Enhancing teaching and learning

Using evidence based research

This project builds on the recently concluded BERA-RSA Inquiry into Research and Teacher Education, which highlights the role of research and enquiry as a pillar of school improvement.

The overarching goal is to develop a robust, evidence-informed approach to school improvement, using evidence from a range of sources (including internal data and insights, together with formally evaluated academic research) to enhance the quality of teaching and learning.  While the immediate aim is to develop professional learning and capacity (both individual and collective) in the specific area of improvement, over the medium term, the ambition is to embed a culture of evidence-based enquiry and evaluation in research-rich schools.

Following expressions of interest from RSA Academy in Tipton, Ipsley and Holyhead School, we met with senior leaders in each school to discuss priority areas for school improvement and explore the possible scope and parameters of the school’s research project.  Schools have shared information about their existing use of data and levels of engagement with research and enquiry, as well as internal processes of assessment, monitoring and evaluation.  This information will be used to help establish a baseline level of engagement in and with research, against which future progress will be tracked.

Based on the ideas and suggestions discussed during these conversations, we have developed a proposal for the three projects, which combines elements of a common approach (based on the Lesson Study model) with a specific focus and orientation tailored to each school’s priorities.

Box 1: Introduction to ‘Lesson Study’

What is it?

Lesson Study is a highly specified form of professional development, built around ‘research lessons’, in which teachers work together in small groups to plan lessons and refine their teaching.  The approach was first established in Japan in the 1870s and is increasingly being used in other countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong and China, as well as the UK, USA, Canada and Sweden.

How does it work?

LS involves groups of teachers working together in a cycle of planning, teaching, observing and analysing in ‘research lessons’, which are designed to explore specific techniques or ways to improve students’ learning.  Observations focus on three ‘case pupils’ (representing different groups of learners or attainment levels in the classroom), which allows the teachers to test their pre-conceptions and explore pupil learning in greater depth.  Immediately after the lesson (or as soon as is practicable), teachers and observers discuss their observations of the students’ learning and explore ways in which the lesson could be planned better to further enhance their learning.  The knowledge generated by this process is then shared with other colleagues.

How effective is it?

Evaluations show that Lesson Study is a powerful method of enhancing professional learning, which can lead to ‘systemic’ improvement in teaching and learning outcomes (Dudley, 2013).  An evaluation of the UK’s National Strategies’ Leading Teachers Programme, which involved Lesson Study, showed that those schools using this approach (among others) out-performed a comparison group in both English and Mathematics (Hadfield et al. 2011).  Lesson Study also shares many of the key characteristics of effective CPD identified in multiple systematic reviews (see, for example, Cordingley et al. 2005; Robinson et al. 2009; Timperley et al. 2007).

How secure is the evidence?

There is promising evidence that Lesson Study can have a positive impact in English schools.  To explore whether it should be scaled up nationally, the EEF is currently funding a large-scale randomised trial involving 160 schools and 9,600 pupils, which will test the effectiveness of the Lesson Study approach at scale, focusing on pupils’ literacy and numeracy outcomes at Key Stage 2.  The evaluation report is due to be published in Autumn 2015.


In each of the three school, the Lesson Study model will be used with up to 12 teachers, working in groups of 3 to investigate a specific technique or problem:

For the RSA Academy, Tipton, this model will be used to trial and test techniques for improving progress and attainment in English for pupils in Years 8 and 9.

At Ipsley, this approach will provide a spotlight on Assessment for Learning techniques, looking to develop a flexible, consistently high quality approach to marking and pupil feedback across different subjects at Key Stages 2 and 3.

At Holyhead, the model of Lesson Study will be developed to include an additional enquiry element, alongside the established cycle of research lessons.  Here, one team of three will be supported to conduct an enquiry into the use of Lesson Study in the school, to develop a deeper understanding of its use and effectiveness as a model for professional learning and development.

At each school, groups will include a mixture of highly experienced and new/inexperienced teachers, who will be invited or nominated to take part by members of the Senior Leadership Team.

Schools involved:

RSA Academy

Ipsley CE RSA Academy

Holyhead School

Project details:

Date Started 01 July 2014
Date Finished 30 June 2015
Project Funder RSA Academies

‘Taking part in collaborative enquiries into improving teaching and learning is the single most impactful action a school leader can take to improve educational outcomes for pupils.’

Robinson et al. 2009