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Avoid feeding off own fat

What would it feel like to walk into a school that had research and inquiry at the heart of its culture? That was the question Flare members asked themselves when the forum came together in 2001.

Graham Handscomb explains: "We wondered what a school would look like if it were engaged in research. Would it be significant beyond the obvious things, like continuing professional development? Flare drew in national experts, teachers who were doing research and colleagues from Cambridge University, and four dimensions emerged. Such a school would have a research-rich pedagogy; the culture of the school would have a research orientation; the school would put research at the heart of policy and practice, and it would promote research communities - groups of people collaborating not only inside the school, but also beyond."

Having identified the importance of research communities ("A school engaged in inquiry and research needs to do more than feed off its own fat," says Mr Handscomb), Flare felt it was vital to mirror this principle in its own methods. So it invited the National Foundation for Educational Research to take up the inquiry.

"The NFER brought in other major partners, like the General Teaching Council for England, the Local Government Association, the National College for School Leadership and five LEAs to be a part of a national investigation, looking at what are the ingredients, the benefits, and the disbenefits if any, of being a research-engaged school."

In each of the participating LEAs - Hertfordshire, Essex, West Sussex, Birmingham and Oldham - several schools will undertake a research project and then report on the experience.

"What are the benefits of being in the research mode? That's what the inquiry is really about," says Mr Handscomb. "What are the problems? How does the school organise itself? And what are the leadership issues?"

The investigation is expected to have some answers by June 2005.

Details of NFER project on Type in 'research-engaged school' in the search box

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