Education books

29th June 2001 at 01:00

Educational research is widely criticised by policy-makers, chief inspectors, the media and even researchers. A constant theme of the criticism is that it is "unscientific", insufficiently evidence-based, inadequately evaluated and badly disseminated. Richard Pring, in his book Philosophy of Educational Research (Continuum pound;15.99, available from TES Direct), accepts some of this. There is too much educational research, he says, and too much of it is mediocre, badly written or trendy. The greater concern, though, is the constant pressure to be "scientific" - as if there is a science of teaching and learning that can be measured, described and adopted. Educational research, he argues, is not like that because it is centred on teaching and learning, on value added. It demands value judgments and precision of thinking.

This volume is a textbook and a manifesto, and research students will welcome the clarity with which the various concepts, tools and approaches are outlined. Most teachers will be stimulated by it.

Doing Qualitative Educational Research by Geoffrey Walford (Continuum pound;16.99, available from TES Direct) is more concerned with techniques, but it echoes many of Pring's concerns. Walford's argument is that in practice even quantitative research is never as "scientific" and "objective" as the textbooks pretend, and that qualitative research in particular (which is about the cause and effects of what people and organisations do) works to different rules. But it doesn't follow, he says, that qualitative research is value-driven and worthlessly subjective. To resolve the paradox he describes some projects he has worked on, providing excellent insights into the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.

He comments that despite the political controversy surrounding his 1991 report on Solihull CTC, the first in the country, it "sank with barely a ripple". Is it necessary, then, for research to produce "results"? This is raised in Doing Practitioner Research Differently by Marion Dadds and Susan Hart (RoutledgeFalmer pbk pound;15.99, hbk pound;50, TESDirect pound;48), an absorbing account of six teacher-led projects that ignored research conventions but triumphantly met the MEd requirements. There is no doubt that these teachers benefited from the latitude they were given. But who else did? And does this mean that method doesn't matter?

Emphatically not, say the authors of Early Childhood Research, Carol Aubrey, Tricia David, Ray Godfrey and Linda Thompson (RoutledgeFalmer pound;16.99, available from TES Direct). Their view is that valid research is by definition scientific. It demands a broad overview of the subject, a sound theoretical base, specialised skills and techniques, and a specific research ethic - and all of these are covered here, with interesting case studies. This is an important survey of current approaches, but it is addressed to the research community and to graduate students rather than to teachers and practitioners.

Practising teachers can make a contribution to many areas of research but they need a guide. The new edition of Doing your Own Research by Eileen Kane and Mary O'Reilly-de-Brun (Marion Boyars Publishers pound;12.95, available from TES Direct) is ideal. Read this book and you will learn how to do basic social research: travel, meet new people, practise your research skills - and be locked up in Hope and Glory, Ohio (I would be a spoilsport if I explained). This is a first-class introduction to theory and method; readable, comprehensive and funny. Highly recommended.

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