In defence of research

7th April 2000 at 01:00
THE decision of the Scottish Executive Education Department to end its association with the Scottish Council for Research in Education (SCRE) and to withdraw its funding over the next three years, came abruptly, with no prior consultation, discussion, or review. Response throughout the education community in Scotland has been surprise and shock.

There have been previous changes in the way SCRE has been funded since 1970, but these have always been based on thorough reviews and reports (on two occasions by nominees of the Scottish Office itself). This ill-considered change is too serious to be accepted without challenge.

Do those in SEED who have decided to end the link with SCRE realise the full implications of their decision for the infrastructure of educational research in Scotland? This may well be a time for restructuring, but any changes should surely be based on a thorough review and an open discussion of the issues.

SCRE has provided a national research organisation which has worked closely and successfully with the department's own research personnel over the past 25 years. The crucial function of such a central body has been its link with teachers, the Educational Institute of Scotland and local authorities, which has ensured an interchange between the profession and researchers.

At a time when the Government has made "knowledge transfer" one of its key research priorities, it seems absurd to remove this extensive dissemination network provided through a variety of publications, seminars and research surveys, and the work with teacher groups which has been ensuring links between research and practice.

SCRE also has had an important role in promoting communication throughout the research community, though in recent years this has been eroded by the competitive contests in research funding. Nationally, SCRE is the base for the Scottish Educational Research Association, the association where Scottish researchers, policy makers and practitioners regularly meet to discuss research ideas, findings, implications for policy or pratice and plans for the future. On the international scene, SCRE is highly respected.

It is part of an international network of research organisations which discuss current trends in educational research. Moreover, it has played an important role in the European Educational Research Association, this year hosting its international conference in Edinburgh.

SEED has a wider role in educational research than merely dispensing funds and setting up competitive bidding, but it cannot expect to be able to specify research priorities and detailed procedures wholly independently of others in the education community. Linkage among researchers has been one of the distinctive strengths of Scottish educational research in the past.

We are a relatively small country, but for that very reason we have been able to work together. While the grant that is being withdrawn is only one-third of the council's budget, it is its essential core funding. It is impossible to expect that either the important national functions of SCRE, or its ability to bid for research funding, could be carried out by an organisation deprived of its core funding.

Just as the universities require core funding from SHEFC to provide a firm basis from which research proposals can be developed, so SCRE needs this even more, with its additional national functions. The amount of core funding being withdrawn, to put it in perspective, is less than the Government currently spends to publicise its own new schemes for education.

While there is still time, it seems to us essential that SEED thinks again, and above all consults widely on the future role and functions of SCRE within the educational research infrastructure of Scotland. It is to be hoped that democratic review has not been abandoned in pursuit of economies.

Sally Brown, Margaret Clark, Noel Entwistle, Donald McIntyre, Ian Morris, John Nisbet, Margaret Sutherland, Joyce Watt

(All the signatories were elected as

fellows of SCRE in recognition of their contributions to educational research in Scotland)

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