Promoting inquiry-based working within your school

Just a few weeks ago I gave a presentation at ResearchED Blackpool which I explored the nature of disciplined inquiry and its role in performance management. I also examined whether there was any support for the claims being made about how inquiry contribute to teacher professionalism and school improvement.  So with that in mind, I was delighted to have come across the work of Uiterwijk-Luijk, L., Krüger, M., & Volman, M. (2019) examining the promotion of inquiry-based working and the inter-relationships between school boards, school leaders and teachers, as little appears to be known about how schools can create a culture of inquiry.  Furthermore, given the Education Endowment Foundation’s efforts to support governing bodies/trusts to become more evidence-informed, the publication of Uitwerwilk-Luik et al’s work is extremely timely. 

Promoting inquiry-based working 

Working with three Dutch primary schools, Uiterwilk-Luik et al set out to answer the following research question: How can the interplay between school boards, school leaders and teachers regarding inquiry-based working be characterised?   In addition, there were two subquestions. One, how can the interplay between school boards and school leaders regarding inquiry-based leadership be characterised? Two, how can the interplay between school leaders and teachers regarding respectively inquiry-based leadership and inquiry- based working be characterised. 

A multiple case-study design was adopted, with data being collected through interviews with school boards, school leaders and teachers.  Meetings were also observed, along with documentary analysis. Data was transcribed and coded to a coding scheme using MAXQDA coding software.  The coding scheme that emerged from the interviews influenced the analysis of the data from observations and documents.  Subsequently a cross-case analysis was undertaken along with in-case analysis.

The results of the analysis suggest that both schools’ boards and school leaders adopted four strategies to promote inquiry-based working, with each of these strategies incorporating a range of sub-approaches, and which are listed below

 Stimulating school leaders and teacher’s inquiry habits of mind by

  • Discussing students results with school leaders/teachers

  • Encouraging leaders to discuss students results with teachers and teachers discussing results with each other

  • Sharing knowledge

  • Modelling behaviour

  • Making demands 

  • Having high expectations

  • Encouraging leaders to co-operates and discuss research results with school leaders from other schools 

Stimulate leaders and teacher data literacy by

  • Involving external organisations to support school leaders conduct research

  • Developing internal expertise to support inquiry

Communicate the visions for inquiry-based working

  • Communicating orally about the vision for inquiry-based working

Share leadership

  • Sharing leadership with responsibilities with teachers

Support inquiry-based working by 

  • Providing money, time and space

  • Trusting and believing 

  • Belling open to new ideas and concerning research

  • Creating a safe environment

The interplay between the school board and school leaders 

It is worth noting that although these different approaches were seen in more than one school, the accomplishment and impact of the approaches differed.  Uiterwilk-Luik et al note that in the school where there was a focus on student results, the demand made by the school board led to ‘inquiry’ being experiences ‘as part of a performativity agenda.’  Whereas in the other two schools, the boards’ demands re inquiry working were seen as part of an attempt to raise educational quality.  In addition, it was noted than none of the schools had a clear written down vision for inquiry-based working and w

The interplay between school leaders and teachers

Interestingly all three schools adopted the same approach to stimulating inquiry, by providing time, money and space; being open to new ideas concerning research; by creating a safe environment.  That said, there were differences between the schools.  One principal talked about an implicit rule that all decisions be based on data, a rule which was not recognised by the teachers in the school.  Furthermore, in two of the schools – teachers demonstrated the inquiry culture by being critical i.e. asking critical questions – and modelling behaviour – by investigating and improving their own actions by comparing them with the work of others.

Implications for schools in England wishing to promote an inquiry-based culture.

Although the research was conducted in another education systems, and where the relationships between governing bodies, school leaders and teachers are different.  Nevertheless, the research does prompt a number of questions – which governing bodies/trusts, school leaders and teachers, might wish to reflect on within the context of their own schools/multi-academy trusts.

  • To what extent are the various strategies and approaches adopted by school boards and school leaders seen in your context?

  • Is there a gap between the rhetoric and reality of inquiry-based working within your school?

  • To what extent is the data on which decisions are based being made explicit?

  • How are school governing bodies/trusts supporting the use of inquiry-based methods?

  • Is inquiry-working within the school perceived as a genuine attempt to bring about educational improvement or is it viewed as part of a performativity agenda?

  • Does your school have an ‘inquiry-based working’ vision and mission statement?

  • How would you describe ‘inquiry-based working with your school – bottom-up, top-down or multi-directional?

If your school is engaged in inquiry-based working, do there appear to be any negative consequences?

And finally

As a consequence of writing this blogpost, it has made me realise that I have been paying insufficient attention to what school leader or teacher data-literacy looks like.  If colleagues are going to be encouraged to undertake some form of disciplined inquiry within their schools, then what knowledge and skills do they need to have so that they can draw meaningful and well-informed conclusions from their work.   


Uiterwijk-Luijk, L., Krüger, M., & Volman, M. (2019). Promoting inquiry-based working: Exploring the interplay between school boards, school leaders and teachers. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 47(3), 475–497.