Our sample of reports from the educational researchers' conference (page six) gives a flavour of the work carried out, largely, by staff in the education faculties of universities. Their twin jobs of teaching tomorrow's teachers and carrying out research into the current priorities of the school system are bound up with the overly complex funding mechanisms in higher education.
Academics now spend considerable hours dealing with the business aspects of research, including the securing of funds, mostly from the Scottish Executive, in the expectation of raising their department's research standing. It is all rather unsavoury, as is the poaching of staff between competing and increasingly market-led universities, not that this is likely to change.
So what of their actual work? Certainly, since the advent of the Scottish Parliament, the Executive is devoting more attention to evidence-based practice and is quietly funding research into key aspects of the service, such as the post-McCrone national agreement, the national priorities and the Assessment is for Learning programme. Under the little noticed AERS (Applied Educational Research Scheme), there is more collaboration between researchers than there has been before. All this is better than it was.
But what if the Executive doesn't receive the answers it wants? And how does current research impact on school practice? There is, for example, little support as yet to underpin new community schools, now rebranded as integrated community schools, but the policy is being driven forward. There may be refinements, but no embarrassing U-turn. Similarly, the jury is still out on the multimillion pound enterprise in education initiative. And what if researchers report unfavourably on parts of the post-McCrone deal?
There are still major weaknesses. We spend comparatively little and focus on the narrow cognitive areas of the curriculum. Areas such as vocational education, the expressive arts and extra-curricular activities hardly feature. This tells us something about the researchers themselves and reflects the Scottish tradition of concentrating on methods and approaches in teaching the basics. We need a wider vision.