The West Partnership

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Collaborative Action Research

Collaborative Action Research (CAR) is an enquiry process used in a range of the programmes that are offered across the eight local authorities in the West Partnership. It is highly flexible and adaptable and works in any sector and context to support improvement. The CAR process can be used as part of ongoing school improvement processes and can be easily planned to articulate with existing self-evaluation activity.

Below you will find resources that are designed to support schools and centres that are undertaking CAR either as part of one of the West Partnership programmes or independently. These resources were created in partnership with the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow.

West Partnership CAR handbook

This handbook contains the rationale for using CAR, an overview of the approach and a workbook that can be used by those undertaking CAR in their establishment.

Narrated PowerPoints

These narrated PowerPoints cover many of the questions most frequently asked by those undertaking CAR for the first time. The narration can be played by clicking on the speaker icon in the bottom left corner of each slide. These last between one and five minutes.

For ease, these narrated slides are shared here in two formats – as individual topics and, at the bottom of the list, all the slides with narrative combined into one PowerPoint.

1. An introduction

An Introduction

Created in partnership with the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow.

— Kevin Lowden, Stuart Hall and Jo Neary

2. What is collaborative action research (CAR)?

What is collaborative action research (CAR)?

  • Collectively identifying and researching an aspect of practice or shared challenge in an establishment or community to inform changes and bring about improvement.
  • Gathering appropriate evidence to understand if and why the changes introduced have made a difference.
3. Why use CAR?

Why use CAR?

Research shows that CAR can:

  • enhance professional learning, critical reflection and understanding at practitioner, school and system levels, to inform changes based on real needs and evidence; and
  • Contribute to improving learner outcomes.
  • Engaging in CAR supports the requirement that practitioners undertake enquiry as set out in the GTCS Standard for Career-long Professional Learning (2021).
4. How flexible is CAR?

How flexible is CAR?

  • The scale and scope of a CAR project, including its duration, the types of evidence gathered and who is involved, will reflect your:
  • intended activity; and
  • the time and resources that are available.
  • A CAR project can change its design and timescale to adapt to changes in circumstances, challenges and emerging findings/insights.
  • The CAR process is designed to make a positive difference in practice and can be adapted to work in any context.
5. CAR works best when it:

CAR works best when it:

  • is owned and led by practitioners (rather than by senior leadership, or external agencies)
  • is embedded into improvement planning
  • involves partnerships with others
  • is based on principles of trust and reciprocity
  • draws on external expertise where necessary
6. CAR works best when:

CAR works best when:

  • it is informed by the local context and has a clear focus
  • it uses appropriate evidence to understand challenges, inform practice and assess the impact
  • the scope and size of the project are manageable for those involved (starting small is okay!)
  • it generates and shares new ways of working; and
  • there are planned opportunities to share experiences and learn from one another.
7. The CAR cycle

The CAR cycle

The CAR process typically has four main stages: Assess, Plan, Do, Review (APDR)  

  • Assess- use existing evidence and knowledge to identify what needs to change
  • Plan- develop an activity that is likely to bring about the required change
  • Do- carry out the action /change (including gathering evidence to assess its impact)
  • Review- use the findings to inform practice and planning and begin the next CAR cycle on another topic/issue
8. Developing the research question

Developing the research question

The research question provides a clear focus for your project and:

  • is often based on a “hunch”  
  • is supported by evidence (e.g. professional observation, professional reading, routine statistics, pupil feedback) 
  • informs an activity/intervention that aims to address a key challenge; and
  • informs the type and range of evidence needed to assess the impact of your project.
9. Example of a research question

Example of a research question

  • Attendance data has shown a group of pupils often do not attend on time, and professional judgement has shown that their parents are struggling with routines at home” (hunch)
  • “If our family link worker can work with the families to introduce new methods in bedtime routines” (activity/action)
  • “If this works, we should see reduced lateness in our target pupils, and possibly improved achievement” (impact)

Does introducing healthy sleep routines at home (via workshops delivered by home link workers) reduce rates of lateness in target pupils?

10. Planning evidence collection

Planning evidence collection

There is no “correct” type of evidence to collect. Instead, your evidence should reflect what your research question is.

Ask yourself:

  • What evidence would I need to demonstrate that this CAR project is having the intended impact?’

Also, consider when your evidence should be collected:

  • Before and after the activity (documenting change)
  • During the activity (documenting process)
  • After the activity (evaluating experience)
11. Different types of evidence

Different types of evidence

Often CAR projects require more than one method to collect evidence to gain an understanding of whether a project worked and why.


surveys, standardised testing, existing datasets (e.g.: SIMD, ACEs, SEEMIS etc)


focus groups, learner conversations, lesson study and professional observation

An 12. Different uses for quantitative and qualitative data

Different uses for quantitative and qualitative data

Quantitative data is appropriate to…

  • express a specific quantity, amount or range.
  • examine trends over time (e.g. attendance, attainment etc.)
  • provide broader learner or community context (e.g. SIMD, free school meals etc.)

Qualitative evidence is appropriate to...

  • capture the views and experiences of individuals or groups in written/spoken words, images etc
  • understand the processes involved in decisions and behaviours (for teachers, parents, pupils).
  • explore how different groups would improve activities in the future
13. Where to start

Where to start

The first stage of the CAR cycle is Assess. This is done by looking closely at the context and identifying an area of interest.

  • Explore data and evidence within the establishment to find patterns, for example in achievement or attendance etc and identify which learners may need particular support
  • Where necessary, draw on wider contextual information such as SIMD, ACEs etc
  • Record the initial reflections/hunches, Did anything surprise you? What have you seen in classrooms/play rooms? What do you think is happening with your learners? Are there any gaps in what you know?
14. Initial questions for discussion

Initial questions for discussion

  • What challenges do you face in your classroom and school this term?
  • What sources of evidence/data do you already have in your school to evidence these challenges?
  • How might a CAR project help address these challenges?

Curriculum, Learning, Teaching & Assessment

Collaborative learning

Wellbeing for Learning


Leadership, Empowerment & Improvement


Evaluating & Reporting


West OS


Events & Communication

Light bulb ideas


Remote Learning

Remote Learning

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