Are researchers the new scapegoats?

21st August 1998 at 01:00
More interesting than the Tooley report - Education Research: an OFSTED Critique - is why chief inspector Chris Woodhead paid public money for it.

Mr Woodhead may feel he should be cautious about criticising teachers. Teacher education has had a good thrashing, so it's time for another scapegoat.

Educational researchers would be a wise target because the Office for Standards in Education has come in for criticism from that quarter, some having the temerity to suggest that evidence indicates how it contributes to low morale.

The public rationale is that educational researchers are not providing enough accessible evidence about teaching and learning in classrooms. If researchers concentrated on this then teachers could apply lessons from research and everything would be hunky-dory.

This position insults teachers by implying they are dopes who would just apply the lessons of research without using their own professional expertise. It also attempts to limit the focus of research to what takes place within the classroom, and to prevent researchers from looking at, say, home-school issues, school management, educational policy, or even the practices of OFSTED. Finally, it presents research as being only about providing simple solutions . . . rather than also being about raising questions and challenging assumptions.

There are disputes between researchers and about research in all fields. Critical examination of research in terms of its production, transmission and reception at all levels is very important, provided it's competent.

Tooley concludes that "almost without exception, the research reviewed here was relevant to practice andor policy". Now turn to the foreword where Mr Woodhead says: "Much that is published is, on this analysis, at best no more than an irrelevance and distraction." What do we make of this? Using the criteria that Tooley employs and hence seeking the logical option, we find three: Mr Woodhead converts relevance into irrelevance because he has not read the report; he has read but misunderstood it; he understands but seeks to misrepresent it.

Can anyone suggest, in the interest of fair-mindedness, other alternatives, or combinations?

David Hustler, Anne Edwards and Ian Stronach (Editors) British Educational Research Journal

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