Everything you need to know about anything...;Briefing;Research focus

4th June 1999 at 01:00
...on an A4-sized sheet of paper. Research of use to teachers canbe made easily digestible, says Jenny Gubb who has condensed the truckloads of findings on boys and underachievement

One of the criticisms levelled at educational researchers is that no one ever reads what they write. There is some justification in the criticism. Only a handful of people read research reports cover to cover - students, other researchers, policy-makers, school managers. Everyone else relies on the press or the educational supplements for summaries.

Classroom teachers, understandably, are too busy "doing" education to find time to read much of the original research literature around it.

It is a pity though, that so little research finds its way directly into schools - research findings can provide a cost-effective bypass round Trial and Error and a useful short-cut through Hunch and Hearsay.

For teachers, the problem is finding research that is presented in a fast and palatable form. There is no educational equivalent of the New Scientist - colourful digestible coverage of the latest thinking from across the sector. The nearest thing is probably Topic, the in-house magazine of practical applications of research from the National Foundation for Educational Research.

Otherwise, there is a bewildering multiplicity of journals produced by individual institutions or interest groups - at one end of the spectrum are the practical magazines focused on classroom practices, at the other end are the learned journals written in the highly-processed prose that binds up social science.

Reviews of research, such as those commissioned by the Office for Standards in Education, are a welcome development. They are deliberately aimed at teachers and give an overview of all the relevant findings on a particular topic with crucial points highlighted in the text. However, they still require dedicated reading.

The Hillage Report (Excellence in Research on Schools, Research Report no 74, DFEE, 1998) recommends setting up "education research information unit(s) ... to ensure that different users have access to the information they need in a usable form".

What might a "usable form" of research information look like for classroom teachers? A new magazine? Television programmes like the recent Why Men Don't Iron from Channel 4? Pamphlets like the successful assessment review Inside the Black Box by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam? A website like the one produced by Year 12 pupils from Sackville school, East Grinstead, West Sussex, to display their groundbreaking work on underachievement at GCSE?

All of these have a place. But I would like to make a particular case for the single side of A4 - combining function, economy of form, low cost and accessibility. It can be photocopied, pinned to noticeboards, read at a glance - and it fits into pigeonholes. It could be printed on glossy paper and distributed through The TES.

But can research information be usefully condensed to an A4 sheet? Or will it be rendered so general as to become meaningless?

Let's take the past 10 years of debate on gender and underachievement - an area where many schools are active. Researchers have looked at the question from every imaginable angle. More than 70 articles on boys and underachievement are listed in the British Education Index. The OFSTED review on gender and educational performance cites 250 books on gender-related topics. There are library-loads of literature from America and Australia and Europe, there is yet more on the Internet...

Even so, I am sure that the accompanying panel demonstrates that much of the information that is of direct relevance to teachers can be conveyed on a single side of A4.

Jenny Gubb is a contract researcher attached to theUniversity of Cambridge School of Education

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