Even on her sickbed, Philippa Cordingley kept reading research documents. Anat Arkin talks to the woman who inspires others with her passion for the subject
DDuring a recent spell in hospital, Philippa Cordingley managed to spend a few hours a day reading research reports. She was suffering from a complaint that affected her eyesight and it meant the reports had to be printed in large, 16-point type.
But she is not a woman to let such things stand in the way of her work.
"Philippa is a one-off. She has the determination to find a route through seemingly intransigent problems," says David Jackson of the National College for School Leadership, who oversees its networked learning communities that now involve almost 36,000 teachers in more than 1,500 schools and were developed with Philippa's help.
"One of the reasons we work with her and her consultancy company now is because she gave so much time to help us get this programme started for no fee," says David Jackson. "She just believed in this work and was passionate about supporting it."
It is this passion and dedication that has made Philippa Cordingley a leading light in the drive to involve teachers in educational research. It has also led to her consultancy, the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (Curee), winning the contract to supply content for the government-funded research and informed practice site, a new bulletin for teachers that the National Educational Research Forum is piloting, and the research of the month section of the General Teaching Council website.
Carol Adams, the GTC's chief executive, says: "One of the things I like about Philippa is that she really cares about teaching. I am also impressed by her energy. It's sometimes hard to keep up with the speed of her conversation and her ability to run for trains."
A former FE lecturer and local education authority administrator, Philippa Cordingley first became interested in teacher research when, as an independent consultant, she did some work for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the role of LEAs.
"It took me two years to learn how to turn that into something that came alive and was useful to LEAs," she recalls. "That experience, coupled with reflecting deeply on teachers' professional learning, made me realise that there was an enormous gap between all the effort that went into high-quality research and what was involved in professional learning."
The chance to do something about that gap came in the mid-1990s when she was working with the Teacher Training Agency. The agency was looking at how research findings could be used to influence classroom practice and, with her help, began involving teachers in the design and content of large-scale academic studies.
She also played a part in setting up school-based research consortiums and a scheme to award grants to teachers who were interested not only in conducting research, but presenting the findings in ways that colleagues would find useful. Some academics viewed these activities with suspicion.
"In the early days, the idea that teachers' own research would be infectious - like laughter rather than 'flu - was quite controversial," says Philippa.
But hostility to teacher involvement in research has now mostly died down, she adds. Even Curee's efforts to strip academic studies of their jargon and summarise them in a readable and useful form are no longer viewed as subversive.
While focusing mainly on summarising research and interpreting it for particular contexts through links to teachers' own case studies, Curee occasionally carries out original research. A notable example is a review of the impact of continuing professional development published by the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordination Centre (Eppi) last year. This was sponsored by the National Union of Teachers and the General Teaching Council, but Curee also put the equivalent of around pound;10,000 into the project.
This suggests - like the way she helped set up networked learning communities without charging the NCSL a fee - that she lacks the killer instinct of the true entrepreneur. However, her generosity has not stopped her turning Curee from the one-woman-and-a-PA consultancy she set up in 1997 into a thriving business expected to turn over pound;750,000 this year. It now has a staff of 18, whose backgrounds in teaching, journalism, information science and research give the company a rich mix of skills.
But Curee is also something of a family affair, with Philippa's husband, Paul Crisp, playing an active role in running the business. Her son Bart was also roped in to read research summaries aloud to Philippa when she had problems with her eyesight.
"He's become interested in the work, and it's a really good test of a piece of research writing to see if it will stand up to being read aloud," she says.
An even better test is whether it can hold the interest of a 15-year-old - and anyone who passes that clearly knows a thing or two about making research accessible.
Articles on the GTCE's research of the month site and the new bulletin issued by the National Educational Research Forum appear on page 22