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 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.
What do the USER findings mean for schools, researchers and universities?

Take the time with colleagues to read or present the USER Project Summary and discuss the findings.

Some reflection questions have been prepared to help guide conversations in schools and universities:

Download PDF USER Reflection Questions for Schools

Download PDF USER Reflection Questions for Universities


Continuing to support School Research Engagement

Since the initial USER inquiry, CEM has continued work in this area by: reviewing the broader literature on school research engagement; writing a publication with Monash University; sharing the findings with schools, other jurisdictions and universities; conducting a school forum; 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