Improving teaching and teacher knowledge – the challenge facing educators

“The challenges facing education systems and teachers continue to intensify. In modern knowledge-based economies, where the demand for high-level skills will continue to grow substantially, the task in many countries is to transform traditional models of schooling … into customised learning systems that identify and develop the talents of all students. This will require the creation of ‘knowledge-rich’, evidence-based education systems, in which school leaders and teachers act as a professional community with the authority to act, the necessary information to do so wisely and the access to effective support systems to assist them in implementing change…The results from TALIS suggest that in many countries, education is still far from being a knowledge industry in the sense that its own practices are not yet being transformed by knowledge about the efficacy of those practices.” (OECD, 2009a, p. 3).

The MESHGuides initiative is part of a larger knowledge management system supported by the charity Education Futures Collaboration  set up by the education sector organisations. This has developed from  concerns shared by educators in different countries and discussed in a wide range of meetings and conferences during 2010-2014  e.g. ICET, ATEA, TEFANZ, ICORE, BERA, AACTE, TEPE, ECER, CFSA, UCET, British Council Global Education Dialogues (Dubai 2013 and Lahore 2014) AAOU . Following these discussions, the Education Futures Collaboration was created as an education sector led organisation supporting teaching as an evidence-based profession. This video explains the goals with respect to UNESCO’s Millennium Education Goals.

MESH builds on  national and international initiatives and experiments on how to harness the power of digital technologies to support teaching as an evidence-based profession. In a number of countries early investments by governments in web-based repositories for teacher knowledge were lost when governments changed. This has led to the realisation that an independent, education sector run organisation is needed to allow for the building and sharing of knowledge. Leask (2011) summarises early (2000-2010) UK developments in knowledge management in education and local government sectors. Information on progress in other countries are invited. Please send information to

 Education as an evidence-informed profession – some initiatives and some tools

The OECD (2009, p.3) calls sees lack of effective knowledge management in education as inhibiting improvement. A simple web search will show you that developing and applying knowledge management tools and processes are of concern in all sectors. Knowledge management tools cover those used for finding,  creating, using, sharing and managing knowledge (see the list below and Leask, 2011 for further information). In education, there is a wide range of tools but many of these are not known about widely or only operate effectively with widespread engagement. MESH has the potential to be the focal point for such a system but if someone has better ideas please tell us and let us combine energies and resources. We know we can only achieve a good knowledge management system for education if we collaborate to share and build knowledge.

An issue about the quality of research-based knowledge available which has to be addressed by educational researchers is the plethora of studies in any one area. Systematic reviews or rapid evidence reviews are a way of synthesising what is known and building a knowledge base through accumulating knowledge. Some teacher-researcher networks are experimenting with doing rapid evidence assessments now and there will be news about this in forthcoming MESHGuides newsletters. The Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations below and the UK EPPI Centre provide models for building databases of systematic reviews.

Below is a note about what needs to be available if teachers are expected to be evidence-based practitioners. Some tools and processes are mentioned.  Please send in your ideas too via

Finding research-based knowledge

Imagine if teachers could easily access research summaries relevant to their particular context which are updated regularly and which are open to all. Currently copyright issues restrict access to much knowledge often even that which has been created using public money. This is because the costs of creating open access repositories have to be covered by someone and  currently academic libraries and individuals pay subscriptions.

Web crawlers personalised to specific communities of inquiry are being tested as part of MESH. We are working with Bath Spa University on such a tool.

Creating research-based knowledge 

Creating yet more small scale studies which don’t add anything to the existing body of knowledge is an approach we do not feel is going to significantly help teaching become a research-based profession. There are a number of tools which cost the researcher nothing but which help in the production of research which can be seen to be internationally significant. The online collaboration platform supported by the Education Futures Collaboration provides a meeting point for educators interested in particular topics. The People Finder tool allows you to find people like you. Teacher-researcher networks can provide a  powerful and cost effective means of  producing reliable and valid data given certain conditions (Stenhouse, 1975) and the technology now supports world wide teacher-researcher networking. Networks can provide a cost-effective way of scaling up promising small scale research.

Online survey tools such as Survey Monkey and Bristol Online Surveys make it relatively easy to do low cost large scale surveys, across schools or countries.

There are many large scale datasets produced by governments and international bodies eg UNESCO which provide data which if analysed would provide firm foundations for educational practice and the targetting of resources.

Rapid Evidence Assessments provide a method for quickly synthesising research reports and providing a structure for building syntheses over time. More will be published in forthcoming newsletters about the approach we are taking with teacher-researcher groups working with academics to undertake mini-reviews or rapid evidence assessments which overtime can build into major reviews of for example, a particular pedagogical tool.

Systematic reviews are in more depth than Rapid Evidence Assessments and are well established as a methodology but do require considerable resources.

Using research-based knowledge

When research-based knowledge is easily accessible then all in the education system (teachers, policy makers, inspectors and others involved in education) can be expected to consider the relevance and application of research in the light of their professional judgement and their context. When this stage is reached then the expectation of use of research-based knowledge can be included in job descriptions and criteria for accountability.

Sharing research-based knowledge

As mentioned copyright issues mean that it is difficult for many educators to access academic journals. But in any case, the plethora of studies and the difficulties of comparisons make this an onerous job. MESHGuides are intended to summarise research-based knowledge. It is intended that individual Guides should develop over time as more evidence becomes known about. In this way, the Guides will come to represent accumulated knowledge. In some countries, researchers are expected to demonstrate that their research findings are used. MESHGuides are intended to help in the translation of research findings into practice.

Managing research-based knowledge

We know of many organisations who are doing what they can on an individual basis to manage research-based knowledge for teachers. Our view is that the job to be done is too costly for any one organisation to manage, that knowledge valuable to teachers is held in different locations around the world and that curation of existing knowledge is needed. This is why there is an international collaboration behind the development of MESHGuides and why the guides focus on the curation of knowledge. We also believe that all teachers should have access to research summaries in areas relevant to them, free at the point of use, regardless of their location and achieving this is one of our goals.

Examples of Knowledge management initiatives

Please add to the list by sending information to



Campbell Collaboration: 

“The Campbell Collaboration (C2) helps people make well-informed decisions by preparing, maintaining and disseminating systematic reviews in education, crime and justice, social welfare and international development.” Volunteers, for the most part. world wide work in groups  to create reviews. The Norwegian Government provides core funding.

 Cochrane Collaboration :

In their own words: “Cochrane is a global independent network of health practitioners, researchers, patient advocates and others, responding to the challenge of making the vast amounts of evidence generated through research useful for informing decisions about health. We are a not-for-profit organisation with collaborators from over 120 countries working together to produce credible, accessible health information that is free from commercial sponsorship and other conflicts of interest. It is funded through volunteer time and grants from organisations with an interest in particular areas. The Cochrane Review library is open to all to use”. Volunteers, for the most part. world wide work in groups  to create reviews. Funding comes from a variety of sources.


The archive of the Evidence Informed  Policy and Practice in Education and Europe initiative can be found here:

European  SchoolNet is a large network of teachers collaborating on projects.


UK Local Government Knowledge Hub

In their own words: “Knowledge Hub is a UK local government initiative  harnessessing the collective conversation and intelligence of its members to drive social value. It provides a trusted and secure professional network and access to an established knowledge base of expertise, experience, good practice and innovation. Members need no longer constantly reinvent the wheel, but can rely on efficient, effective and reliable advice and solutions from peers. It is funded through local government subscriptions to the national Local Government Association”.

 Systematic reviews in education

The Evidence-based Policy and Practice centre in the UK can be found on:

The British Educational Research Association’s special interest group on Educational Research and Policy Making can be contacted through BERA on

Institute for Effective Education, The University of York has a website and newsletter focused on building the research base for education.

The Education Endowment Foundation is working to build a research-informed knowledge base for education

Our shared belief is that to teach every child so that they maximise their potential is hugely complex. A common misconception teachers encounter is that teaching children to learn by rote is sufficient. Rote learning provides the foundations for education but does not on its own help the learner in the application of knowledge. Where educational goals are that children should simply achieve rote learning children can be asked for example to learn a list of dates and events and achieve 100% in a test testing just this. But to be educated is much more than this – it is to understand why these events happened, what we can learn from them in shaping the future, whose voices about these events are missing, how events have impacted and continue to impact on the global community. It includes being able to communicate these understandings orally and in written form to a high standard and to take and act on criticism of a view point and so on. MESHGuides over time, will pull together and summarise research-based knowledge about what as a profession, we know about effective teaching and in particular how to overcome the barriers to learning key concepts that learners experience. Your collaboration and feedback is invited.