It's all too academic

22nd August 2008 at 01:00
Faculties are `denigrating' education lecturers by crediting research over classroom experience

Teachers in education faculties are "demoralised" because years of experience in the classroom are regarded as less important than publishing research in obscure journals, according to a leading figure in Scotland's biggest education faculty.

Strathclyde University's Brian Boyd railed against the "denigration" of teachers working in universities, using the platform of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Among a number of barbed observations on the current state of initial teacher education, Professor Boyd told his audience that it was in a "cul-de-sac".

His comments follow last November's arrival of a new dean of education at Strathclyde University, who is steeped in research and is believed to have ruffled a few feathers with a determination to raise the profile of research in the faculty.

Professor Boyd believes the growing prominence of research over the last 15 years, since the old colleges of education became faculties of universities, has undermined teachers. "There is a constant denigration of the contribution that people make to university life by being able to be good teachers," he later told The TESS. "The research agenda has simply distorted the picture."

Professor Boyd suggested that "the balance has moved away from learning and teaching to research", and he compared the importance placed on research articles published by education faculties to the use of exam league tables comparing schools' performance.

It should be a "no-brainer" to rate more highly the value of a career spent in the classroom than an article in a journal read by "half-a-dozen people", he added.

But, he continued, some people within faculties of education were "demoralised" because senior figures in universities "cast to one side" those who are not researchers - even though their work may have contributed to books used by teachers throughout Scotland.

"The education faculty is not regarded highly," Professor Boyd said. "The money it brings in is through students, not the kind of big money that a science or engineering faculty makes."

He stressed that publishing research was important and that teachers in education faculties should have the opportunity to improve their skills in this area. "I just think there ought to be a better balance," he said.

The chair of an influential research body responded to Professor Boyd's comments by stressing that something "distinctive" was required to justify the location of initial teacher education in universities - specifically, a strong research base.

"I am not denigrating the importance of practice; I think it's very important that people working in initial teacher education have credibility with the students they teach and with experienced teachers," said Pamela Munn, who heads the Applied Educational Research Scheme.

"But they must be offering something over and above classroom experience because, after all, that's what students get when they go on a teaching placement."

Professor Munn, who is the former dean of education at Edinburgh University, conceded that classroom practitioners and educational researchers had become largely discrete groups within faculties, but that work was ongoing to bring the two closer together.

She pointed to the work of Strathclyde University's Donald Christie on "communities of enquiry", which is helping to put educational researchers and practitioners on a level footing where everyone's ideas contribute to the understanding of a common problem.

"The ideal situation is where there is no tension and no competition between teaching and research," she said.

In an interview with The TESS in April, Jill Bourne, the new education dean at Strathclyde University, insisted that her colleagues - who had been criticised in an internal university report for their lack of research - should not be fazed by her research background.

She indicated that there might be a short-term need to boost the university's contingent of experienced researchers but, in the long term, she wanted to encourage existing staff to develop an enthusiasm for research.

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