Doing it for themselves

11th June 2004 at 01:00
It is 75 years since John Dewey, the great American education thinker, described teachers' potential contribution to research as an "unworked mine". There is still a lot of truth in his remark, but much less than there used to to be.

On both sides of the Atlantic there appears to have been an increase in the number of teachers "engaging" with research. Eager souls are reading academic papers and trying not to be put off by words such as "dichotomising" and "epistemological"; others are discussing and implementing findings, while more are carrying out their own research.

The General Teaching Council for England, sponsor of this supplement, endorses the notion of a research-informed profession. And the personal testimony we have gathered from teachers thoughout England and Wales who have been reinvigorated by research suggests the council's enthusiasm has not been misplaced.

Everything in this garden is not lovely, of course. Too much research from universities is still seen as irrelevant and unreadable by teachers. The Best Practice Research Scholarships, which encouraged 5,000 teachers to become involved, are now withering on the political compost heap (page 20).

But the National Teacher Research Panel (see right) is one of several organisations and local authorities trying to plant hardy perennials in their place. The late Lawrence Stenhouse, the University of East Anglia academic and father of practitioner research in the UK, would be heartened by their support. But he would be more pleased by the growing realisation that ordinary, as well as extraordinary, teachers can become researchers.

Several of the new generation of practitioner-researchers describe in these pages how their work has benefited pupils and changed their lives - "in terms of my continuing professional development, this has been a personal epiphany", one London primary teacher says. It has also shown that classroom research can be a means of regaining control over at least one part of their work - and make them better teachers. As Justine Chan, a persuasive advocate (page 9), says: "How can we be good teachers if we are not constantly putting ourselves in the role of learners?"

David Budge, Deputy editor TES; david.budge@tes.co.uk

* The contents of this magazine are the responsibility of The Times Educational Supplement and not of the General Teaching Council for England.

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