Death knell sounded for research centre

11th January 2008 at 00:00
Eight decades of educational research, which helped Scotland set an international pace, are to come to an end with the announcement that the Scottish Council for Research in Education is to be axed.

The writing has been regarded as on the wall for SCRE since it was downgraded from being a full council to a centre in the education faculty at Glasgow University in 2002, following withdrawal of its core funding by the then Scottish Executive. The university gave the seven SCRE staff a pre-Christmas gift of redundancy notices, on the grounds of the "ongoing serious deficit" in the centre's finances. This is understood to amount to pound;300,000.

The university court has accepted proposals by Jim Conroy, the dean of education, to close the centre in its entirety "unless alternatives to closure could be generated". Efforts will be made to find alternative posts for the staff.

Ironically, this year is SCRE's 80th birthday which it intended to celebrate in May with one of its co-founders, the Educational Institute of Scotland (the other was the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland). The event, which was to have been spent "examining past achievements and ongoing research ... and considering the way in which Scotland could be better served by educational research", has been put on hold.

The creation of SCRE in 1928 was regarded as groundbreaking in educational history. It led to the formation of research councils in other countries, including the National Foundation for Educational Research in England and Wales 20 years later. One of its most notable achievements was the Scottish Mental Survey, begun in 1932, whose data is still being used by academics to track issues such as the effects of ageing on memory. In the 1930s, SCRE was also at "the leading edge of developing expertise on testing", said Martin Lawn of Edinburgh University.

The council's influence began to wane, particularly after Sam Galbraith, the first post-devolution education minister, questioned the quality of its work, and when Douglas Osler, the former senior chief inspector of education, made known his preference for building up several centres of educational research expertise in the universities rather than relying on one organisation.

But in 2000, when the decision to axe government funding was taken, a former head of educational research at the then Scottish Office claimed the issue was about power. Ian Morris said politicians and civil servants "have never been keen on educational research and react badly when outsiders criticise poor scientific methods in surveys and league tables. Why should it support a body which may challenge its authority?"

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