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Researchers urged into the sandpit

Academics who toil away in those traditional ivory towers took another battering this week with the call for researchers and teachers "to embrace the messy, chaotic world of the young child" together.

Professor Christine Pascal, chair of early childhood education at Worcester College of Higher Education, derided "research-speak" and challenged academics to get in touch with the real world.

She said: "Many practitioners seem to have an antipathy to research and research publications which they view as distant and irrelevant to the real world of working with children.

"There is a battle going on and I am pleased to report that those who champion research in the real world, research which is practitioner-oriented and practitioner-done, research reporting which is accessible and jargon-free, are getting stronger and becoming increasingly acknowledged by those who hold the purse strings, but we have a lot of ground still to cover."

Two weeks ago David Hargreaves, professor of education at Cambridge University, called for a new forum of teachers, academics, parents and governors radically to reform research.

Professor Hargreaves said the Pounds 50-Pounds 60 million spent every year on education research gave poor value for money and was seen as irrelevant by most teachers. Like Christine Pascal, he criticised second-rate research which "cluttered up academic journals that virtually nobody reads".

Professor Pascal said: "Those of us who have the courage to tackle research in the complex, messy, poorly-controlled setting of a school or family centre should be rewarded for our courage, not penalised for it. We know that these delightful and fascinating variables won't go away and can't be controlled out of the context we are studying. In fact, they are at the very essence of this world."

How useful, she asked, was research into why rats drown more quickly if you shave their whiskers off, or how goldfish behave under the influence of alcohol?

Professor Pascal was speaking to about 100 early-years workers and primary heads at the Pen Green Centre for Under Fives and Families in Corby, Northamptonshire.

Pen Green, under its founding head Margy Whalley, has a national reputation for its work, training and research with young children and their families. Its first conference last Saturday was to launch its new early-years research, development and training base, and celebrate the research undertaken by teachers, nursery nurses, social workers and health visitors.

Tina Bruce, a consultant in early childhood education who works at Pen Green, criticised what she saw as the growing gap between theory and practice.

"You are sitting in a place of historic educational importance," she added. "I suspect that when you are 90 years old, you will say with pride: 'I visited Pen Green which in a small but crucial way, kept the relationship between theory and practice alive year upon year'."

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