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Fewer secrets in the garden'

Claire Trott and Allen Andres, who took up the Teacher Training Agency's pilot offer, say more teachers should do so.

The Teacher Training Agency's commitment to "teaching as a research-based profession" is not only opportune but welcome. In contrast to the majority of central initiatives which have bombarded us over the past decade, this one recognises that teachers do have something valuable to contribute to developing knowledge and understanding about learning and teaching.

Perhaps the word professionalism, which many of us feared dead, is not actually buried. Mereway Middle School was among the 318 schools which responded to the TTA's request last May for research proposals. This was not because we naively believed we were about to discover previously unfound truths about education, but because the agency touched a chord with us.

Like Denbigh School in Milton Keynes (TES, September 13), we had already made a commitment to classroom research and, in particular, action research. As a school dedicated to continuous improvement, the research route enables real staff involvement in shaping change. We are finding that developments which are based on research evidence from our own and other similar schools are not only more likely to be implemented but more easily embedded into teachers' practice.

Perhaps the strength of the TTA's proposal is that it is promoting an idea whose time has come. We sincerely hope this is the case. But while the action research work of Moyra Evans and colleagues at Denbigh School is applauded, only a small, if vocal, number of schools are developing a research culture and working in real and equal partnerships with higher education institutions.

The TTA's efforts may encourage more schools in such work. Other schools and teachers are not unable or disinterested, but we are perhaps too preoccupied with the knee-jerk responses necessary to keep up with centrally-imposed change and wrestling with the associated feelings of being devalued and de-skilled.

The greatest difficulty is how to prevent the TTA's teacher-researcher initiative from becoming part of this problem rather than a possible way forward. There is enormous potential in encouraging projects which are chosen, planned and worked upon by well-supported teachers.

We invite those in the higher education sector to join us in our research, just as we have supported you in yours. Is it not time for the research secret garden to be a little less secret?

As school managers we have sympathy for Professor David Hargreaves's provocative criticisms of much educational research (TES, June 28). A fairly high proportion of traditional research has been ineffective at influencing the critical mass of teachers. Much educational research remains inaccessible to teachers and may seem remote from everyday classroom practice. Research can feel as if it is something which is done to us, not with us.

Even the small number of teachers who write MA dissertations are often guilty, along with the HE institutions, of not disseminating valuable work. Producing a written study is often seen as the end of the road rather than the beginning. Findings should be shared and, where appropriate, acted upon.

Professor Michael Bassey (TES, September 13) exposed the wasted potential of master's dissertations, but we were surprised that he accused the TTA of rounding up these HE research horses after they have bolted. Who left the stable door open?

In response to some of Professor Bassey's other criticisms about this year's TTA pilot projects, we can assure him that the two teachers at Mereway Middle School who made successful applications sought the advice of professors, tutors and education inspectors before submitting their bids.

We can also assure him that both our school and the TTA officials we work with recognise the limitations and dangers of searching for generalisations from case-study work.

We are confident that closer examination of our detailed applications would reveal that any major "methodological error" has been avoided, both as a result of our own and our consultants' understanding of research.

We are sure that Professor Bassey did not intend to make practitioners feel devalued and de-skilled, but we fear that, for the 33 hard-working teachers carrying out TTA pilot research projects, he may inadvertently have done so.

Claire Trott and Allen Andres are deputy and head at Mereway Middle School in Northampton.

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