Editorial: Indefinite articles

4th September 1998 at 01:00
As always, the Americans got there before us. The debate over the future of education research that now seems to be at its apogee was raging across the Atlantic several years ago.

One of its products was a publication containing statements by 21 former presidents of the American Educational Research Association. It revealed that they didn't agree on the nature of the problem besetting education research, the extent of the problem, or its solution.

We are now witnessing something similar in Britain, following the publication of the Institute for Employment Studies report on education research. As Pamela Lomax's Platform article indicates, researchers, government and many teachers concur that it is time for change. After that,unfortunately, agreement breaks down.

The Government wants research to be more policy-focused and offer more help to schools; teachers remain sceptical that it ever will; and researchers often disagree with each other on the direction they should be heading in.

David Hargreaves of Cambridge University, who initiated the debate, has argued that education should emulate the evidence-based practice of the medical profession. That argument was recently undermined by the editor of the British Medical Journal, who claims that only 5 per cent of published articles in medical journals reach minimum standards of scientific soundness and clinical relevance.

Nevertheless, Hargreaves is right to assert that new findings are more likely to be adopted by teachers if they are recommended by their peers. (Other researchers have been saying this for 20 years or more.) He therefore advocates a national spider's web of "tinkering", research-focused schools that would flash their findings around the country using new technology.

The IES's recommendations are more prosaic; but may be more practicable in the short term. They include a national forum determining what should be researched, greater quality assurance and improved dissemination.

The TES will continue to do all it can to further this last objective, notably through Research Focus - which this week features highlights from the British Educational Research Association conference. And researchers should plan (and budget) for effective dissemination from the very beginning of a research proposal; it never happens by magic.

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