Trainee teachers
Students in the Department of Education who are training to be secondary school teachers
Credit: Rob Judges

'Research-literate' teachers know what works in classrooms

Researchers from Oxford's Department of Education have contributed to a major report that examines the professional development of teachers in UK classrooms.

Dr Katharine Burn and Trevor Mutton examined a number of innovative teacher trainee programmes, based in part on a medical model of 'clinical practice'. They found that 'clinical practice' which combines classroom practice with research-based knowledge improves the learning and confidence of new teachers and prepares them better for their first teaching post. The researchers say the way programmes are structured rather than simply the amount of time spent in school is what matters.

Their findings came in one of seven papers for an inquiry by the British Education Research Association (BERA) and The Royal Society of Arts (RSA), which launched its overall report this month. The inquiry was chaired by Professor John Furlong of Oxford's Department of Education. Professor Ian Menter, also of the University's Department of Education, is currently President of BERA and a member of the Inquiry Steering Group.

Mr Mutton said: 'Courses that draw on medical education in classifying teaching as a "clinical practice profession" do so in order to highlight the fundamental importance of research knowledge and professional judgement, alongside the development of high level practical skills which can only be perfected in the classroom.'

Dr Burn said: 'Substantial classroom experience and opportunities to learn from the observation of experienced teachers are essential components of effective courses, but they are not sufficient if we want our trainees to become more than clones. Professionals, capable of responding to new and different challenges, also need to understand and look critically at the grounds on which suggestions or demonstrations of "what works" are actually based.'

The researchers examined established teacher trainee programmes in the UK and the US, including the Oxford Internship scheme at the University of Oxford. This programme trains secondary school teachers in seven subjects, with one key feature of the scheme being the way all aspects of the course are planned, delivered and evaluated by both University tutors and school-based colleagues working alongside one another.

The researchers also reviewed evidence on system-wide approaches in Holland and Finland which also use the principles of clinical practice as a model. 

The BERA/RSA inquiry's report, 'Research and the teaching profession: Building the capacity for a self-improving education system', concludes that teachers across the UK should be supported to become 'research literate'. It says teachers should have regular opportunities to engage with and explore the implications of research, and pupils should be entitled to lessons which are informed by the best evidence.