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Minister twists research scalpel again

THE Children and Education Minister has dispatched a typically blunt message to educational researchers: get beyond descriptive approaches and produce more sophisticated, rigorous, scientific analysis with practical findings of value to policy-makers and schools.

Sam Galbraith breezed into the Scottish Council for Research in Education's forum in Dunfermline last week and immediately launched into a new attack on an audience battered by ministerial pronouncements about its failings and the removal of the SCRE's core funding.

Undaunted by a hostile reception, he declared he was "staggered" at a failure not to have gender gap differences "taped at this stage", and equally "staggered" that there was no agreement on the best age to start school.

Research was vital to the Government agenda but too much of current research was indigestible and value-laden. Arguments that some developments could not be measured did not stand up. "Unless we measure what we are doing we will never know whether we are having any benefit. We simply have to know where we are at the moment if we are going to judge whether we have shifted," he said.

Mr Galbraith urged researchers to try to assess all aspects of schools' work. The "trust me, I kow what I'm doing" approach was unacceptable.

He accepted education was more complex than medical research. "You cannot take a control group and give them drug A, take another group, give them a placebo, and monitor the outcomes. There is no doubt a lot of research you do is very difficult. It's multifaceted, raises issues and there are so many variables."

He wants teachers to conduct their own studies and present findings through a recognised research journal to enhance their professional status, increase excitement in the job and move the education agenda forward.

Linda Croxford of the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University was first to point to the huge funding differences with medicine.

Mr Galbraith's messages about research were mixed, Dr Croxford said. He supported quality research but had done nothing about job security. Cuts in SCRE core funding would not help.

Mr Galbraith accepted it was a "debilitating, corrosive system" without security and promised to consider the issue. But he was "uncomfortable" with bodies that were so entrenched as the SCRE. "It will be around for another 70 years because of the quality of what it does and produces, if it's high quality," he said.

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