Evidence for the Frontline – a successful pilot

Posted on 31 March 2017

This post was first published on the CEBE blog

Evidence for the Frontline (E4F) is a service that allows teachers to submit questions that are matched with evidence resources, given advice by a university researcher, or put in touch with another school with relevant experience to help them to answer that question. The Evidence for the Frontline service ran as a pilot project with 32 schools in England from September 2015 to July 2016.

Evidence for the Frontline screenshot

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has now published NFER’s evaluation of the Evidence for the Frontline (E4F) pilot. Overall, the results are positive

  • Demand was at the upper end of expectations; 60% of teachers surveyed said they had asked a question or read responses.
  • The majority of users had a positive experience of using the E4F service.
  • Users thought there were benefits to using the service, including providing opportunities for discussing research, increasing interest and enthusiasm for research; improving their school’s use of research and (to a lesser degree) helping to improve practice in the classroom and their pupils learning.
  • Although there were signs E4F is starting to make a difference to research engagement, the breadth of questions asked make it unsuitable for a randomised controlled trial at this stage.

The numbers

To date, E4F has involved

  • 32 schools
  • 511 members of staff across these schools
  • 300 questions asked
  • 40 researchers, and
  • 220 resources added.

One of the key facts, not missed from the evaluation report, but understandably not a major feature, is that we actually did it. Although the idea of E4F had been percolating for a number of years, much of the success of the pilot year was in making it happen. Initiatives that connect schools with research are often small-scale or resource-intensive. With Evidence for the Frontline we were trying to show that it might be possible to achieve something on a larger scale that connected teachers with researchers and research, but was not unsustainably expensive. This we have started to do.

Of course there are still many steps to take, of which more later, but for now it would be appropriate to thank those who made it possible. Everyone at CEBE who supported the idea through its long gestation, and the EEF for funding the pilot. The 12 development schools who contributed so thoughtfully their ideas for how the service might work, and then, with the 20 pilot schools, participated so enthusiastically in the pilot year. Our website developers, who turned a list of requirements into a working system in double-quick time. The researchers who gave their time and expertise freely and willingly. And the staff at Sandringham School and the Institute for Effective Education, who helped get the service off the ground, and then managed to cope when the questions came flooding in.

So what next? We learned a lot during the pilot year – some things surprised us; others we had not expected, but all set challenges for the future of the service.

Dialogue

One of our key aims was to encourage dialogue about research, whether within school, between schools, or with researchers. Previous research has shown this to be important in research use – it’s a social process. Although there wasn’t a lot of evidence of discussion on the site, the case studies in the report, and our own discussions with schools, show that this was going on, just not on the site. Does it matter that we haven’t captured this dialogue? How might we facilitate it more? If E4F starts to scale up, will the increased numbers using the site solve this problem?

Connections with research use in schools

At the moment, E4F is not a one-stop, research-use shop. Rather, it is a service that can plug into other activities taking place within schools. For example, the questions and responses were being used in initial teacher training, with newly qualified teachers, with teacher-led research projects, as well as with classroom- or school-based dilemmas that might benefit from a dose of evidence. Is it best to keep it this way, or do we need to develop other structures that connect E4F more formally with in-school activities? How much training and support do we need to provide? Or is it best that it remains a stand-alone service that schools can use in a way that suits them?

The challenges of scale

If E4F continues to grow, the nature of the service will change. As more people join and more questions are answered, the challenge will stop being how we answer new questions, but how we guide people to the answer for their question that already exists. And, hopefully, the discussion around that answer that adds to its richness and depth. We also need to discuss with researchers the best way to involve them most efficiently, if demand grows.

We are currently in discussion with the EEF around how we take E4F forward, and what the next phase of the project might look like. We’re excited. The results are promising; we made the service work, now we need to make it grow, and prove that it has an impact on practice in the classroom and pupil learning.

Jonathan Haslam, IEE
@IEE_York

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