The role of school‐based research champions in a school–university partnership

Katharine Burn, Robin Conway, Anne Edwards, Eluned Harries
2020 British Educational Research Journal  
The value of teachers' engagement in and with research is long recognised and it is acknowledged that school-university research partnerships are one way of enabling such engagement. But we know little about how research-based knowledge is negotiated into school practices. Here we draw on data from nine 'research champions', who are teachers in schools which are part of the Oxford Education Deanery, a research partnership with a university department. Taking a cultural/historical approach, the
more » ... ical approach, the study examined the strategic intentions and actions in the activities of the champions as they negotiated research-based knowledge into their schools. Data comprised 59 completed templates that described what they did and why. Findings revealed differences between those with close links with senior leaders-who could take a whole-school approach-and those whose reach was restricted by their position in school practices. Nonetheless, all the champions carefully selected and targeted research in ways that reflected their knowledge of local contexts. The findings point to the need to incorporate the champion role into school systems and for universities to value the role as they develop their own research agenda. programme is a 1-year Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE), resulting in qualified teacher status. In common with other English university-run programmes, it operates as a partnership with the schools where student teachers undertake two extended placements. The Deanery started with eight Oxford schools when it was formally launched in 2013, and has grown as other partner schools have seen the advantages of involvement in this more extended form of collaboration. The Deanery comprises three broad areas of linked activity: initial teacher education (ITE); continuing professional development (CPD), which engages schools in and with research; and university-based research, which involves schools and teachers in a range of ways, from research partners to membership of project advisory boards. The aims within each area of activity are also linked, centring on supporting schools as research-rich environments for student teachers and teacher colleagues while also enabling conversations across these activities, which can guide the educational relevance of departmental research at the university. In this article we focus on professional development and research activities. One criterion for joining the Deanery is that schools name a teacher as a research champion. The champion joins with those from other schools who meet each other formally three times a year along with university staff, create their own informal network and attend, with school colleagues, a twice-yearly research exchange meeting organised by the Deanery. While the ITE partnership consists solely of secondary schools, some primary schools are involved because of their close links with secondary members. Hence, schools range in size and organisational complexity. In addition, the position of the champions within the schools varies from teachers with a few years' experience and no management responsibilities to members of senior leadership teams (SLTs) with significant strategic responsibility. The difference in positions suggests that schools vary in the importance they ascribe to the role and its potential for informing both school strategy and practice. The Deanery, in summary, operates as a third space (Guti errez, 2008) where the expertise of all the stakeholders is discussed, respected and built on; it is a site of potential knowledge exchange. In our focus on research we share a concern with overcoming a potential gap between research and practice held, for example, by Farley-Ripple et al. (2018) . Like this US team, we see the problem as bi-directional, placing demands on both the producers and users of research and their organisations. The Deanery as a third space was created to bridge the gap in ways that benefitted all participating organisations. In the new space, university pedagogic research is informed by on-the-ground anticipations of dilemmas arising from national policies or curriculum changes, and school strategies are informed by easy access to the latest research on, for example, assessment or inclusion. In this way the Deanery emphasises the relational aspects of practitioner engagement with research and researchers (Earl and Timperley, 2009; Rickinson et al., 2011 ). Like Penuel et al. (2015, it moves beyond notions of translating research evidence for the use of practitioners in order to acknowledge 'processes of collaboration and exchange that are both messier and potentially more transformative than the oneway translation of knowledge of research into practice' (Penuel et al., 2015: 183). Like Penuel and his colleagues, we also draw on cultural/historical concepts to frame our analyses, but in this article we do not share their concern with boundary crossing. 2 Katharine Burn et al.
doi:10.1002/berj.3675 fatcat:wwksdhzvqjawbpf3oeiptsywzu