Challenge which should be welcomed
Kevan Bleach, senior teacher, Sneyd Community School, Walsall: Given the welter of reforms which schools have faced in the past decade, it has been difficult enough for teachers to cope, let alone grow, as professionals. What can be done, therefore, to enhance teachers' professionalism and idealism as far as teaching and learning processes are concerned?
Professor David Hargreaves's case for the development of teaching as a much more research-based activity is one way forward. As the Teacher Training Agency aptly puts it: "Too few research projects focus on classroom teaching or involve classroom teachers actively in the research process."
My school has already taken practical steps in this direction. I am currently leading a team of five teachers in an action research partnership with Wolverhampton University. Our interview-based investigation concerns the factors that lead some potentially able boys in Year 8 to exhibit negative attitudes to work and achievement.
The benefits to the staff involved are starting to become clear. Our scrutiny of professional practice has caused us to reflect critically on our findings about boys' attitudes to homework, setting, reading, gender, teachers, and much more.
Our partnership with Wolverhampton University is essential. It has been necessary to stand outside the day-to-day world of our school and engage with the approaches to research and theory that are the traditional province of higher education. Alone, I doubt if many schools could provide sufficient support and expertise for properly structured teacher-conducted research.
Crucial to our project, too, is our school's commitment to the notion of investigative and reflective practice. We are fortunate to have an institutional ethos that lends itself to the enhancement of staff professionalism. Various mechanisms exist to enable teachers to develop a critical approach to teaching and learning processes, such as faculty self-reviews and working parties on differentiation, gender and classroom management.
If the goals of school improvement and effectiveness are not to prove elusive, I believe our profession must respond enthusiastically to the nascent opportunities to become more research-based. The Teacher Training Agency's initial allocation of Pounds 60,000 in grant-aid provides a modest boost and it is encouraging that more than 230 applications were made by teachers in schools.
Schools as institutions must display similar interest and commitment. Time and resources have to be provided if the ideal of a research-based profession is to be implemented. The priority currently given to identifying the ingredients that contribute to school improvement should help strengthen the case of those who believe in practitioner research.
By becoming much more involved in educational research, schools are likely to find themselves more empowered and effective as institutions, while teachers could legitimately claim to be regaining their autonomy and status as professionals. It is a challenge we should welcome.