Can CoRE’s National Entitlement Recommendations work in Primary RE? A Primary RE practitioner-research project

October 2021 research of the month features Dr Emma Salter.

In this presentation I speak about a research project funded by Culham St Garbriel’s that I conducted with my colleague Prof Lyn Tett at the University of Huddersfield, School of Education. The project ran between September 2019 and September 2021. It’s title is, Can CoRE’s National Entitlement Recommendations work in Primary RE? A Primary RE practitioner-research project. This presentation focusses only on the second – practitioner-research – part of the project. In this project ‘practitioner-research’ refers to teachers conducting intentional, structured research on their own practice. Structured research means research with pre-determined aims or questions, a research design for systematic and ethical data collection, and robust data analysis and interpretation to produce credible research findings that are relevant to professional practice.

To investigate practitioner-research the project aims were:

  • To understand Primary RE teachers’ experiences of practitioner-research
  • To find out the benefits, if any, teachers gain from practitioner-research
  • To find out the best ways to support teachers in practitioner-research.

This presentation reports on the final aim.

The research sample was nine Primary school teachers all experienced in planning and delivering RE. The project adopted a community of practice (Wenger 1998) approach for its methodology in the following ways:

Shared domain of interest: participating teachers shared their expertise and experience of Primary RE.

Becoming a community: participating teachers built mutually supportive relationships with each other through their shared interactions with the group.

Shared practice: participating teachers supported each other in improving their skills and confidence as practitioner-researchers through shared discussion and problem-solving.

To establish the community of practice the teachers and academics met regularly at the University; two full days in September, three half days in October, then half a day monthly until March after which lockdown forced our meetings on-line. Our monthly meetings involved a range of research-focussed activities that including structured training in research skills and on-going support from the academics for the teachers to plan and carry out their own practitioner-research projects. Active researchers in education were also invited to our meetings to discuss their research with the teachers. This was helpful in generating ideas for the teachers for their own research planning. The teachers also attended Strictly RE in January 2020. The shared experience of attending Strictly RE helped cement the community of practice. Discussing their research ideas with Strictly RE delegates – colleagues they hadn’t previously met – and having them affirmed boosted teachers’ motivation and confidence in their research projects.

Six practitioner-researcher projects emerged from the overall project because some of the teachers worked in pairs. This presentation does not discuss these projects individually. look out for project reports that will be posted on RE:ONLINE soon.

Six practitioner-research projects

  • Contribution of study-visits to pupils’ knowledge, understanding and memory in RE
  • Teachers use of texts and stories in RE, focusing on Sikhi and Islam
  • Pupils’ engagement in multi-arts RE classes
  • ‘Spirituality’ in the curriculum: pupils’ perspectives
  • The new Ofsted framework in Primary Schools: Head teachers’ responses to how CoRE’s National Entitlement can help.
  • Can Big Ideas can enhance a LA syllabus?

The project used multiple methods to collect qualitative data from the participating teachers across the duration of the project. Gathering data over time, while the teachers were planning and carrying out their own research, means the data shows how their experiences and opinions changed over time; rather than a snapshot of one moment in time. The methods of data collection are listed below:

Base-line short answer questionnaire at the project start to record teachers’ experience and confidence as researchers.

Reflective journals in which teachers reflected on their developing experiences as practitioner-researchers. Teachers made individual monthly journal entries between October 2019 and June 2020.

4 focus-group discussions (October 2019, February 2020, May 2020, December 2020) during which teachers reflected together on their experiences of engaging in teacher-research and its impact on their wider professional practice; as well as other matters relating to RE in professional practice.

Semi-structured interviews (October 2020) during which they reflected on any enduring impact on their professional development of attending Strictly RE in January 2020, as well as further reflections on engaging in teacher-research.

Closing short answer questionnaire at the end of the project to record teachers’ transitions since the project start and their overall project evaluation.

Closing long, qualitative questionnaire to record teachers’ reflections on the impact of their individual research projects on their own professional development and on RE more widely.

The findings presented here are condensed from the qualitative data collected. For the purposes of this presentation findings are presented as ten points to support teachers in practitioner-research.

  1. Create ‘head-space’. Pockets of protected time away from the immediate demands of school-life. In our project teachers appreciated our project meetings so they could concentrate on their research.
  2. Create a mutually supportive community. The collaboration, mutual support and reciprocal affirmation between group members helped teachers stick with their research.
  3. Research in teams. Advantages include sharing tasks to mitigate time barriers; sharing ideas, problem-solving together and being accountable to others. Where members of a research team work at different schools, data collected from different settings can enhance the validity of the findings.
  4. Regular check-ins and accountability. Updating the community of practice and/or research team regularly helps to keep research targets on track and applies a level of soft accountability to stick to targets.
  5. Purpose, relevance and an interested audience. This finding came to life when the teachers attended Strictly RE 2020. At the conference they discussed their research with teachers newly acquainted to them. Through those discussions teachers came to realise that their research projects held genuine interest for others and that there was a potential audience interested in their findings. This was a powerful motivator to stick with the research.
  6. Teacher agency and autonomy. In our project teachers were treated and respected as professional experts. They chose their own research projects, within broad criteria, that were interesting to them and relevant to their practice. This helped to sustain teachers’ enthusiasm and motivation.
  7. Structured training in research methods. Structured training and some ongoing support in research methods to plan and carry out their projects was needed for novice researchers. Having completed their projects, teachers’ knowledge and confidence was strengthened for future practitioner-research.
  8. Opportunities to discuss real-world research with active researchers. Meeting other researchers helped normalise research for teachers. Learning about different methods of data collection gave teachers ideas for their own projects.
  9. Take things at an easy pace; don’t rush. Through our regular meetings teachers came to see themselves as researchers at a gradual pace rather than being confronted with a rapid transition. This slower pace of transition helped build teachers’ confidence as practitioner-researchers.
  10. Create an alliance with a university department. Teachers reported that alliance with a University department gave their involvement in the project, and their own practitioner-research projects, credibility with their schools and senior leadership.

From this list of ten findings to support teachers in practitioner-research I’ve condensed a summary criteria of five key points. I hope that collectively these points create a feasible and manageable approach to practitioner-research for teachers. Though our project focussed on practitioner-research, I think these points are applicable to other types of project work too.

Agency: teachers are empowered to be their own decision-makers and to embark on projects that they deem meaningful.

Purpose: teachers’ belief in the purpose of a project and knowing there’s an audience interested in its outcomes makes a project worth doing.

Access: teachers’ need access to the knowledge and support required to complete a project.

Community: collaborative social learning, shared problem-solving, idea-sharing, task-sharing and accountability to a group or team sustains engagement and is more likely to lead to project completion.

Affirmation: validation of professional knowledge from peers builds self-confidence and courage to take on and complete new endeavours.

References and selected further sources are listed below. In particular I recommend Prof Vivienne Baumfield’s research on Teachers’ engagement with research. BERA’s report on close-to-practice research widens the scope of practitioner-research. The research portal on RE:ONLINE has lots of examples of practitioner-research that are well worth following up. For more information on communities of practice, Wenger and Trayner’s website is a good starting place. If you’re inspired to engage in practitioner-research, Culham St Gabriel’s post-graduate and leaderships schemes are worth looking into.

This presentation has introduced some key findings from our research project. If you want to find out more, or pick up a conversation with me about practitioner-research, do get in touch with me at:


Baumfield, V. (2021) Teachers’ engagement with research oral report

Baumfield, V. (2021) Teachers’ engagement with research written report

BERA (2018) Report on Close-to-Practice Research.

RE X Change Festival (2020) For conversations related to practitioner research

Salter, E & Lyn Tett (2021) Strictly teacher-researchers? The influence of a professional RE conference on primary RE teachers’ agency and self-identities as teacher-researchers. British Journal of Religious Education, 43:3, 253-264. DOI: 10.1080/01416200.2021.1878456

Salter, E & Lyn Tett (2021) Sustaining teacher engagement in practitioner research. Journal of Education for Teaching. DOI: 10.1080/02607476.2021.1959267

RE:ONLINE Research For many more examples of practitioners and academic reporting on their research

Wenger, E (1988) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press. More information is also at the Communities of Practice website,

Getting involved

Culham St Gabriel Masters and Doctoral students

Culham St Gabriel Leadership Programme


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