More teacher-led evidence please

13th December 1996 at 00:00
In his piece on educational research (TES, November 22) Michael Bassey quotes the demanding question from my Teacher Training Agency lecture, "just how much research is there which demonstrates conclusively that if teachers change their practice from x to y there will be a significant and enduring improvement in teaching and learning?" He offers an answer - "probably none" - and so substitutes a very different and much easier question, asserting that my question treats teaching as "a technological skill, like word-processing".

I assume nothing of the kind. Like all professionals, teachers need to know what works with what clients and in what circumstances to enhance their skill and improve their effectiveness. "Evidence-based medicine" seeks to put at doctors' disposal the accumulated evidence of what therapeutic measures work in clinical practice.

Doctors often know no simple solution. Theirs is not a "technological skill, like word processing". Good doctoring, like good teaching, requires a sophisticated judgment. In the words of a great physician, Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Medicine is the most difficult of the sciences and the most laborious of arts."

The evidence-based teaching I advocate requires more research about what works in what circumstances and then makes the knowledge available to teachers for use as a component in decision-making that also takes account of specific circumstances.

Bassey commends one brand of educational research - the version of action research associated with the late Lawrence Stenhouse - as helpful to teachers. Evidence-based teaching is open to many varieties of research. Bassey is entitled to his preferences and prejudices, but these do not constitute a monopoly of the ways in which teachers are helped by research to make high-quality decisions in their classroom practice.

The TTA should support more teacher-led, school-based research adopting a range of approaches.

DAVID H HARGREAVES Professor of education, University of Cambridge

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