Editorial - Research is a must-have to succeed with CfE

9th December 2011 at 00:00

Is it really little more than a decade since Scotland's first Education Minister under devolution, Sam Galbraith, was berating teachers for not following the latest research in the way doctors did? As things stand today, research activity is in danger of shrinking to such an extent that teachers would struggle to follow his exhortation.

Let us not forget that Galbraith was responsible for ending guaranteed Government funding of SCRE - the Scottish Centre for Research in Education - as a freestanding body, later to be subsumed and swallowed up by Glasgow University. Strathclyde University's Quality in Education unit also disappeared at around the same time. And since then, educational research in Scotland has had its ups and downs.

Currently, the sector appears to be heading towards rock bottom. This year, as revealed by TESS (News Focus, p12), only six education research projects have been commissioned by the Scottish Government compared to 28 three years ago - a statistic that brings one up short.

Let us give the benefit of the doubt - the Government admits that it is passing the baton of research-commissioning to Education Scotland, in deference to the newly-merged body's role in quality improvement. But that does not completely excuse what has been a worrying spiral downwards in research activity since the collaborative Applied Educational Research Scheme's funding ran out in 2009.

Never before has rigorous evaluation of policy change and new classroom practice been so vital. We are told that Curriculum for Excellence must be "transformational"; that without it, Scotland's young people cannot hope to compete in the global economy. What more compelling reason can there be, then, to institute a research programme examining whether the application of CfE's principles are actually working in practice?

Classroom teachers are continually lectured on the importance of self- evaluation: does what they do in class have a positive, measurable impact on learning? If teachers are to become "leaders of learning" in action research, surely they - and their pupils - are owed the services of Scotland's education research community.

Nearly three years ago, Colin MacLean, then head of the Scottish Government's schools division, told education researchers at the winding- up conference of AERS that the education community needed to know what worked, how to make it work and whether it was working. That was where research had a role to play. It may be that the research community has not stepped up to the plate in the intervening period. But it may also be that no one has sought to commission their expertise to ensure that our steps into the brave new world of CfE are going in the right direction.

Gillian Macdonald is away. Elizabeth Buie, Deputy editor.elizabeth.buie@tess.co.uk.

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