-informed, it was important that all teachers engaged further with research. My role here was the dissemination of research to teachers. I do this in a number of ways:

  1. T&L Newsletter – One of the main barriers to classroom teachers engaging with evidence is time. Therefore, the aim of my T&L Newsletter is to distil this evidence into a format which is quick and easy to read and can be used to make immediate changes to classroom practice. This includes education book summaries (examples can be downloaded here https://www.dropbox.com/sh/wo6fsx25wkt7h0f/AABao3dyd5q7JkH1DpkjGACLa?dl=0), summaries of prominent education journals and articles and summaries of the evidenced-informed approaches to the main aspects of pedagogy such as questioning, feedback, explanations and formative assessment. I send this out to all teachers once per half-term.
  2. Staff guides – In a similar fashion, I produce staff guides for each of our whole-school T&L priorities. These summarise the findings of relevant evidence and give lots of practical examples of how the practices can be implemented in different subjects. Examples of these staff guides for retrieval practice, feedback and effective remote learning can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/so5nv1jqz669nll/AADX1trVqZJ_xjfpe29A46lVa?dl=0
  3. Sharing blogs and resources – Further to this, I regularly share blogs and resources which highlight best practice to staff. I do this both whole-school and to the relevant staff if the resource is subject specific. I find that sharing these with individual staff to whom they are most relevant tends to increase engagement and further discussion.
  4. Staff CPD library – I have built up a staff CPD library where staff can borrow any book for further reading. To encourage engagement with this I have included subject specific books. Here, I made suggestions to subject leaders for books that may be useful but also asked for their recommendations. I also advertise the books available to borrow to all staff periodically. This includes a short-summary of the book.
  5. T&L Research Group – This is a voluntary group which meets after school, once every half term. Before each meeting, members read a research paper, journal article or blog. At each meeting we then discuss this in depth including what it may mean for teaching and learning and how we could implement the findings into our lessons. Members then discuss these findings at their next department meeting, further spreading the research findings across the school.


A further cornerstone of becoming evidence-informed is using CPD as an opportunity to encourage engagement in evidence-informed pedagogy. Examples of this include:

  1. Evidence-informed CPD – It is crucial that any CPD follows the characteristics put forward as most effective by research into this area. This includes CPD which is evidence informed, focused, subject-specific, collaborative and sustained. I achieved this through using CPD to introduce those practices highlighted by evidence, giving time for departments to discuss any priorities for their subject and also to develop plans and resources for the implementation of these practices collaboratively, and finally by ensuring that we continued to revisit these priorities for at least two years.
  2. Subject knowledge and pedagogy meetings – The purpose of these meetings is to improve teachers’ subject and pedagogical knowledge. This may include the department discussing the knowledge surrounding a difficult topic and how best to teach it to pupils, an article/book/piece of research, or a specific practice relevant to their subject. The focus of these meetings is decided by curriculum leaders.
  3. Peer collaboration meetings – This gives departmental time to plan collaboratively, including developing curriculum plans and resources for teaching and assessment. This helps teachers to implement evidence-informed practices into their teaching.
  4. Staff can gain flexi-INSET time for engaging with research – This includes any independent engagement such as reading an article, blog, research paper or book. This gives teachers time to read educational research and also ensures that this research spreads this further when teachers discuss this at department meetings.
  5. Optional ‘engaging in research’ twilights – These twilight sessions take place after school and include reading an essential piece of research and discussing how this may impact our teaching practice. Again, attendance at these sessions can be used to gain flexi-INSET time. 

Other evidence-informed aspects:

Further steps that I have taken to ensure that my school is as evidence-informed as possible include:

  1. Learning walks and subsequent professional discussions focus on research-informed pedagogy.
  2. All aspects of recruitmentshow the importance of being research-engaged including job adverts, interview questions, person specifications, and job descriptions. This year, we have introduced a lesson planning task (based on an idea from Adam Boxer) where applicants write a lesson plan and explain their choices in as much depth as possible. This helps to highlight where they have used evidence-informed pedagogy and to probe their understanding of this further.
  3. Our whole-school policies and principleson teaching and learning, homework and feedback are based on evidence-informed practices.
  4. I have worked with parents and pupils to explain the evidence-informed practices that we have introduced. This includes why homework often requires pupils to revisit previous learning, why we no longer require staff to provide written comments on pupils’ work and how to study independently effectively. This helps to gain parental support and increases the use of these strategies by teachers and pupils.

Future improvements:

Evidence-informed teaching and learning has been one of my main areas of focus over recent years. However, there remain further elements that I want to improve upon or introduce, including:

  1. The introduction of peer observations by teachers to observe best practice.
  2. The expansion of instructional coaching (currently, we only use this on an ad-hoc basis).
  3. The introduction of individual CPD plans, agreed between teachers and their line manager at the start of the year (including use of flexi-INSET time as outlined above) and formally documented.
  4. Finally, I want to develop the links between my school and universities/other research partners and with other evidence-informed schools to act as critical friends.  

Retrieval Practice Part 2: How I have embedded retrieval practice across my school

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As discussed in my previous blog, retrieval practice has had a huge impact on my teaching, pupil learning and outcomes and the culture of my classroom. As a result, I subsequently launched it as a whole school priority. I have outlined how I did this below.

Stage 1: Gathering the evidence – I was aware of the impact that retrieval practice had made in my own subject but wanted to be sure that this could be applied as successfully in other subjects across the school. I gathered evidence of the use of retrieval practice in as many subjects as possible. This included books, blogs, articles and resources.

Stage 2: The Trial – As discussed in my previous blog, I had already trialled the use of retrieval practice extensively in my own teaching. I am lucky to work in a department with two brilliant colleagues who were also willing to introduce my ideas for retrieval practice into their own teaching, often suggesting improvements and helping to create the shared resources we used as a department. This made me confident that these practices had been piloted effectively before scaling up their use across the school.

Stage 3: Whole-staff introduction – When I felt confident that the trial had been successful, I introduced retrieval practice to my teaching staff. This was done through a whole-school briefing during which I explained what retrieval practice was, the research that supported it, how our short-term and long-term memories work and why this makes spaced retrieval practice effective. I highlighted important points for successful retrieval practice and introduced a number of practical strategies to implement retrieval practice, giving examples from as wide a range of different subjects as possible. I distributed a staff guide to retrieval practice which summarised this information and I encouraged staff to refer back to it regularly.

(This presentation and staff guide can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/4bah2m12rbgn7bs/AAAtkYyXUVguo7xyvw0kfDwga?dl=0)

Stage 4: Department time – I was very aware of the research which shows that to be impactful, effective CPD should be subject specific. Therefore, after this initial introduction, departments were given time to discuss how retrieval practice could be best implemented in their subject. This included giving departments time to read and discuss research or blogs/articles about how retrieval practice has been successfully used in their subject and the opportunity to look at further examples. This improved teachers’ understanding of retrieval practice and increased the quality of the retrieval initially carried out by teachers, but also developed ownership and buy-in from all staff.

I think it is important to point out at this stage that my school utilises a ‘tight but loose’ approach, where possible. We trust our teachers as experts who can make decisions about their teaching and how initiatives can best be implemented in their disciplines. This is a long-standing approach; we have Teaching and Learning Principles rather than a policy, and Feedback Principles instead of a marking policy. In both of these cases we agreed the core and most important elements of our practice as a school and departments then worked together to determine how these initiatives could be utilised in their subject. We do not request absolute conformity across the school or even within departments (although we do encourage collaborative planning and shared resources to reduce workload and fully utilise expertise).  This is the same approach that I took when introducing and embedding retrieval practice; we did not specify how retrieval practice had to be implemented, but rather allowed individual departments and teachers decide this for themselves.

I believe this was crucial to the success of this change to practice as it ensured that departments had ownership of the change. It also meant that retrieval practice was introduced in the most effective way for each subject, rather than trying to enforce a one size fits all approach which then doesn’t work as well in some areas of the school or with some groups of pupils. However, it should be noted that we did specify that all teachers were to use retrieval practice with their classes.

Stage 5 – Implementation: When staff started to introduce retrieval into their teaching I made it clear that I was not asking for or expecting huge changes initially – just that teachers should begin to implement retrieval practice into their lesson and/or homework and that they should trial some different approaches. We also gave time for the collaborative planning and resourcing of retrieval practice activities. This helped to ensure that the new initiative was not forgotten when teachers went back to their lessons.

Stage 6 – Parents and pupils: Alongside this, we introduced retrieval practice to all pupils and parents to explain why pupils would be doing this in lessons and for homework and why we would be encouraging pupils to use spaced retrieval when studying independently. We did this through assemblies, pupil booklets and parent forums (all of these resources can be downloaded here from the link above). Therefore, all pupils and parents were given the same, consistent message. This meant that pupils understood why spaced retrieval practice is effective and why other ‘revision’ strategies including cramming, re-reading and highlighting are ineffective. This meant that pupils were more likely to use retrieval practice at home and parents were more able to support them in doing this, leading to an even bigger difference to retention, attainment and progress.

Stage 7: Embedding retrieval practice – After the initial implementation, the most important thing was to keep the focus on retrieval practice as an important whole-school priority. This was achieved in numerous ways:

  1. I gave time in both twilight training and on INSET days to allow teachers and departments to continue to develop plans and resources for the further implementation of retrieval practice. This gave teachers and middle leaders the opportunity to discuss, evaluate and refine their practice.
  2. Crucially, we resisted introducing any new T&L priorities – this prevented the danger of teachers forgetting retrieval practice as they moved onto the next new initiative and reduced the likelihood of them suffering from change fatigue.
  3. Sharing best practice – I used whole-school briefings to share best practice from across the school. This meant that departments could implement ideas from other subjects into their own teaching. It also helped to keep momentum within the staff body.
  4. Learning walks – learning walks and the ensuing professional discussions focused on retrieval practice and the techniques that were being used by staff.
  5. Our T&L Research Group focused on papers and blogs about retrieval practice. We read and discussed these papers as a group, including the impact on our teaching. Members then discussed this with other teachers in their department meetings. This improved members’ knowledge, helped to spread the research on retrieval practice further and meant that the members of the T&L Group could be counted on to support other teachers in their department.
  6. I shared external blogs and examples of good practice (for example, from Twitter) with all teachers on a regular basis.
  7. Retrieval practice formed part of our curriculum reviews. Here, departments re-examined the topics and knowledge included in their curriculum. They also specified how retrieval practice would be implemented in their departments and how and when topics would be revisited. This helped to formalise the decisions made by departments.
  8. As my own knowledge and practice developed, I shared this with the school staff, for example by introducing ‘higher-order’ retrieval practice that goes beyond testing factual knowledge. I did this through further whole-school briefings, sharing of best practice and sharing of templates to give new examples of retrieval activities (these can be downloaded from my previous blog post).

Where next?

We are now in a position where retrieval practice is used by all teachers and all departments in the school, with many departments choosing to dedicate one lesson a week to retrieval (as I outlined in my initial blog). However, we will continue to keep spaced retrieval practice as a main focus over the next two years. We will continue to refine our practice, using the steps above.

Retrieval Practice Part 1: How I have embedded retrieval practice in my teaching

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Spaced retrieval practice is now fully embedded into my teaching. In fact, one of my three lessons per week with every class I teach and all of the homework I set is now dedicated entirely to retrieval practice. (Yes, this is a lot but using direct instruction, focusing on the clarity of initial explanations and having high expectations saves lots of time and we no longer need time to ‘revise’ at the end of the course).

My ‘retrieval lesson’ each week starts with a short retrieval activity. This will always include spacing (content that was covered some time ago) and interleaving (multiple topics covered at the same time). All retrieval is also ‘low stakes’ – pupils are not given a mark and pupil performance is not recorded in any way. I use a range of tasks (to give variety) but my most frequently used tasks include:

  1. Interleaved quizzes – this will include approximately 10 questions from a range of topics.
  2. Key word retrieval – pupils are given key words and have to provide the corresponding definition.
  3. Retrieval grids – the grid gives questions to answer on topics covered last week, last month and last term/year.
  4. ‘Give me fives’ – a grid states lots of topics/questions with pupils giving five different answers.
  5. ‘Find and fix the errors’ grids – the grid contains a number of statements, some of which contain errors. Pupils must find these errors and explain why they are incorrect.

(Editable templates of each of the above, a staff guide explaining how to use each of these activities and 20 additional examples can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/4bah2m12rbgn7bs/AAAtkYyXUVguo7xyvw0kfDwga?dl=0)

After completing the task from memory pupils then self-correct their work using their notes or revision guide in a different colour pen. I then ask pupils to discuss their answers in pairs or small groups. This allows pupils to discuss any disparities between their answers which addresses a high proportion of misconceptions or errors. It also increases pupils’ confidence in their answers with the result that they are able to contribute more fully to the ensuing whole-class discussion. During this, pupils then self-mark their work. This helps to ensure that they benefit from the hyper-correction effect so that their memory of the correct answer is strengthened in the future. It also develops pupils’ metacognition (their knowledge of what they know or their ability to judge their own learning) as they can clearly see what topics they knew well and where further study is required.

The rest of the retrieval lesson is spent reviewing the retrieval tasks that pupils have completed for homework that week. Each week pupils complete a number of longer retrieval practice tasks. These tasks can be more time consuming as they are completed at home and this gives the opportunity to retrieve each topic in more depth and/or to retrieve ‘higher order’ learning. Examples of the activities I utilise here include:

  1. Retrieval clocks – The paper is split into 12 sections with each section being linked to one aspect of the topic. Pupils have 5 minutes to recall everything they can about each aspect.
  2. ‘Know it all’ sheets – pupils are given templates which specify the most important aspects of each topic.
  3. ‘Because, but, so’ questions – Pupils are provided with one sentence ending in ‘because’, one in ‘but’ and one in ‘so’. They have to compete these sentences.
  • Essay plans – Pupils are given a number of essay questions and have to retrieve the aspects that they should include in each essay.
  • Concept maps – pupils draw a concept map to show the most important elements of a topic and the content linked to each of these.

(Again, this is a small number of the retrieval tasks I set for homework and templates/explanations can be found by following the link above).

As with the in-lesson retrieval, when completing these tasks at home pupils complete them from memory and then self-correct in a different colour. I have to trust pupils to complete these tasks in this way at home – something pupils do not naturally want to do as completing a task from memory is more difficult and time-consuming than using a support resource straight away. It has therefore been crucial to teach pupils about short-term and long-term memory and why strategies such as spacing, interleaving and retrieval are so effective. I have always done this at the start of the year when first requiring pupils to retrieve content from their long-term memories. It is also important to teach pupils to complete these tasks effectively. I do this through modelling how to complete each task and then asking pupils to complete guided practice in lessons before they attempt them independently at home.

During the lesson I check that each pupil has completed their homework by sight only, recording this on each pupil’s homework log (see sample below). This reduces workload as I am not required to mark homework.

TopicConcept mapRetrieval clockKnow it all sheet
Methods to grow   
Ownerships for growing businesses    
Changing aims and objectives   
The product life cycle   
The design mix   
Homework Checklist

Finally, I use retrieval practice to identify those topics that may need to be re-covered or re-taught (those areas that pupils have struggled with the most). I then use ‘pause lessons’ for retrieval practice on the whole of these topics. These lessons are completely discrete from the learning pupils have been doing and are often completed at the end of a module. I ask pupils to complete a retrieval practice quiz and then re-teach any areas where misconceptions exist.

Over time, I have refined my use of retrieval practice both in lessons and as homework. These changes include:

  1. I have hugely increased the range of retrieval tasks that I set. This requires pupils to retrieve their knowledge in multiple formats, ensures each topic is retrieved multiple times and also prevents boredom.
  2. Initially, pupils completed these activities in a rough book or on single handout. However, I found that this meant they were not able to look back on their work and so we now hand out booklets with all starter and homework activities for each term. Not only has this massively reduced workload (this is planned for the term/year), it also means that these booklets become a personalised set of study notes. It also helps pupils to see the progress that they have made throughout the year and I have found this to be very motivating.
  3. This also allows me to provide pupils with templates, for example of a concept map or ‘know it all sheet’ which helps to ensure they complete tasks in the detail required, including all of the most important elements of the topic.
  4. As discussed above, I now use retrieval practice to retrieve more complex knowledge rather than focusing on factual knowledge. This can be achieved by using some of the activities detailed above or by including questions which require pupils to, for example, evaluate rather than just state answers.
  5. Research has shown that interleaving is more effective when mixing up similar topics rather than topics at random. For example, pupils can confuse interest rates and exchange rates and so I would now interleave these topics with one another.
  6. I now require older pupils to use the retrieval practice completed in lessons and for homework to identify topics or areas of topics on which they will complete further independent study. I ask students to complete a simple study log after each self-testing activity to identify the areas or topics they are going to focus on. I then (briefly) check the work that they have produced during this independent study which may, for example, include flash cards, concept maps or graphic organisers.
  7. I have increased the use of tasks which require pupils to assess their learning. This includes the ‘star/question mark’ approach taken by the authors of ‘Powerful Teaching’ (see below) – where pupils tick the star column if they are confident in their knowledge and the ‘question mark’ column if they are not.

My use of retrieval practice has had the following impact:

  • Pupils’ retention of content is much better. They are able to recall knowledge of topics that we have studied previously. This means they are much better at making links between topics.
  • Pupils are much more confident in lessons and are willing to contribute more fully.
  • Pupils experience success and as a consequence are more motivated.
  • Pupils value homework and the quality and quantity of completion is much higher.
  • Pupils report that they feel much less anxious about tests or formal examinations.
  • Outcomes have improved – over the last three years 70-80% of pupils have achieved their best grade at both GCSE and A Level in Business Studies.

As a result of this success, I have now introduced spaced retrieval practice across my school. The second part of this blog will look at how I have achieved this.