The Effective Use of Evidence by Early Career Teachers in Rural Settings: Final Report - Summary Findings

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


This report brings together the findings of three years of research by the University of the Highlands and Islands as part of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education’s Scottish Attainment Challenge research project. Fuller discussions on information reported here can be found in our interim report (Redford et al, 2020), which provides more detail on individual elements of our findings. This report supplements the interim report with additional information about participants’ use of evidence, and their experience of participating in the online community of practice developed as part of the research process, and summarises the overall findings of the research project.

Our investigations focused on early career teachers’ use of evidence to close the poverty-related attainment gap and to raise attainment in Literacy, Numeracy, and Health and Wellbeing in rural areas for learners from the two most deprived deciles of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). Even this initial research focus presented us with difficulties, as we found that the two most deprived deciles of the SIMD do not capture rural poverty in our region accurately, and thus our remit had to extend beyond this initial criterion.

Our key findings include that early career teachers are more comfortable with resources of support than pedagogical approaches for the closing of the attainment gap. They prefer to work with particular schemes, or resources that structure interventions for them. The practitioners reported that Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) was having an impact in closing the poverty-related attainment gap, by facilitating the acquisition of such resources and in enabling learners to benefit from one-to-one or small group support to raise their attainment in Literacy and Numeracy in particular.

We found that educators knowing their pupils and the communities they come from well helps to motivate learners and thus engages them in ways that assist in closing the attainment gap. This sits well with another finding that teacher agency is essential for the identification of pupils in need of additional support in rural areas, rather than any reliance on national indices, such as the SIMD.
We discovered that practitioner enquiry boosts early career teachers’ confidence and encourages them to try out new things, including entrusting their learners more, which enables them to make changes to benefit the pupils in their classrooms. Practitioner enquiry gives them a framework for generating evidence, to which they can respond. In addition, we found that the rural learning environment is appreciated by practitioners as a place to live and to work, and that structures such as formats of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and new ways of working can promote the retention of practitioners in their communities or facilitate their return to the same, meaning that learners benefit from educators who know and understand their communities and contexts well.

The new ways of working that have arisen during the Coronavirus outbreak have also provided valuable opportunities to restructure the industries and professions present in rural areas and thus to provide aspirational models for learners, which could contribute to a countering of the leaving or escape discourse, which may have an impact on attainment in some rural areas. Finally, we have learned that the sort of facility we created in order to carry out the research, which brought together educators from across different stages, schools, and local authorities, has provided practitioners with a valuable space in which to engage in discourse about practice, which can otherwise be absent or of limited availability in rural areas.

This research process has made it clear that there is no one, single rural Scotland, and there is a need to understand the diversity of Scotland’s rural areas to ensure that education in rural areas receives the support it needs to fulfil its role in the closing of the poverty-related attainment gap.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected this research by taking a place in the discourse that it would not otherwise have occupied, and by limiting opportunities to visit school settings to gain additional evidence. Deprivation is now viewed through the lens of the impact of the virus and the resultant displacement of learners during the lockdown periods, which altered the material conditions in which people were living and learning. This clearly is an issue of significance for any reflection on attainment.

The findings of the research have led to the modification of some of our existing provision in relation to equity and social justice, and leave us wishing to explore one of the findings further, relating to the facilitation of discussion between practitioners in smaller and more remote schools.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherScottish Council of Deans of Education
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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