Balls' B-road to knowledge-sharing

17th July 2009 at 01:00
Letter to the editor

So Ed Balls wants to "put teaching on a professional footing with doctors and lawyers" ("No need to fear the licence to teach", July 10). Has he thought about his responsibilities in this?

Lawyers and doctors have ways of accessing online the evidence underpinning their practice that are at least 15 years ahead of education. There is considerable collective knowledge about effective practice in education, but we work in a 17th-century environment when it comes to knowledge sharing.

The other professions Mr Balls compares us with have the knowledge-sharing equivalent of motorway infrastructure. Research into classroom practice is regularly undertaken, but the findings are not captured systematically or made accessible in ways that allow others to build on them.

We were promised the information superhighway in 1997, but have been given a series of B-roads and mud tracks. If Mr Balls were seriously to invest in an up-to-date infrastructure for education, we would be able to find evidence-informed advice on areas affecting daily practice, experts in fields we want to know about, research projects in areas of interest to us and our schools and compare our results with others. And we would have an evidence database that was based around the precise and fine-grained questions teachers need answered to ensure their practice is evidence based.

Given the critical role that education plays in our economy and the ease of communications possible with the web, this is not an acceptable state of affairs. So, Mr Balls, what about providing some investment in building an evidence base for practice in education similar to that available for doctors and lawyers?

Then we will be able to support our claims for professional competence with evidence.

Marilyn Leask, Professor of education and member of the HEFCE research assessment exercise education panel 2008, Brunel University.

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