Research diary

Neil Levis at the BEMAS educational research conference in Cambridge

* Navel-gazers

The best-attended and liveliest seminars were those in which delegates indulged in navel-gazing - pondering the future of the research industry. The whole business has felt under attack since last year when the Chief Inspector described it as "irrelevant", "impenetrable" and "read by only the most masochistic".

No surprise, then, that delegates were delighted to hear Judy Sebba, from the Standards and Effectiveness unit, tell them that Sanctuary Buildings wants to get their support and involve as many of them as possible in the new research world.

The trouble is that, like everything else in education, that world is becoming increasingly centralised. Last year, a national forum was set up and there are now two dedicated research centres, but each step gives the Government more control.

The Teacher Training Agency has set up a panel of teachers to advise on research and Ms Sebba reported that the standard of debate was very high. Perhaps that's what really worries the academics: that their classroom subjects are slowly taking over.

* The HoD carrier

Is this the department from hell for its boss? He was appointed at the end of his first year of teaching to lead a mainstream department in which he is the only full-time member of the staff. Among his part-timers is the head of the school and one of the deputies. The former head of department - now a senior teacher - also teaches in it. Two other senior staff, former heads of department in the subject in other schools, also make up the numbers.

The story was told by Christine Wise of the Open University, who was presenting a paper on middle-managers in secondary schools - most of whom, she said, seem reluctant to observe colleagues actually teaching. You will not be surprised to learn that at the school in question, the young man in the hot seat opted for the easy solution: peer-monitoring - or keeping it in the family.

* Balaclava threat

Heads need have few worries about their standing in the community in Northern Ireland. Professor Alex McEwan of Queen's University, Belfast, told of the time of the hunger strikes in 1981 when the Provisional IRA approached Sister Genevieve, head of St Louise's, a large girls econdary school on the Falls Road.

The men in balaclavas suggested she close the school as a sign of solidarity. When she refused, the paramilitaries threatened to burn the place down. "Go ahead," she said, "and you can take the rap in the community." Needless to say, their bluff was called.

* Front bench

One of the many under-appreciated but important occasions that promotes teacher collaboration is when staff share lifts to school. In Australia they call it laser therapy. It's a cure for family problems and gets its name from the marque of a Ford truck with a long bench seat at the front.

On long journeys through the Outback, husbands and wives who find it hard to discuss their problems are forced to confront issues rather than stare at the empty road.

Jane McGregor of the Open University told this story, gleaned from her psychologist husband, as she presented a paper on teachers working together. Her observations revealed that women will test out ideas on one another and regularly lend each other materials. By contrast, men are ready to exchange ideas but, significantly, are keen to persuade others to try those lessons that have worked for them.

* Age no barrier

In Cyprus, they have a problem with ageing principals. On the island - where there is compulsory retirement at 60 - seniority is the main criterion for becoming head of a school. As Petros Pashiardis, associate professor of educational administration at the University of Cyprus, observed: "When someone applies for a job, you check their qualifications by asking for a certificate - in my country, they mean a birth certificate."

* In a right estate

What is it about education researchers and names? When it comes to hiding the identity of schools in case studies, they resort to the pretentious language of estate agents and builders.

Consider these offerings among the papers at Bemas: Kingbourn, Brythnoth and Earlscombe. They sound like mock Tudor with open-plan gardens, double-garage and en-suite bedrooms. Or try these: Kingsrise, Pinehill or Waverley. Very integral garage and through lounge.

Full details of the research debate and all papersdelivered at the conference are on the British Educational Management and Administration Society website:

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