Teaching in an age of continual innovation

9th August 1996 at 01:00
Journalists complain that researchers take an unconscionable time producing their reports. Researchers say that they cannot indulge in the reporter's snapshot. The Scottish Council for Research in Education has just brought out two reports on the first four years of the 5-14 programme (page three).

The focus in one case is the primary school experience, largely confined to language and mathematics because they were the only areas taken up by schools by the end of the research period. Teachers are now wrestling with environmental studies and expressive arts, and so the debate has moved on. The second report summarises and draws lessons from a range of evaluation studies co-ordinated by the council. These, too, reflect school conditions a couple of years ago.

So are they examples of out-of-date evidence of little interest at the chalkface? Unfortunately for the journalist's side of the argument, the answer must be no. Wynne Harlen, the council's director and author of the summary support, provides the reason. Longtidunal studies have a value, and the work so far is interim in that it will be supplemented by further investigation lasting until next year. The duration of the research - which is unusual these days since time costs money and a couple of years' funding is the maximum a research team is likely to get out of the Government - allows a fundamental question to be addressed.

To Professor Harlen it concerns the distinction between reaction to change of any sort and the particular kind of change demanded by the 5-14 programme. The Government has recognised that teachers can become victims of continual innovation which creates its own opposition. (That has not prevented the introduction of national tests in the early secondary years, but the demands of short-term politics will always stand in the way of common sense.) Therefore the case against educational reform is likely to be in part about the threat of change rather than the nature of the reform. An evaluation of the 5-14 programme, which will take the best part of a decade to implement, has to look only at the merits and demerits of what is on offer. That takes time.

Both reports give cause for optimism. As teachers become more familiar with the 5-14 guidelines they become more comfortable, and they recognise benefits for pupils. Methods of reporting and assessment, school management and primary-secondary liaison all seem to have improved. Even with the curriculum, teachers have realised that their first reaction of "we do that already" was inadequate.

The constraint for enthusiasts and sceptics alike was time. In secondary schools there were other priorities. In primaries teachers with a full timetable found little opportunity for work in school clusters, with secondary (or nursery) colleagues or on staff development. The second phase of evaluation is not likely to show any improvement.

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