Relevant research? Answers on a postcard, please

10th November 2000 at 00:00
IT IS now just over a year since the National Educational Research Forum was set up by the Government. Its

mission? To draw up a new strategy for educational research which ensures that in future it will have a greater impact on policy-making and classroom practice, writes David Budge.

As remits go, it was about as hard as they get. Many academics and research-funders have broken their teeth on this Brazil nut in the past. And not just in Britain.

So what chance does the 19-member forum have? Judgment should be postponed until next spring, when the forum makes its final recommendations. But the consultation document it issued this week reveals just how far the forum still has to travel to achieve its goal.

Since the spring, it has been discussing five aspects of research: identifying priorities; quality issues; building capacity; funding; and impact on policy and practice.

These discussions have thrown up some interesting ideas, such as the need for a "horizon scanning" unit that can identify "longer-term research and

development requirements and opportunities in relation to technical, societal and global trends". But the forum's deliberations appear to have generated more questions than answers. In fact, no fewer than 31 questions have been put out to consultation.

As a result, the final pages of the pamphlet published on Monday look more like an exam paper than a consultation document. A fiendishly difficult exam paper at that. This is one of the conundrums the forum has posed:

"What does education need from research in terms of skills? (Please give examples of different disciplinary

contributions to research on education isses with brief details of illustrative projects that are in progress or completed)."

The forum's chairman, Professor Sir Michael Peckham, does not accept the exam paper analogy, however. "It is true that, in some areas, we are starting with a white sheet of paper. But this consultation exercise isn't a test. It is an incredible opportunity for constituencies that don't normally have an input to put their case on the future of educational research."

Copies of the consultation document will be sent to local authorities, universities, employers, teachers and other interested parties.

Further copies can be obtained by emailing or by writing to NERF publications, PO Box 5050, Sherwood Park, Annesley,

Nottingham NG15 ODJ. The document is also available on the Internet

The deadline for responses is January 15, 2001.


More scholarships and secondments should be offered to teachers who want to become more involved in educational research, the forum's consultation document says.

Grants for teacher-researchers are already provided by the Department for Education and Employment and the Teacher Training Agency. But the forum believes it is now time that more financial encouragement was offered.

It also wants teachers to contribute to the discussions over the new research strategy.

"Teachers have prime responsibility for the delivery of educational services and are therefore in a key position to identify opportunities and problems which should inform a research strategy," the forum says.

"Their background experience is insufficiently drawn upon."

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