Let's talk about research

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
In an open letter to the Education Secretary Michael Bassey urges key agencies to join up their thinking.

In welcoming your return to education the British Educational Research Association would like to put an item on your agenda.

This problem can be simply resolved by joining up the thinking of two of the major agencies in your domain.

When you were schools standards minister one of your responsibilities was for educational research. You told us that it was a low priority but, nevertheless, an outcome of BERA meeting with you was the funding of Department for Education and Skills fellowships for teachers to gain research doctorates. Other forms of government support for teacher research have been the best practice research scholarships, the Network of Learning Communities, and the website Teachernet - research.

It is gratifying to see that the just-published Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report says that the quantity and quality of attention being paid to educational research and development by the Government and to its potential contribution to the quality of policy and practice are remarkable. Part of this excellence is encompassed in the idea that teaching should be a research-based profession. The problem to put to you is that this essential concept is in grave danger: the solution is to get the Teacher Training Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England to talk to each other and join up thinking.

If teaching is to be research-based then teacher-training must be research-based. Until 1992 most academic educational research in England was carried out in the schools of education of 23 of the old universities, but over the past 10 years nearly every initial teacher training institution has developed a research profile and 62 of them entered for the last Research Assessment Exercise. It takes a long time to develop a high-level research culture and only one of the new entrants, Manchester Metropolitan University, got a 4 rating (institutions are ranked on a scale from 1 - the poorest - to 5*).

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (which has responsibility for all academic disciplines) has decided that only departments rated 3A and above qualify for funding. This means that the 23 ITT institutions who achieved less get no financial support for research. (Eighteen scored 3B, five scored 2. Significantly, none hit the bottom of the scale). HEFCE has now decided that such departments should get no public funding for postgraduate students, although more than 400 students, mainly part-time, are currently registered for research degrees at these institutions. The consequence of these decisions by HEFCE is likely to be that the slowly growing research culture of these institutions, amounting to about a third of those currently training teachers, will be destroyed.

Accepting that HEFCE cannot easily make exceptions for education as one of its 52 disciplines, there is a strong case for the Teacher Training Agency stepping in and funding these departments so that their research culture can continue to grow. The rationale is simple: every child in the country deserves to be taught by teachers whose practice is evidence-based and in schools permeated with a research culture. To achieve this it is most important that the training of teachers itself is research-based. This requires the teacher-trainers to have a stake in research. And this requires funding. To support the 3B and 2-rated ITT departments at the same level as the 3A-rated departments would annually cost less than pound;1.5 million. It is a small price for a big idea.

Please can you get the TTA and HEFCE to join up thinking.

Academic Secretary

British Educational Research Association

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