Centre of Expertise at Thomas More launches network of model schools following English example

Cooperation with reputable Education Endowment Foundation

Thomas More’s Centre of Expertise for Effective Education  (ExCEL), established in 2019, aims to improve education by bridging the gap between research and educational practice. A lot is known about “what works” in education from cognitive psychology and teacher effectiveness studies, but often that science does not reach the classroom floor. After all, translating research findings into concrete educational approaches is more complex than it seems.  At the Centre of Expertise, world-renowned educational scientists such as Prof. Dr. Paul Kirschner or Prof. Dr. Daniël Muijs work together with excellent teachers with a combined teaching experience of more than 100 years across different subjects and in primary, secondary and higher education to develop scientifically substantiated, realistic approaches for the improvement of educational practice.

The activities of the Expertise Centre fit in with the evolution towards more evidence-based education whereby hypes and myths that are rampant in education are ignored and approaches are chosen that have been proven to lead to good results for students.  ExCEL got off to a flying start and grew in one and a half years from 2 to 15 employees.

In September 2021, the Centre of Expertise for Effective Learning, with the support of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), will start a Flemish network of Model Schools based on the English research schools network. Two primary and two secondary schools that strive to be models of effective education will be guided by the Centre of Expertise in the implementation of educational approaches that can be expected to significantly improve the results of their pupils. The ultimate goal is a network of some 10 model schools spread across Flanders (the English network has 37). Tim Surma, research manager at ExCEL and a former teacher himself, is very enthusiastic about the cooperation with the English foundation: “When we visited the Education Endowment Foundation in January 2020, we became inspired. We were really impressed by the level of education that we saw in the Charles Dickens Primary School in South London, a school that mainly has socially and economically disadvantaged pupils. We saw great teaching with high expectations for everyone, social-emotional support and creative expression. Because our Centre shares the EEF’s philosophy – as a university for applied sciences, our research is always aimed at solving problems in professional practice – an agreement was quickly reached. We can use their database and the tools they have already developed. So it need not take years before we reach that level too. Together with EEF, we will also support a number of schools in Flanders that wish to serve as models for the best possible linkage of scientific evidence and their own professional experience.”

For 10 years, EEF has been very successful in guiding schools in the use of scientific evidence in the design of their education. It possesses the largest database of scientific educational research in the world and translates that knowledge into accessible instruments with which schools and teachers can easily set to work themselves.  The fact that this foundation, unlike many others, succeeds in bridging the gap between research and practice is based on its focus on the professionalism of teachers. Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of EEF: “Research can never replace professional experience and teachers’ understanding of their schools and their students. But it can be a powerful supplement to these important skills. Used intelligently, it is the teacher’s friend”. The foundation is the pivot of the Research Schools Network, a network of schools that work together structurally to translate scientific evidence into practice. After all, no single approach works always, everywhere and for everyone. Through the Research Schools Network, the foundation gains more insight into the context factors that determine whether a particular approach will work. The results of the pupils of these schools, which are often located in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, are excellent.  The schools themselves are also used for in-service training of teachers in their area.

The primary schools that will start as the first model schools in Flanders come from the OZCS group, which manages almost 100 schools. This is not entirely coincidental: the teacher training college of Thomas More in Vorselaar was once founded within that group and to this day the cooperation remains close. Along with these two primary schools, Thomas More’s teacher training programme itself is also going to give more weight to evidence-informed work in the curriculum.  Students will then be able to practise what they have learned in a model school. Katelijne Van der Pas, unit manager teacher training Kempen: “We are very happy with this evolution, and the support we get from the EEF through ExCEL. Our teacher training programme now focuses again on what matters most: high-quality teaching.” 

Tim Surma & Stu Mathers or Jonathan Kay (Education Endowment Foundation) may be interviewed.

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