Scotland is close to jackpot of `research rich' education

13th June 2014 at 01:00
Report commends approach but warns on teacher engagement

Scotland is setting an example to the rest of the UK by encouraging teachers to use academic studies to improve their lessons, an 18-month inquiry into the use of research in schools has found.

But there is still work to do - while policy documents talk up research, many teachers may not yet see it as a priority, the new report argues.

In Scotland, it is now government policy that universities should have a prominent role in teachers' professional learning throughout their careers, notes the joint paper by British Education Research Association (Bera) and the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA).

"However, across the rest of the UK, there is a more fragmented and piecemeal approach to the use of research than that displayed by high-performing systems such as Finland and Canada," it states.

But as Scottish teachers grapple with fundamental changes to curriculum and assessment, there may be a gap between aspirations and reality. "Even in Scotland, there was the danger that the findings of the Donaldson review, which had laid the policy foundations for a `research-engaged teaching profession', would not be regarded as a priority by teachers, in secondary schools in particular," the report warns.

RSA director of education Joe Hallgarten said: "The four UK nations' attempts to create world-class, self-improving school systems will fail unless greater prominence is given to teachers' engagement with research, and attempts are made to ensure that all teachers become research-literate."

This was "no magic bullet", he said, but "it might provide the glue that helps all education interventions and programmes to be more effective and productive". As things stood, teachers and university researchers often operated in "separate and sometimes competing universes".

Professor John Furlong from the University of Oxford, who chaired the inquiry, said: "Teachers and students thrive in the kind of settings that we describe as `research rich', and researchrich schools and colleges are those that are likely to have the greatest capacity for self-evaluation and self-improvement."

The report finds that in both Scotland and Northern Ireland "there is clear recognition of teaching as a complex profession", as well as a strong emphasis on the importance of research at all levels of professional development.

In Wales, the picture is more "ambiguous". In England, "the nature of teaching is contested, while the value of research in teacher education has arguably diminished over time".

There is an "urgent need" for UK-wide research to monitor more closely the impact of research on teachers, students, schools and colleges, the report says. It advises Scottish local authorities and the General Teaching Council for Scotland to organise regular events to share examples of where research has led to benefits in the classroom.

A GTCS spokesman said the body was planning a conference for March next year, which it hoped to make an annual event, around developing an "enquiring teaching profession".

"We are doing a number of other things to share examples of research and to support research in education, including sharing enquiry work in the Teaching Scotland magazine and online," the spokesman said. "Later this year, we will have a significant announcement around access to research materials that will help teachers in their professional learning."

Alan Armstrong, strategic director for lifelong learning at Education Scotland, welcomed the report's findings: "Having a research-led teaching profession sits at the heart of our work on teacher education in recognition of the positive impact that this approach has on the learning of children and young people."

He added that Education Scotland would continue to work with other bodies to ensure that teaching practice informed by research "becomes embedded across Scottish education".


See how different parts of the UK measure up by reading the Bera-RSA report, Research and the Teaching Profession: building the capacity for a self-improving education system.


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