Graham Handscomb and John MacBeath argue that politicans need to provide incentives if classroom inquiry is to grow
If schools are to become more engaged with research there will need to be significantly increased political sponsorship for this development at national and local level, together with less grudging advocacy from the world of educational research itself.
In his inaugural presidential address to the British Educational Research Association last year, Professor John Furlong took issue with the unhelpful polarisation of academic and practitioner research, arguing for a recognition of both. Further progress along these lines will require a fundamental re-appraisal of how we develop institutional and individual research capacity - followed by systemic action. Members of the National Educational Research Forum (Nerf) who have considered this issue recommended that:
* Hard and fast distinctions between researchers and research-users should no longer be made.
* More research should be undertaken in partnership between policymakers andor practitioners and professional researchers and should be funded on this basis.
* Collaboration between schools, colleges, higher education institutions and other stakeholders at local and regional level should be made easier.
Clearly, there are implications not only for central government but also for local education authorities and regional centres of the National College for School Leadership. If research is to involve more than the isolated activity of the occasional school enthusiast, then educational policymakers and school leaders need to be bolder about its benefits and more forthright about expectations.
Again, the Nerf recommendations signal one possible way:
* All teachers should have an entitlement to research training to develop their role as critical users of research.
* All schools and colleges should have an entitlement, and perhaps a responsibility, to participate in a relevant research partnership.
These proposals pose significant challenges for continuing professional development (CPD). Teachers can be reluctant to start "unlearning" previous approaches or to experiment with new ideas and practices. Updating routine knowledge and skills can seem to make things worse before they get better.
So for teacher inquiry and research to flourish there is a real need for CPD managers to foster a climate that encourages risk-taking and gives assurance that teachers and pupils will gain more than they lose from the process.
The case for teacher inquiry and the benefits of research engagement for professional learning are overwhelmingly strong. It now remains for there to be the will at national and local level, in higher education and among school leaders and staff, to make these gains both embedded and widespread.
Graham Handscomb is head of best practice and research at Essex education authority. Email: Graham.handscomb@essexcc. gov.uk. John MacBeath is professor of school leadership at the University of Cambridge.
Email: email@example.com.This article is an edited extract from a paper in the Spring 2004 issue of Professional Development Today (Vol 7, Issue 2).