BELMAS Conference: Reflections on the implementation of a journal club in schools.

Last week I was lucky enough to have my research paper, which formed part of my Master’s degree, accepted at the annual British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) conference 2017. Their conference welcomes visitors from over 20 countries and is an opportunity to discuss new ideas, in relation to practice, and network with professionals in the field of education.

Friday’s key note speaker, Tim Goddard from the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada,  highlighted  ‘schools are one of the few social influences everyone experiences’. This quote only highlights to me that we must work together to ensure our students are receiving the best possible education so experiences are positive for all. Therefore it is important we are ‘getting it right’ and I am passionate that using evidence as well as our own professional experiences is the best way forward for developing policy and practice.

The paper I presented focuses on journal clubs as a mechanism for bringing evidence based practice into schools. Firstly, I highlighted that there have been calls from the Government for education to move towards and evidence based culture back in 2007, yet many schools are still shying away from research. Policy making is still a concern as many policies are implemented on a whim, or on the back of a recent educational ‘fad’, with little background research being undertaken. There is also a lack of connection between research and practice with many teachers unable to engage with literature. Journals clubs have the ability to bridge this gap by bringing teachers together to discuss and analyse a research paper.

Myself, Emily and Ben set up a journal club in September 2015 in order to engage our colleagues and it has been a success. They are a valuable tool which are used in many professions if used correctly. They must not become just a ‘talking shop’ for professionals but a basis for ideas to be trialled and implemented into practice. However, after presenting my paper there was a number of questions, which has enabled me to further reflect on the success of the journal club.


1. You have mentioned in the literature that sometimes teachers are unable to engage with the research because they struggle to understand it, how do you support them with this?

A: We have developed questions which are handed out with each journal which help them to unpick and understand the literature. It also keeps a focus while they are reading it.

2. What do you mean by leadership is needed in order for a journal club to be a success?

A: In my research I highlighted that a journal club needs support from ‘leadership’ but I did not clarify what ‘leadership’ actually was. Upon reflection that leadership needs to be someone within the school with a passion for evidence and research to lead a journal club but there also needs to be a member of the leadership team to support them. Research has highlighted that staff need to have a big enough social capital within a school in order for new ideas to be brought in with little resistance.

3. How do you decide what is ‘good evidence’ as there is a big debate as to what constitutes towards ‘good evidence’?

A: This question was a bit trickier to answer, but I think we have a responsibility to open up the discussion to the members of journal club. With some people coming from a scientific paradigm they may sway with Ben Goldacre and prefer the idea of randomised trials rather than taking the interpretivist approach to research. Whatever teachers decide is ‘good evidence’, teachers need to make an informed decision.

4. How do you make is accessible to those who cannot attend?

A: It is clear there is a need for an area for teachers to have a platform to engage in  the conversation, not just to access the journal article, even if they are unable to attend. This could be in the form of a Twitter platform but I am going to develop this next year to find the best solution. Any ideas that you have, or platforms you use in your school, would be greatly appreciated.

5. How do you stop your members from seeing your journal article as a fad in itself?

A:  As journal club leaders we have identified that we need to develop critical thinkers in our members. This process of development is essential in order for us to decide what research we want to use to inform our practice. As leaders we are currently working together to develop a plan for building critical analysis into our sessions.

In summary, we can see that our journal club has had a positive impact in our school and has closed the gap between research and practice. But we need to carefully consider the above reflections in order to keep improving journal club to have the most impact across school.

If you have an active journal club we would really like to hear from you about your success stories, or please get in contact if you’re thinking about setting one up.

Martha Boyne.

Further reading:

Biesta. G. (2007) ‘Why ‘What Works’ Won’t Work: Evidence Based Practice and the Democratic Deficit in Educational Research’. Educational Theory 57:1.

Brookfield. S. (1995) The Getting of Wisdom: What Critically Reflective Teaching is and Why It’s Important. Becoming a Critically Reflective Practitioner.

Davis, P. (1999) What is Evidence-Based Education? British Journal of Educational Studies. 47:2 pp. 108-121.

Denehy. J. (2004) Starting a Journal Club. The Journal of School Nursing.20:4.

Goldacre.B. (2013) Building Evidence into Education.Department for Education.

Kleinpell. R. (2002) Rediscovering the Value of the Journal Club. Amerincal Journal of Critical Care. 11:5 412-414.

Sidorov.J.  (1995)How Are Internal Medicine Residency Journal Clubs Organized, and What Makes Them Successful?JAMA Internal Medicine. 155:11 1193-1197.