Teens’ education is at stake – why it’s more important than ever to get students involved in real research

November 2020

By Marcus Bernard


As educational professionals we are all aware of the impact that Covid-19 is having on our children, particularly those that are disadvantaged. There has always been an attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their peers, but evidence now suggests that the gap is likely to have widened due to the inequalities of provision and access to education during the pandemic.


A senior Department for Education official has already warned that the disadvantage gap could widen by as much as 75% and for the first time in a decade improvements in narrowing the gap have stalled.


The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) has always worked with a diverse range of institutions from Academies, State and Free Schools to Independent and International Schools. While these schools are united in their understanding of how important wider curriculum opportunities and extra-curricular activities are in student attainment, engagement and the future prospects of young people, we have seen a decline in the number of state funded schools who are actively running an IRIS project since reopening in September.


We know teachers are working extremely hard to ensure that students catch up on missed learning and schools are safe and open for all. That is why we have gone further than ever to support you and your students.


Here’s why you should register with us and let us help you get your students started on a research project now:

  • All of our projects are fully resourced and accessible to both students and teachers on our new online Dedicated Resource Centre. It simply isn’t enough to give students access to the internet, they need the right input and guidance in order to carry out successful research – so that is what we have provided.
  • We have expanded our team of Regional School Engagement Leads who are all experienced teachers to support schools 1 to 1.
  • All of our support sessions, webinars and conferences are now virtual, to ensure we are as COVID-secure as possible.

5 reasons you should run an IRIS project 


1. Research supports learning – All of our IRIS projects support and complement the curriculum in STEM subjects. More than 9o% of teachers we surveyed said IRIS projects helped them to put learning in context for students.


2. IRIS projects improve students’ engagement in their subjects – Evidence has shown that pupils from poorer families have been less engaged in education since school closures. A recent survey showed that 97% of teachers who have led IRIS projects said that students were more engaged with and motivated by STEM after becoming involved in the project.


3. Doing real research can develop essential life skills – Essential life skills which prepare young people for the world of work and further study are important in determining life chances. IRIS projects help schools to meet 6 of the 8 Gatsby Benchmarks as well as developing communication, teamwork, creativity, critical-thinking and resilience.


4. It’s a good way to support your schools digital offer – To minimise the disruption caused by Covid-19, schools need to create a well-structured digital offer. An IRIS project can help to supplement that offer and ensure all of our children, including the most disadvantaged, are given the opportunity to take part in meaningful extra-curricular activities.


5. Research experience looks good on university applications – Covid-19 has the potential to cause disruption to outreach programmes which support young people, particularly from less well-off backgrounds, from accessing university education in the future. IRIS projects have been used by many students in the past to supplement their university applications or complete qualifications such as the CREST award or Extended Project Qualification, which counts towards UCAS points. While completing projects, students may get the opportunity to interact with academics and researchers in various institutions and learn about careers that they never knew existed.


5 Tips on how to run a COVID-secure research project

Every school, college and sixth form is different, so while we can’t provide an exact blue-print on how to run a Covid-secure project, here are some top tips from schools who started projects at the start of the academic year.


1. Keep it small
As teachers we often try to be all things to all students. With the pressure of teaching in this new Covid-19 era that is now more difficult than ever. Run a project with a small group of key students. For example, choose five high ability, Year 10, pupil premium students. You can always expand the project if capacity allows later in the year.


2. Make the most of digital platforms to overcome bubbles
Set up a research group using your school’s VLE – Sharepoint, Teams or Google classroom. Rather than meeting face-to-face, ask students to work virtually, this is how real researchers collaborate with each other. It’s also a great way to enable students from different bubbles to work together. Students can be given the username and password to our new Dedicated Resource Centre so that they can access project resources and work independently.


3. Use student leadership
Develop sixth form students’ leadership skills by asking them to act as lead-researchers on an IRIS project. The older students can support and oversee the work of younger students. While this not only takes a little pressure off you, it allows an opportunity for a great culture to be created across school and for sixth-form students to further enhance their applications to university or work.


4. Tie the project into catch-up plans or use it as homework
Online learning can never replace in person teaching and after hours of sitting in front of a computer screen students can get a little . . . distracted. Many IRIS projects are closely linked and mapped out to the curriculum of 14 to 16 and post-16 qualifications. Ask students to complete a project at home as part of their on-going catch up plans or as regular homework.


5. Involve school leadership and parents
Communicate with parents and get them involved in supporting their child with carrying out research. Make sure school leaders know what students are doing, and showcase research regularly around school. If you need additional support or capacity, speak to your schools Pupil Premium (PP) Coordinator and run the project as part of the wider PP strategy.