Following the release of the Federal Government’s report into initial teacher education in Australia handed in February, it’s no surprise to many of us that one of the key recommendations is to ensure that our teachers are better prepared using evidence-based practices before they step into the classroom.
The report highlights particular concerns about areas such as literacy, making the recommendation that graduate teachers and those already teaching need to be “empowered with research-driven, gold-standard teaching strategies that are shown to be effective in raising reading levels”.
Our team at the Q Project at Monash University has spent the last three years exploring Australian educators’ use of research and our research shines light on some major barriers to this recommendation.
Teachers clearly told us that they need access to up-to-date research. 64.3% of teachers believe that access to journals and databases is important if they are to improve their use of research in the classroom, but only 36.7% currently have this access.
The Government’s report also suggests “teaching has been slower to produce scientific evidence and incorporate it into teaching practice when compared with other professions such as medicine and engineering”.
Our systematic reviews of other fields, such as health, social care and policy, found that other professions are certainly more established in the way they talk about evidence-based practice. Setting aside the fact that there are many different useful kinds of evidence, the teaching profession is no different in that quality research-informed approaches should be central.
But this is only half the picture.
Our work highlights that efforts to mobilise the use of research often focus on increasing the use of evidence, without considering what constitutes using research well.
The review panel heard that once teachers reach the classroom they value effective mentors and it has recommended the establishment of an agreed set of national standards to set the bar for mentoring early career teachers. This is potentially a positive step for supporting evidence-based practice, but such standards should explicitly recognise the sophisticated skills required to use research as well as supporting others to use research.
Beyond standards though, evidence-based practice requires the investment of in-school support. Educators in our survey emphasised that the top two enablers for their use of research are instructional leaders (74.6%) and in-school mentors to help with research (70.0%). Sadly, these supports are not currently widespread - with just over half of the teachers surveyed having access to instructional leaders and even fewer have access to mentors.
This work also requires time that isn’t currently provided. It is disheartening that a large number of teachers use their personal time to engage with research and 60.6% indicate that research use is not worthwhile because of this time investment. When recommendations are made to further the use of evidence-based practices in education, it is essential that educators are not left to invest their own time to make this happen.
Importantly, support can also come from parents and the wider school community. Our research indicates that when these relationships are established, everyone benefits. If we want the best for our students, we shouldn’t just be including evidence-based practices in initial teacher education, we should be supporting it across the school system. Even the top “research-driven, gold-standard teaching strategies” still require appropriate, ongoing support.
The Federal Government’s report is a stepping-stone but much more work needs to be done to support our teachers to be the best they can be and use the best evidence to inform their teaching.
As a nation, we must foster a culture where teachers are empowered to share their knowledge and apply research in their practice. We should all be striving for gold-standard education, but this requires investment beyond initial teacher education.
Blake Cutler and Lucas Walsh are researchers on the Monash Q Project, a collaboration between Monash University and the Paul Ramsay Foundation.