An Interview with Raphael Wilkins: How can Research Aid School Development?

Nov 26, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) You have just written a book entitled “Research Engagement for School Development” which is due out next month. First of all what brought this about?

The book had a long gestation. It is partly autobiographical, sharing the story of one strand of my work over a twenty year period and how I gradually ‘made sense’ of the relationships between research, policy and practice in education. Working and teaching in this field, I became more and more aware of a gap in the literature, which this book tries to fill.

2) This book looks at research engagement by schools as a dimension of school development.

Is there any one person that this idea can be attributed to ? Where and when did this type of thinking start?

The book traces the development over the last ten years or so of what can now be referred to as the ‘research engaged schools movement’. The term ‘research engaged school’ must be attributed to Handscomb and MacBeath (2003) who offered the first definition of this term. Other names associated with this movement include Lesley Saunders, Phillipa Cordingley and Caroline Sharp. I would like to think that my own work has also made a significant contribution to the development of this field of thinking and writing.

3) Who in the schools would be the record keeper or historian if you will of this type of school development?

There is nothing new about teachers being researchers, and research worthy of the name is ‘made public’ (Stenhouse 1983) so it becomes its own record. What distinguishes the research engaged school is that it represents a policy and commitment that is institutional rather than individual, and this implies a duty upon school leadership teams to ensure record keeping in this aspect of school life just as they would in any other.

4) When you talk about school development are we talking teacher skill development, or the pupils development? And how do you measure each?

I am using ‘school development’ as a technical term which seeks to combine the thinking and approaches of the school improvement movement with the contrasting thinking and approaches of the school effectiveness movement. The concerns of school development are holistic, embracing the achievement of students (not just in measured attainment) and the professional culture of the school as a learning community, in which adults act as role models to students by living out their own love of learning.

5) Why is research engagement important ?

School research engagement is important because it is appropriate (given the fundamental purposes of education) for teaching and school leadership to be evidence-informed professions.

6) How is it carried out effectively?

Effective research engagement by schools requires a committed senior leadership team who have well-developed knowledge of research matters; the embedding of research into normal practice so it is not an ‘extra’; and appropriately chosen sources of external support for the quality of research undertaken by teachers, and for access to published research findings. Effective research engagement by schools also keeps focused on supporting the school’s primary purposes, so it does not become a distraction.

7) Who does the statistics, reviews the literature and the like ?

In a research engaged school, anyone and everyone can be part of the research activity. As well as all categories of staff – teachers, support staff, senior leaders – increasingly the research skills of students are being developed as part of their education.

8) Can you give us one case study?

The book presents a line of argument which is normative and rational rather than empirical. The argument is supported and illustrated by examples and vignettes based on schools and individuals who are some way along the journey of school research engagement, but the book argues against the mindset of identifying ‘best practice’ and the implication that this can be replicated in other contexts.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

The book explores the spaces between the literatures of research methods, school improvement, and the impact of research on policy and practice.

10) Who publishes this and how can interested readers and scholars get a copy?

Research Engagement for School Development, ISBN 978-0-85473-900-4 is published by IOE Publications. It is available to order in North America from Stylus Publishing ( and can also be ordered from all online book retailers such as Amazon and The Book Depository.

In the UK it can be purchased from John Smith’s Education Bookshop and all good bookshops and online retailers.

The book’s author, Raphael Wilkins is Assistant Director (International Consultancy) and Director of International Affairs in the London Centre for Leadership in Learning, Institute of Education, University of London (IOE), and is also President of the College of Teachers. At the IOE, Raphael has managed a wide range of leadership development projects and programmes in the UK and internationally. He has published over 50 articles and research reports, has led many workshops on leadership issues, and has presented papers or keynotes at education conferences in Britain, Denmark, The Netherlands, Cyprus, Canada, USA and China.

The Institute of Education, University of London (IOE) is an autonomous graduate school of education within the University of London. During the last Research Assessment Exercise in 2008, the IOE was judged to be the best Higher Education Institute in the country for education research. (

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