Developing evidence informed practitioners across Multi Academy Trusts

Michael Lucas, Gareth Allen and Jolene Carter - Esteem MAT

The senior leadership team at Esteem MAT explain how they support their staff to become evidence-informed practitioners.

Esteem Multi-Academy Trust currently comprises of eleven academies throughout Derbyshire, Derby City and east Staffordshire.  Formed by a group of like-minded school leaders in August 2018, the MAT is currently responsible for the education and care of 1,300 students and employs around 750 staff. Covering Special, Alternative Provision and mainstream education, our school improvement vision is aligned with that of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) which states that,

•              The goal is for every teacher in every classroom to be as good as they can be in what they teach (curriculum) and how they teach it (pedagogy).

•              For this to happen, we need to mobilise for every teacher the best evidence from research to inform practise.

•              There is no improvement for pupils without improvement in teaching, and no improvement in teaching without the best professional development for teachers.

•              Strong structures at school and trust level enable strong practise to exist in all schools- leadership at all levels should be exceptional.

Central to our ethos is living out the mantra ‘Stronger Together’ and growing and improving as a community and Professional Learning and Development (PLD) is central to us achieving this. In 2020/21 and during the Covid19 pandemic, we saw this as an opportunity to review and enhance what we did as a Trust by re-launching our PLD offer across to all stakeholders includingLeaders, Teachers, Teaching Assistants, Governors and Business/Associate staff. We want all of our staff, regardless of which Academy they work in or likewise, if they are part of the Central Team to have access to evidence and research to inform their practice. The offer in 2021/22 was set up to ensure we will:

·      Offer a strong internal professional development platform harnessing our skills and talents to be a self-improving trust.

·      Run the PLD offer in partnership with our School Improvement model and offer opportunities driven by ourself-evaluation.

·      Develop a network of expert leaders and expert teachers to mutually support and develop our academies.

·      Offer specialist internal and external support.

·      Raise standards for all our children and young adults.

·      Empower our Headteachers to offer the best educational outcomes possible.

·      Assist all academies and their teams to have the right development and support on the journey to outstanding.

We believe that staff are our greatest asset and equipping our staff to be research informed in whatever role they fulfil and providing a platform for reflection and improvement are tied to the spirit of the Trust. An example of this is seen at Fountains High School in Burton, Staffordshire where the Head Teacher, Gareth Allen is continually striving to build a culture within the ethos of a learning environment offered by the trust that ensures everyone achieves through a wide range of creative and individualised learning opportunities, supporting successful results. This goal is just as important for our team as it is for the students in our care, and the two are inextricably linked.

As a continuously and ever-improving school, we are totally committed to providing an exceptional education and the highest possible quality of education for all of our students. This can only be accomplished if all individuals within the team become evidence-based practitioners, who use cutting-edge technology, research, pedagogy and training to provide a world-class educational offer, especially in an environment of perpetually changing political opinions, inspection frameworks, and divergent beliefs in education, making it vulnerable to the latest fads and trends.

As it is the mission of our team to provide a diverse range of experiences for our students in order to guarantee that they have positive outcomes, it is the obligation of the senior leadership to support and empower staff to grow their practise. This may come in various guises and degrees, from a staff room-based research library up to postgraduate courses. Regardless of the level, it is the mindset generated by those who are evidence informed practitioners that lead the way for the rest to become what we want our students to ultimately become: lifelong learners.

The school places a high value on staff CPD and actively seeks out opportunities to develop evidence-based techniques, including core training, school improvement, self-development, individualised learning, networking, and academic participation.

Esteem Professional Learning Program
Esteem Professional Learning Program

A research-based methodology is adopted throughout each point and at every level to enable each individual to become evidence-informed practitioners. This includes any school-wide, subject-specific, or department-specific initiatives that must be grounded in research and adaptable to our environment. When any training or guidance is delivered, the research is presented, as well as the explanation for why we are taking that approach. This includes where further information may be obtained and how employees can incorporate the changes into their own practise. As a leader, the most essential thing you can do is ensure that all individuals who work in schools have the opportunity to grow and develop into specialists and leading authorities in their professions.

During term 2 in 2021, the Esteem MAT offered all employees across the trust the opportunity to take part in a Research Fellowship in conjunction with Nottingham Trent University. Personnel working at Fountains High school benefit from working in an environment promoting research and evidence-based practice and so all staff were encouraged to partake in this opportunity. The Esteem Research Fellowship was born and supports staff to engage with action research within their school in an area of specific interest. The course provides each participant with a tutor, regular tutorials, as well as an online platform that provides participants with continued guidance and resources. Gemma Heathcote, the current cohort’s tutor, has offered consistent and thought-provoking advice throughout the course. In addition to this, she has shown understanding that participants of this course are completing research whilst also working full time in an education setting and is mindful of the challenges faced by staff due to this.

The Research Fellowship allows each participant to focus on areas of passion and interest. Due to a personal interest in both supporting self-regulation in pupils and the professional development of UQTs and ECTs, these interests were combined in the final project. The final research question asked, how can a CPD programme be developed that would increase staff understanding and confidence in supporting pupils with SEN to use metacognitive tools to self-regulate? As a result of this, the project focused on increasing staff’s understanding of how metacognitive tools could be utilised to support pupils with SEN to self-regulate, as well as increase staff’s confidence in modelling the use of these tools to pupils in a classroom setting.  The project aims to achieve this by implementing a dynamic and successful CPD programme that could increase our capacity to support our pupils with their self-regulatory needs.

The research is planned to be carried out over 3 cycles of CPD sessions, the second of which is currently being scheduled. The staff feedback through online diaries that share their findings on the use of the metacognitive tools in practice and through questionnaires asking them to consider future training improvements as well as enabling the identification of misconceptions or gaps in knowledge. In addition, staff are observed during their training sessions so that their reactions to techniques and pedagogies utilised can be examined and the next cycle of CPD adapted accordingly. The participants include staff at varying levels of profession, including apprentices, teaching assistants, teachers and middle leadership so it can be ensured that CPD meets the needs of all possible cohorts across a school setting.

The project is in mid process, nevertheless it has already had a significant impact on practice as well as offering considerations for further school-based projects in development. As an evidence driven school, research is already utilised to drive forward new initiatives, however the Fellowship also encourages each participant to become voices within the educational community. It demonstrates that as individuals each of us can conduct research, sharing the findings with the broader educational arena and should we choose to, become passionate and leading voices in our specialist fields.

So, what is next for Esteem? We will be reviewing a PLD Pathways (see across) in the coming weeks to match this offer to our schools and their individual needs. We are working in partnership with a number of organisations to enhance this offer and it is an exciting time once again to plan do and then review what has worked well and what needs to happen next to provide a platform for our staff to grow and become experts in their field.


Written by:

-       Michael Lucas; School Improvement Lead / ActingDirector of Education

-       Gareth Allen; Executive Head Teacher – FountainsHigh School & South Derbyshire Support Centre

-       Jolene Carter; Associate Assistant Head Teacher- Fountains High School & South Derbyshire Support Centre