Welcome to the International School of Florence Research Programme.

Improvement…change…curiosity…perplexity…making a difference…and

exploring the idea that research in schools is ‘systematic inquiry made public’
(Stenhouse, L. 1978)

These are the starting points for thinking about research at ISF.
We look for a ‘TENSION in the environment’; something we feel passionate about or something that we would like to see done differently. For teachers this is a change in their teaching practice – for parents it’s a change in the way the school or the way our wider community does something.

Whatever happens, by the end of the research project, something will be different and researchers share the differences with our school community and sometimes wider afield.

Simon Murray proposed the volcano/volcanic rock as a metaphor:
‘It’s explosive but it creates new territory – a different landscape emerges.’
(first meeting of the new research group, January, 2020).

How does it work?

Each Autumn, staff and parents (from 2019) at ISF are invited to make proposals to join a year-long inquiry into areas of school life they want to improve, change, investigate, or are just curious about, and feel others might want to know more about too.
Once research groups are formed with common areas of inquiry, they meet regularly to discuss their plans and actions, and discuss research methods and methodology.
At the end of the journey, or at least the end of the first cycle, researchers are expected to present their findings to the community and make recommendations for change.

The programme is supported and led by the Director of Learning & Research at ISF. Whilst it is difficult to quantify exactly, the programme will take up approximately 70 hours in total of directed and independent study over the year.

In October, 2019 Research Cohort 1 presented their findings at the inaugural ISF Research Conference. 10 staff researchers presented 5 different projects.

In December, 2019 a Cohort 2 was formed and meet formally in January 2020. A hugely significant difference this time was the invitation for interested parents to join the programme. For Cohort 2 we have 12 projects involving 18 members of staff and around 10 parent researchers. Parents are either working alongside teachers as partners or in a group of parent researchers. All groups are supervised by the Director of Research and a code of ethics agreed and discussed at each meeting.


On June 5th, 2020, we hosted a webinar style Research Symposium – we were joined by our partner research schools and organisations in Barcelona, Mumbai, Paris, and Reykjavik to discuss approaches to research, share ideas and projects, and to strengthen a network of research active schools.

The annual Research Conference, to present findings and make recommendations for change, planned for October 22 and 23, 2020, has now moved to March 31 and April 1. Despite COVID-19 we are persevering with the programme in a changed and challenging world.

ISF Leading Edge Learning Research Programme Conference


The programme has its roots in the Leading Edge Learning Research Programme established at the International School of Paris in 2014. The programme was designed by Simon Murray, then Head of ISP, and Phil Whitehead, an external consultant. It developed as a bespoke programme for international schools keen to be informed and led by the educational issues that matter to them.

‘The natural counterpoint to an inquiry-based curriculum is a research-led organisation.’
Simon Murray, 2017

The programme is premised on the Lawrence Stenhouse inclusive view of applied research as:

Systematic enquiry made public

(Stenhouse, L. 1978, see ‘classrooms as laboratories’ p.10):

Applying Research to Education

The Programme forms part of the Research and Design Centre offer at ISF and is led by Phil Whitehead, who is now Director of Learning and Research at ISF.

The programme has its origins in a successful Masters in Education programme first taught at Oxford Brookes University and covers elements of taught research methods and the completion of a research in action/practitioner research project. It is not award bearing, nor currently affiliated to a university.

Leading Edge Learning Programmes have been in operation since 2014, first launched at the International School of Paris, then  Oak House School, Barcelona (Cohort 3, commenced in November, 2019), and The British School Caracas (TBSC – Cohort 1 completed August, 2019); ISF commenced in December 2018. DSB International School, Mumbai commenced with Cohort 1 in October 2019.
Each of the links provides more detailed background and examples of the programme in action.