Research lifeline cut

24th March 2000 at 00:00
Warning that SCRE may be 'simply allowed to disappear and be swallowed up by the market'

THE Scottish Executive has decided to end its funding of the Scottish Council for Research in Education, imperilling the future of the oldest national research centre in the Commonwealth. Reaction has been swift and hostile.

The move came as a complete shock to the SCRE council and staff - not least, it is understood, to Valerie Wilson, the director, who took up her post last August. Ironically, she had been principal research officer in the educational research unit of the Scottish Executive Education Department.

The fait accompli was delivered in a letter last week from Fiona Paterson, head of the department's research unit, stating that it no longer wished to have "a special relationship" with the council and expected it to be self-financing by 2003, its 75th birthday.

The Executive's rationale is that it wants to see "diversity" and can no longer support just one national research centre. But Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools, has been known to express publicly his scepticism about the effectiveness of much educational research, although his barbs have not been specifically directed at the SCRE's record. Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, also challenged the quality of educational research this week.

The council currently receives pound;338,000 and, in a separate blow, it has been told that this will not be guaranteed during the three remaining years of the core grant. The cash will be subject to a "service level agreement" under which the council will draw up a list of services each year and the Government will then select the research or dissemination activities it chooses to fund.

The decision means current support lasts effectively until te end of this financial year, which is a week today (Friday). The Inspectorate will no longer have an assessor on the council, currently Harvey Stalker, a chief inspector whose remit includes educational research, and the Secretary of State will not appoint anybody to the council when his three existing representatives have finished their term of office.

Ivor Sutherland, registrar of the General Teaching Council, said he greatly regretted if a body with such a distinguished record, recognised not just in Scotland but worldwide, "was simply allowed to disappear and be swallowed up by the market".

Ian Barr, a director of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, who has a seat on the SCRE, said he was "shocked and disturbed".

Mr Barr added: "A publicly funded national research centre exists in almost every other country and, particularly with the new Scottish Parliament, we feel it is essential to have a body which can initiate good quality research and act as a clearing house for research information."

Bill Furness, the SCRE's chairman, said the news at such short notice was "very disappointing" at a time when the council had begun to improve its effectiveness. Core funding for essential but non-commercial work "sits very comfortably alongside the need to compete for contracts which we already do anyway".

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, which co-founded the SCRE in 1928 along with the local authorities, was "appalled" at the Executive's decision. Mr Smith said: "I cannot see the rationale for not having a core educational research organisation, particularly if the absence of an independent and honest research centre further strengthens the influence of the Inspectorate which would be very unhealthy."


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