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Research and good practice close gaps

There is something fundamentally wrong in education, says Louise Hayward of Glasgow University's faculty of education. Good practice abounds, research has uncovered a wealth of ways of improving learning and new policies are devised almost daily, yet school still fails large numbers of children.

"Why has there been so much innovation in education and so little change? So much activity yet so little to show for it?"

The answer, she believes, relates to the ways the various education communities work together, or rather don't. "The researchers, the policy-makers and the practitioners all tend to do their own things.

"The model we've lived with for a long time is that policy may or may not be based on research but once policy is developed the practitioners are simply told what to do. Then it's their job to get on with it."

The reason this fails is that it ignores what teachers have learned from their education, experience and professional reflection. So East Ayrshire's two-year pilot project Closing the Gap has been gently guided in a different direction by Ms Hayward and her colleague Nicki Hedge.

The idea that researchers would go into Primary 1 classrooms to observe and analyse and then tell teachers the mistakes they were making was rejected from the start.

"There is a perception among teachers that their professional judgment of the children they work with has lost importance," says Dr Hedge. "So we intentionally did not go in to observe or interview.

"The first time we went into their classrooms was just a few weeks ago, and then it wasn't to check up on them but because they invited us.

"Every school and classroom is different, so researchers can't tell practitioners what to do."

This is not just a matter of treating practitioners with the respect they deserve. It is also recognition that research evidence, while suggestive, has limitations.

"Practice communities have their own deep understandings of the classroom and learning and teaching," says Ms Hayward. "Researchers have other information about how children learn and about aspects of the curriculum.

It is only by bringing these two together that you can deliver real change and give children better life chances."

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