Professor urges new direction for research

26th April 1996 at 01:00
Educational research should be radically reformed so that it plays a new role in improving standards of teaching, according to a leading educationist.

David Hargreaves, professor of education at Cambridge University, called for a new forum of teachers, academics, parents and governors to decide what research should be carried out.

Speaking at the Teacher Training Agency's annual lecture in Birmingham last week, Professor Hargreaves said the Pounds 50-Pounds 60 million now spent every year on educational research gives poor value for money and is seen as irrelevant by most teachers.

Much current educational research was second-rate and "clutters up academic journals that virtually nobody reads".

Up to Pounds 20m of the forum's budget would be devoted to studies of what teachers do in classrooms. Some would go to the Teacher Training Agency, Professor Hargreaves suggested, and the Office for Standards in Education should have a research department to draw on its information about what teachers do.

He compared education with the medical profession where research has helped doctors improve their work and gain public prestige. Teachers, he said, had no shared technical language and educational theory was separate from practice.

Despite a huge amount of educational research over the past 50 years, there was little scientifically sound evidence which was seen as a worthwhile guide to professional action. The main problem was that, unlike in medicine, researchers were rarely practitioners, "It is this gap between researchers and practitioners which betrays the fatal flaw in educational research," said Professor Hargreaves. "For it is the researchers, not the practitioners, who determine the agenda of educational research.

"If practising doctors, especially those in hospitals, stopped doing research and left it almost entirely to a special breed of people called medical researchers who were mainly university academics without patients, then medical research would go the same way as educational research - a private, esoteric activity, seen as irrelevant by most practitioners."

Changing the nature of research would mean involving all those involved in education in a new national strategy, with a partnership between academics and teachers at its core. The new national educational research forum would establish a dialogue between all the "stakeholders."

But Professor Hargreaves warned that there may be resistance to his proposals. "Most academics fear any loss of their autonomy and control over the research process, and they claim practitioner interests are short-termist.

"There would indeed be some loss of autonomy and there would be a danger of short-termism that a national forum would have to take into account.

"But the end result would be far more research that is closely related to policy and practice, that is carried out by and with users, and that leads to results which are more likely to be applied in practice."

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