Australia’s national education evidence body

Our national survey has found that Australian schools often have cultures of sharing and discussing evidence, but more support is needed for teachers to actively change their practice based on evidence.

This page outlines our findings relating to schools. You can also read findings specific to early childhood education and care.

Context

The extent to which teachers use evidence and evidence-based practices can be influenced by many factors, including how much support they have within their schools and systems.

We know from research projects like the Q Project and Project GEMS that school practitioners see some factors as especially important in helping with evidence use. These include leader support, interactions with colleagues and dedicated meeting time to talk about evidence.

Building on this research, we surveyed school practitioners across Australia about specific examples of leader, colleague and structural supports available within their schools and systems to help them use evidence. This focus on school- and system-level factors builds on our previous survey findings about the beliefs and confidence of individual practitioners in using evidence in the classroom.

Our questions asked about supports for using both practitioner-generated evidence (for example, insights from student learning data) and research evidence (that is, academic research).

The findings below focus on responses from 681 Australian school teachers. These survey respondents broadly represented different school sectors, school types and levels of teaching experience. The final section (graph 3) supplements these findings with responses from an additional 119 school leaders (for example, principals and assistant principals) and mid-level leaders (for example, instructional leaders) who responded to the survey.   

Findings

Structures and processes

While the majority of teachers report structures and processes in their schools that help with evidence use, others do not have access to these supports:

  • 75% of teachers agree or strongly agree their school uses evidence when deciding on policies and programs
  • 74% of teachers agree or strongly agree their school has set aside regular times or meetings to discuss evidence that could improve practice
  • 64% of teachers agree or strongly agree their school has coaching available to help staff use evidence to change their practice.

At a system level:

  • 68% of teachers agree or strongly agree that their school system (Government, Catholic or Independent) provides easily accessible information, resources, training or other supports to help with evidence use.

Relationships

The majority of teachers reported that their schools have cultures of discussing and sharing evidence:

  • 85% of teachers agree or strongly agree that colleagues discuss evidence that could improve their practice
  • 82% of teachers agree or strongly agree that leaders encourage teachers to use student learning data (a form of practitioner-generated evidence) to determine whether a practice works
  • 80% of teachers agree or strongly agree that leaders share and discuss evidence that could improve teacher practice.

However, for evidence to effectively inform practice, teachers also need to be confident and capable to encourage each other to act on this evidence. While relationships clearly exist that allow practitioners to discuss and share evidence, it is less common for teachers to actively support each other to change their practice based on evidence:

  • only 51% of teachers agree or strongly agree that colleagues explicitly encourage them to use evidence (either practitioner-generated evidence or research evidence) to change their practice.

These findings are also reflected in responses to a slightly different question — whether teachers, mid-level leaders and school leaders are themselves willing to encourage colleagues to stop using an ineffective practice. Practitioners’ willingness to encourage others can shed further light on school cultures around evidence use.

Responses from teachers indicate that:

  • only 40% of teachers agree or strongly agree they will encourage their colleagues to stop using a practice if research evidence shows it does not work
  • only 34% of teachers agree or strongly agree they will encourage their colleagues to stop using a practice if evidence they have collected from their classroom (a form of practitioner-generated evidence) shows it does not work.

Leaders surveyed are more willing, although still somewhat reluctant, to do this:

  • 61% agree or strongly agree they will encourage their colleagues to stop using a practice if research evidence shows it does not work
  • only 45% agree or strongly agree they will encourage their colleagues to stop using a practice if evidence they have collected from their classroom shows it does not work.

There are many possible reasons for these findings. For example, encouraging colleagues to change their practice may not be part of a wider school culture because it is seen as a role for school leaders. It may also be seen as encroaching on teacher autonomy in the classroom. Additionally, teachers and leaders may lack confidence in drawing practice recommendations from the available evidence — especially if student data from a practitioner’s own classroom is not seen to be relevant to colleagues. Within schools, there may also be a greater focus on trialling new practices rather than stopping ineffective practices. Whatever the reason, if we want cultures of evidence use, we need to build supportive environments where practitioners are confident and capable to support others to both use evidence-based practices and stop using practices that are known to be ineffective.

Next steps

Recommendations for schools and systems

These findings suggest that Australian school teachers are currently engaged in conversations about evidence that could improve their practice. This is important because we know that collaboration is a key enabler of evidence-informed practice in schools.

Although teachers are talking about evidence, they are not necessarily being supported to put evidence into practice in the classroom. Supporting change is critical to effective cultures of evidence use, but it is considerably less common for teachers to report relationships or structures that directly help them to act on the evidence.

Schools and systems therefore need to do more to support teachers to put evidence into practice. This could involve ensuring more teachers have access to structures like coaching and easily accessible resources to help with evidence use. It could also involve building school cultures that focus on actively using evidence – whether this means stopping ineffective practices, trialling new or changed practices, or reinforcing existing quality practice.

For further investigation

Our survey provides a snapshot of organisational support across a large sample of Australian school teachers. To enable schools to better support their teachers to use evidence, AERO is currently investigating the most effective school and system supports, and how they may vary depending on school context, types of evidence used, and the needs of teachers.

AERO will use insights from these investigations to provide resources and advice to teachers and leaders for how best to encourage the use of evidence and evidence-based teaching practices in all educational settings. 

Reflection questions

For teachers

  • Do these survey findings reflect the supports available in your school?
  • What are two key factors that help you to use evidence? To what extent do these supports already exist in your school or system?
  • What are two key barriers to evidence use within your school? How could these be addressed?
  • When discussing evidence with colleagues, do you mainly talk about practitioner-generated evidence (for example, student work samples or assessment data), research evidence (for example, findings from a study) or both? How do/could you use these types of evidence together?
  • Would you feel comfortable encouraging a colleague to change their practice to align with what evidence recommends? Why or why not?

For school leaders and mid-level leaders

  • What types of organisational supports are already in place at your school around evidence use? How could these be strengthened?
  • What are the main barriers to evidence use within your school? How could these be addressed?
  • How do you ensure that discussions about evidence have actionable follow-ups, or influence how teachers think about or act on the evidence?
  • If your school has coaching structures in place, how do/could coaching conversations incorporate evidence to improve teaching practice?
  • Do evidence-based discussions in your school mainly draw on practitioner-generated evidence, research evidence or both? How do/could you use these types of evidence together?

For policymakers 

  • Which of these findings stood out the most to you?  
  • What do you see as the difference between teachers being engaged in conversations about evidence, and being actively supported to put evidence into practice? 
  • What types of information, resources or training already exist in your system to support school practitioners to use evidence in their practice? Are these mainly aimed at use of research evidence, practitioner-generated evidence, or both?  
  • What do you see as the key barriers to the development of cultures around evidence use in schools in your system? How could these be addressed? 
  • To what extent are teachers in your system encouraged to focus on trialling new practices rather than stopping ineffective practices?    

For researchers 

  • These survey findings highlight further research questions that are yet to be examined. What additional questions would you identify?  
  • How might researchers explore the quality of school and system supports, and what would make them more effective and sustainable?   
  • Do you think different types of supports are required to help teachers and leaders use practitioner-generated evidence compared with research evidence?  
  • How do you think organisational supports link to practitioner beliefs, confidence, and use of evidence? Do these links indicate that some types of support are more important than others? 
  • How do you think organisational supports relate to each other? For example, is support from school leaders needed to sustain other types of support?  

Further information on sampling

Early childhood education and care

We've summarised our findings relating to support for educators' use of evidence in early childhood education and care settings.

Examining evidence use project

More information about this project and more findings from our evidence use survey.

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