Using research findings and action research to improve teaching

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In Maes-y-Coed Primary School, all staff are involved in action research projects to bring about improvements in teaching and learning. Leaders place a strong emphasis on staff reflecting on and analysing their own practice and that of their peers. This helps staff to staff to identify their own strengths and areas for development successfully.


Maes-Y-Coed Primary School is in Pontypridd in Rhondda Cynon Taf.  There are 313 pupils on roll, including 56 who attend the nursery on a full-time basis.  There are 11 classes, four of which have pupils of mixed ages.  

Most pupils come from homes where English is the main language.  A very few pupils speak English as an additional language.  Around 18% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  The school identifies that approximately 33% of its pupils have additional learning needs.

The headteacher, who was previously the deputy headteacher at the school, took up her post in October 2011. 

Strategy and action

The headteacher believes strongly in using external research, the outcomes of internal action based research and exploring good practice in other schools, both nationally and internationally, to inform the pedagogy in her school.  In recent years, senior leaders have visited many local schools to explore foundation phase provision.  They also visited schools in Denmark and Iceland to see how schools in Europe develop outdoor provision to encourage play.  Leaders are open to new ideas and follow up well on strategies they hear about when attending meetings and conferences with other professionals.  They visited a successful 13-18 high school in Yorkshire to learn about accumulated marginal gains and the principles that underpin the school’s teaching and learning philosophy.  They also recently attended an international conference to learn more about lesson study. 

Most teachers also take part in additional action research as part of their own professional development or as a member of a school improvement group.  Teachers have undertaken action research on a range of topics.  For example, topics include collaboration in the outdoors, developing the pedagogical principles of the foundation phase in key stage 2, using the creative and expressive arts and developing the use of continuous provision.  The school makes good use of the Leuven Involvement Scale to measure the impact of changes on pupils’ levels of involvement.  One large‑scale piece of action research combined the school’s work on developing the use of expressive arts, promoting outdoor learning and delivering the digital competency framework.  This project culminated in collapsing the school’s timetable for a fortnight. 

Leaders synthesise the findings from visits and research effectively, giving staff the main highlights to start discussions about what may be of benefit to their school.  Leaders and staff select carefully what they trial in the school.  They use the outcomes of their visits and research to inform, but not to determine decisions about their pedagogy and practice.

In 2016, after hearing a speaker at a national event explain the theory behind lesson study, the headteacher and a member of senior staff attended the international lesson study conference.  This led to a whole staff discussion about the principles behind lesson study.  Staff agreed to trial the approach in the academic year 2016‑2017.  Staff decided that each of five triads would consist of a higher level teaching assistant, a main scale teacher and a member of the senior leadership team.

The school started by formulating a policy that set out their approach to lesson study and joint professional development.  Staff agreed that lesson study would:

  • replace the school’s existing lesson monitoring system
  • remove the use of the existing session observation forms

This would mean that lessons or a series of lessons would not be graded.

Teachers and higher level teaching assistants agreed that triads would:

  • value all members equally regardless of their experience or status in the school
  • carry out research to improve teaching and learning in the agreed focus areas
  • focus on reflective analysis, professional dialogue and action research
  • use agreed planning, pupil interview and reflection tools to focus discussions
  • use video technology to aid analysis
  • accept all feedback constructively and build on discussions to improve understanding
  • share the aims and outcomes of lesson study with pupils

Each triad follows the same format.  Using data analysis and/or outcomes from monitoring, staff agree an area to improve, for example supporting borderline pupils to achieve an outcome 6 in writing at the end of the foundation phase.  Staff carry out their own research on the area before the first formal meeting.  The school provides cover for the full three days of triad activities for all staff involved.  In the first meeting staff:

  • discuss the research they have carried out
  • agree the focus for the first lesson
  • select three pupils who will be the focus of the joint observations
  • formulate questions to ask pupils prior to planning the lesson
  • meet selected pupils to pose the questions
  • discuss ideas for the lesson and agree learning intentions
  • make a list of questions to ask pupils at the end of the lesson
  • predict how the focus pupils will respond to different parts of the lesson

After these activities one member of the triad writes up the lesson plan, another creates the proformas and minutes of the day and the final member resources the lesson.

During the second day, one member of the triad teaches the lesson while the other two observe.  The lesson is recorded using video technology.  Although the focus is on the outcomes of the selected three pupils, noting as much as possible what pupils say and do, the group members make evaluative comments on all aspects of the learning and teaching. 

After the lesson, the group members meet the three focus pupils to ask the post lesson questions.  The triad members then work together for the rest of the day.  They discuss their initial reflections and watch the recording of the lesson to focus on key points and reactions of different pupils.  Staff write up their reflections in detail before sharing once again. 

A key to the success of this process is staff engaging in open and honest professional dialogue where they feel comfortable to challenge, make suggestions for improvement and hypothesise.  Prior to starting the lesson study project, the majority of staff had taken part in professional development activities that improved their coaching skills and helped them to see challenging comments as constructive suggestions rather than personal criticism.  Teachers state that they do not see challenge as a threat, as they feel it is challenge without judgement.

The triad members look carefully at the pupil responses to post lesson questions and compare how they thought pupils would respond to the lesson and how they actually responded.  They note any patterns or issues to explore further in the next lesson.  They use all the information gathered to decide what needs to be repeated or altered in the next lesson.  For example, in one session teacher reflection noted that two of the focus pupils did not use partner talk effectively to think about and discuss the teacher’s question.  This led to the suggestion that in subsequent lessons the teacher needed to walk around the partners to ensure the effectiveness of the strategy and to make sure that pupils understand what they should be discussing.  Triad members then plan and resource the next lesson jointly. 


Across the school, there is a greater emphasis on staff reflecting on and analysing their own practice and that of their peers.  Staff are more aware of their own strengths and areas for development in terms of improving their classroom practice and understanding the needs of the pupils in their classes.  Conversations in the staffroom now focus more on teaching and learning.  These conversations are solution focused with a willingness and confidence from staff to share any difficulties and to talk about what went well in lessons.  This helps staff to learn from each other.  Staff now place greater emphasis on what pupils can and cannot do.  They reflect on their teaching and make small changes that have a big effect on individual and groups of pupils.  For example, teachers now allocate roles in group work after analysis of video evidence showed that individuals were not contributing to group work.  The pupils not contributing were a surprise to staff as they were not the ones that staff would have predicted.

Leaders have invested heavily in developing the lesson study approach across the school by purchasing video equipment and allocating funding to release jointly every member of every triad for at least three days each academic year.  Lesson study is working for this school as all staff believe in the approach and are committed to making it a success.  This has led to consistently high levels of sharing pedagogy and resources and has improved the consistency and quality of teaching.

Next steps as identified by the school

The school will continue to use the lesson study approach and will monitor carefully its impact on pupil outcomes and the quality of teaching.