School Research Engagement

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School Research Engagement involves schools engaging in research projects, as well as with research and evidence.

Schools participating in research projects can be a rich learning experience for leaders, teachers, students and families, providing the opportunity to reflect on and improve school programs and practices, and contribute to key issues in education.

Engaging with research findings is also important for schools to reflect on evidence of ‘what works’, in combination with their own experiences, to continually improve their approaches to learning and teaching and school improvement.

Catholic Education Melbourne (CEM) is committed to better understanding and promoting school research engagement by working with schools and the research community, to strengthen how schools engage in, and with research. A significant step towards this goal was the Understanding School Engagement in Research (USER) project, conducted by CEM in 2016.

Understanding School Engagement in Research (USER) Project

Hundreds of academic research projects are conducted in schools each year, but little is known about the experiences of schools as participants and occasionally partners. Similarly, schools are encouraged to engage with research findings and be ‘evidence-informed’, but if and how this occurs is not well understood.

CEM conducted the USER project in 2016 to better understand these practices, that is: how schools engage in academic research projects; and how they engage with academic research evidence.

USER Project Findings

Invaluable feedback was provided by 67 Melbourne Catholic schools through a quantitative and qualitative online survey, focus groups and semi-structured interviews. Project highlights and learnings can be found in the following USER Project Summary, and the 10 key messages from schools are summarised below.

 What our schools told us: 10 key messages
  1. Schools get a lot of requests to participate in research, but choose very few.
  2. Schools tend to choose projects that are Catholic Education Melbourne-led or where Catholic Education Melbourne are partners.
  3. Schools most often choose research projects that are aligned with school priorities.
  4. Schools will more likely engage in projects that offer tangible benefits and outcomes for them.
  5. The demand on schools must be reasonable, and outweighed by the benefit.
  6. Schools often do not receive feedback from researchers or a copy of research findings.
  7. Schools value research projects that have a capacity building component.
  8. Teachers and school leaders mostly access research and evidence from within their school.
  9. Teachers and school leaders mostly engage with research and evidence through dialogue, interactions with their peers, and professional learning.
  10. An evidence-informed culture in schools is enabled by supportive leadership and a culture where using research and evidence is built into the dialogue and day-to-day operations of the school.
How do the USER Project findings relate to other research on School Research Engagement?

There was such interest in the USER project findings from schools, other jurisdictions and universities, that CEM partnered with Associate Professor Mark Rickinson from Monash University to explore the international literature on school research engagement.

A literature review was conducted, and the USER project findings were re-analysed from the perspective of the wider literature. There was strong alignment between the USER findings and broader evidence on school research engagement, resulting in five clear themes:

  1. Schools are selective about their research involvement
  2. Schools are discerning about what the research is on, and how it is conducted
  3. Schools access research in indirect and informal ways
  4. Schools value research more than they use it
  5. Schools need much more than access to research evidence.

These themes are expanded on in the following research report, Understanding School Engagement in and with Research.


Continuing to support School Research Engagement

CEM continues work in this area by: keeping up to date with relevant research; sharing the findings with schools, other jurisdictions and universities; conducting school forums; and developing school resources.

Projects, information and resources focused on understanding and strengthening school research engagement will be shared on this page.

For information about research at Catholic Education Melbourne, please contact the Analysis, Policy and Research Unit on 03 9267 0228 or