Action Research and Lesson Study for ISEND Project

Halfway point review!

By Dr Geraldene Codina (February 2024)

We are at the halfway point of the three-year nasen, Department for Education (DfE) funded Action Research and Lesson Study for ISEND project, so now is a great time to reflect on what’s been achieved so far.

Action Research and Lesson Study for ISEND, is a way for those leading learning in schools/colleges to reflect and develop practice that focuses on removing barriers for children and young people (CYP) on a school/college SEND register. Those professionals who have joined the project so far (Headteachers, SENCOs, teachers, and teaching assistants) have all engaged with a supportive network of six DfE funded online twilight collaborative sessions. Comprising of a small group of schools/colleges and academics who specialise in ISEND from the University of Derby, the six sessions provide an opportunity for each setting to gain support to setup and run their own small-scale research project.

Group’s Findings

The very first cohort of close to practice school/college researchers who started the project in October 2022 have completed their projects, a summary of each group’s findings is presented below.

It works best to review Pupil Profiles (sometimes referred to as Pupil Passports) once per term using person-centred approaches which support the process of dialogue between the child/young person and the adult conducting the review. To facilitate person-centred dialogue, the availability of the children/young person’s workbooks and current Pupil Profile is essential.

Person-centred Structured Conversations are a useful way to increase parental confidence and engagement in the assess, plan, do, review process. To facilitate the person-centred dialogue, the child/young person joined the first part of the Structured Conversation meeting, this set the tone for a celebratory forward focussed assess, plan, do, review meeting.

School Council membership should proportionally mirror the percentage of children on the school’s SEND Register (i.e., if a school has 17% of learners on the SEND Register, this means that 17% of learners with SEND should be on the School Council). How children make decisions on the School Council is more significant than what decisions they make – when all members of the School Council engage in disability advocacy training, how decisions are made becomes more inclusive. 

A pupil voice tool (such as Talking Mats) is a useful resource for children with physical disabilities to utilise as the basis for their person-centred review. The pupil voice tool used needs to facilitate communication about therapeutic supports and a wide range of interests (including life outside of school).

Drawing on the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) Preparation for Adulthood materials, it is effective to review subject curriculum planning documents for the strategic and systematic presence of preparation for adulthood content. Aiming to develop a spiral curriculum where children revisit preparation for adulthood at various levels (i.e., discovery, developing, and deepening) is recommended.

When reviewing what was most effective for learners in an Alternative Provision (AP), the children’s perspectives on work-booklets proved critical to understanding what was working well and what could be developed. Alternative Provision workbooks are most effective when structured to mirror lessons and can be a useful tool for helping children to catch up when transitioning out of the Alternative Provision and back into mainstream lessons. The work booklets are not effective for longer-term teaching.

Staff in a large college valued the setting up of Communities of Practice for Inclusion, this network involved a range of continuing professional development (CPD) activities, which then led to staff volunteering to share their inclusive practice with one another in a supportive community staff group.

Academic analysis of Action Research for ISEND

What stands out from this first cohort of close to practice researcher projects, is the group’s commitment to centralising the voices of children and young people, and enhancing their own practice (be that curriculum planning or through communities of practice). For readers who are interested in an in-depth academic analysis of Action Research for ISEND, there is a free open access research paper about the project that can be downloaded from the journal of Education Sciences (click the link below):

Codina, G., and Robinson, D. (2024) Teachers’ Continuing Professional Development: Action Research for Inclusion and Special Educational Needs and Disability, Education Sciences, 14(2), 140. educsci14020140

Multi-Academy Trust (MAT)

As well as working with individual schools and colleges, we have found it effective to work with a group of schools in a multi-academy trust (MAT). When a group of schools join from one MAT, a momentum, energy, and shared commitment to research is generated and this collaborative working is proving a useful way to remove barriers to inclusion and for a MAT to address target(s) on their Inclusion/SEND Action Plan. This process is usually initiated by one person in a MAT’s central team who galvanises interest from schools in the MAT to setup their own research projects. For Darren Dickinson (Executive Assurance Partner, Nexus) the focus for Nexus MAT was about developing professional learning communities, engagement with the Action Research for ISEND project forming one part of their learning communities’ strategy.

We initially engaged with the University of Derby and nasen as part of our work around professional learning communities and the desire for our schools to undertake small scale research projects that focused on removing barriers to achievement for pupils with SEND. The aim was to develop practice that would lead to improvement in pupil outcomes whilst simultaneously developing the knowledge and skills of teachers across our trust. Having discussed in detail our aims with the University of Derby, it was decided that developing a Lesson Study approach would be the ideal first step for our schools.

From the outset, the project was supervised impeccably by the University of Derby and the organisation and delivery of the planned professional development sessions was excellent. The sessions themselves proved invaluable in helping colleagues develop their understanding of Lesson Study and in supporting with the process of shaping each individual research project. Supervised by colleagues from the University of Derby, colleagues from schools across our trust came together on a regular basis to discuss their individual Lesson Studies and share their learning. These sessions proved invaluable to colleagues in terms of developing their understanding of how to conduct high quality Lesson Study, but more importantly, they were pivotal in removing barriers to attainment for the children and young people across our trust.

While we are now in the final stages of the project and schools are in the process of completing their individual case studies, there is no doubt amongst our professional learning community that the work we have done around Lesson Study has been transformational. Many of our schools have now adopted the Lesson Study approach as part of their practice and the enthusiasm to continue working with the University of Derby and nasen has led us now to begin exploring a bigger piece of work around Action Research.

I’m actually reading material beyond my emails and medium-term plans etc., which hasn’t happened for a while. The most amazing conversations have taken place between my two teachers and I, especially around the video from the sessions (Assistant Headteacher).

I feel the research project has given me opportunity to actually get excited about something in my job role. As an educator I feel that it is important for me to keep up to date with new research. The project has inspired me to continue research and has been a great platform for me to hear what others are doing (College Teacher).

The project has been a great opportunity to be reflective and guided by evidence-informed practice. Through Action Research, I've been able to look deeper into what really makes a difference for our pupils and their families (Enhanced Resource Lead).

Being involved in the Action Research project has been extremely valuable to me, as it provided me with a structure and community to design and undertake a research project. It helped me to focus my project and kept me on track to complete a project (Assistant Head Teacher).

The structure of Lesson Study has allowed leaders and teachers to dedicate time to focus directly on how pupils learn and reflect on our approaches to teaching that support learning. The Lesson Study process supports us in our pursuit of ensuring our teaching and learning strategies are embedded in research and that pupils continue to be at the centre of everything we do (Headteacher).

As professionals in education, we are all too aware that time to dedicate to new activities is in short supply, so what school/college staff do commit to needs to be impactful, worthwhile, and professionally rewarding. Collectively coming together to think through challenges and develop new ways of working that make a difference to the lives of children on the SEND register does make the process an entirely worthwhile endeavour.

If you want to know more about the project or join the next cohort of researchers making a difference, have a look at the Action Research/Lesson Study website, and/or email the project lead directly Dr Geraldene Codina (University of Derby)