Let's move beyond method

30th October 1998 at 00:00
Jim Hillage, author of Excellence in Research on Schools, replies to Martyn Hammersley's criticisms of his work

They say people who live in glass houses should not throw stones, so it is not surprising that our recent report on educational research has attracted some criticism. However, while he makes some valid points, Professor Martyn Hammersley of the Open University ("Who questions the questioners?", TES, October 9) is generally unfair in his attack on our method and in the suggestion that we are solely critical of researchers.

First, we would not claim that our study - Excellence in Research on Schools - exemplified "the shape which research should take in the future". It was done in a short time (four months) which curtailed the depth in which we could explore the necessarily complex issues involved. However, it did seek to build on previous work, including at least five other reviews conducted over the past decade.

It was further based on evidence collected from more than 100 researchers, national and local policy bodies, trade unions and others, plus focus groups and series interviews with teachers, advisers and inspectors. The data included their perceptions of the use to which research was put and the extent to which their actions were influenced directly or indirectly by research. Our credentials to form judgments on the basis of the evidence, and the limitations of the evidence, were both clearly stated.

Second, Professor Hammersley ignores our conclusions that the apparent lack of impact of research on educational action is as much to do with a lack of commitment to evidence-based practice and the absence of any help with interpreting research as it is to do with problems of researchers' agenda, method and dissemination.

Third, our recommendations are designed to improve the range and quality of the research effort, although we identify a particular lack of large-scale applied research in the education arena. We want to see: l a more strategic coherence and partnership - through the development of a national research framework, supported by a national education research forum, policy fora on key issues and more collaboration among research funders.

* improvements in the quality of research - through better-quality assurance procedures and more training in research skills: and, * improvements in the impact of research - through improved dissemination and mediation between researchers, policy-makers and practitioners and establishing a commitment to evidence-based policy and practice.

If educational research is going to make a difference to policy and practice (and while we believe it can and should that is obviously not its only purpose) then it is to be hoped that the debate can move on to these issues, rather than stalling at the first hurdle.

Jim Hillage is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, University of Sussex. "Excellence in Research on Schools", the study he co-wrote with Richard Pearson, Alan Anderson and Penny Tamkin, was commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment. Copies of the report, priced Pounds 4.95, are available from DFEE Publications, PO Box 5050, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6QZ (tel. 0845-6022260)

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