Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 1

Saturday saw people interested in education and research make their way to South Hamstead High School for the Annual ResearchED Conference. Amongst them were four governors from my school (Steve Penny, Jo Penn, Colleen Young and I. Colleen was wearing three hats; governor, SLT and secondary Maths teacher). The day’s programme was packed full of interesting talks being delivered by wonderful people. I’m sure the day will come when this event will have to be held over two days! I’ll write this blog in two parts. Part 1 covers sessions by Laura Mcinerney, John Tomsett and Carol Davenport. Part 2 covers sessions by Tom Sherrington, David Didau and Sam Freedman. I have previously written why governors may want to attend these events.

Laura McInerney: What Works for One Might Not Work for All

As I was leaving home I received an email from Dropbox informing me that my photo flashback was ready to view. The photos were from Laura McInerney’s session at last year’s ResearchED! So, it was fitting that this year I started the day by going to her session and I’m really glad I did as it was a very fascinating talk. Laura spoke about group psychology and why what works for one may not work for all. Laura highlighted some studies which we should be familiar with, how “power” is gathered in groups and how group work actually works. Asch Conformity Study has shown the effect peer pressure can have. In experiments people were asked a question. All but one member of the group had been told how to respond to the question, sometimes giving the correct answer and at other times the wrong one. The researchers were interested how the last person responded after having heard the others. This person was later asked why he responded the way he did. Results showed that 5% of people will change their minds from the start. 72% will change their minds at least once. When asked why, they said they thought they were wrong! This fascinated me! Thinking in terms of board discussions this is something the Chair, perhaps, should be aware of, especially if there are one or two new board members. During a discussion or vote would they conform to what the rest of the board was saying or the way they were voting? Is there any way the Chair could perhaps make sure that the new members were saying what they really felt rather than thinking they were wrong and following the rest of the members? Laura then talked about the Zajonc Drive studies. These showed that people (and cockroaches!) perform better when watched. The third study (Robert’s cave experiment) showed that groups competing with finite resources (including teacher support and attention) do not behave rationally. The take away message, for me as a governor, from these studies was that we need to be aware of these when we are deciding whether or not to invest in a certain intervention technique. When evidence is presented to you that the technique works ask yourself could the Zajonc and Robert’s cave studies explain why it worked. Laura also explained how what works for one teacher may not work for all teachers. If you want to see what people were tweeting about Laura’s session click here to read my Storify of her session.

John Tomsett: Hope Over Fear

This is the first time I heard John speak and it won’t be the last! John talked about what evidence based teaching isn’t. He explained what role a research lead could play in a school. This, I think, is important. I would love to see more schools think about research leads and I would love these research leads to work with governors as well as other school leaders. A good research lead can help the board to ask the right questions. He/she can help the board evaluate the evidence, as John put it scrutinise the evidence for the “how”, “who” and “why”, all questions which a board needs to be asking. John went on to talk about lesson observation and the question he asks of himself; “How can I observe you in a way that will best help you improve your teaching?” John now does joint lesson planning and then the teacher comes back to evaluate together and discuss. As governors it is not our job to make judgements on individual teachers. John’s talk made me realise that when formulating a governor monitoring policy what the board should be asking the head and SLT is how can we monitor what is happening in the school to best help improve outcomes for our students. I think we stand to gain much more from a monitoring policy which has this question as its basis. John went on to discuss this year’s A Level results. He is convinced that developing metacognition through medelling thinking has great benefits. He also mentioned that he invites his students to take part in his 360 o evaluation. This is something which is considered best practice for board chairs as well. I think chairs and heads should be encouraged to adopt this practice and each should ask the other for an evaluation as well. Few John Tomsett quotes which I especially liked are

  • How can I observe you to help your teaching?
  • Exams are done. Results are in. Now use them to learn from them
  • The best pastoral care we can provide is a good set of exam results

All of the above are equally applicable to boards as to teachers.

John has previously  written about improving lesson observation.

To read my Storify of tweets from John’s session, please click here.

Carol Davenport: Gender Equity in Science

Carol talked about trends in subject uptake looking at years 2013-2015. Fewer girls studied Computing or Physics as compared to boys and whereas fewer boys studied psychology. While looking at the popularity of STEM subjects, maths has shown the most improvement and this may be because it is seen as a useful subject to have while applying for university places. Carol then discussed the finding of three reports; Aspires, Five Tribes and “Not for people like me?” The Aspires study reported that the low uptake of STEM is not because of the negative image of STEM. As governors the important message for us is that the family’s “science capital” plays an important part as does the white, male, middle-class image. If, as governors, we are finding that our girls and minority groups are not opting for science then we need to ask our SLT what they have identified as the problem. Is it the image or are family attitudes putting them off? Can this be changed and how can the board help in doing this? Do we, as governors know, if our school is focusing more on the higher ability students to get them to opt for science? Do we, perhaps unconsciously, give out the message that science is only for the “brainiest” students? What information do we provide to our children regarding STEM careers? Are our students thinking that science is “not for people like me”? If we, as governors, are finding that girls and students from minority backgrounds are not taking up STEM then are we aware why that is? Carol emphasised that for change to happen we will have to involve families and start talking about the various STEM careers early enough and regularly. This was a fascinating session and if I had had time I would have liked to ask Carol’s opinion on whether schools should be looking at segregating genders for STEM lessons.

To read my Storify of tweets from Carol’s session, please click here.

You may also want to have a look at Wellcome Trust’s Questions governors can ask about maths and science and Wellcome Trust’s Review of the extent to which Ofsted reports mention science.

Further reading:

ResearchED 2015 blogs and presentations, collated

Links to the Storify of tweets from the sessions covered in Part 2 are given below

Tom Sherrington

David Didau

Sam Freedman

2 thoughts on “Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 1

  1. Pingback: Governors and @researchED matters | Governing Matters

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