Tume to make research work

1st November 2002 at 00:00
The annual spend on education research is estimated at pound;70-pound;75 million. This may seem a lot, but at less than 0.5 per cent of the annual education spend it's trivial if the work it produces is truly to inform the policies that determine how the total budget is used. And isn't that what evidence-based policy and practice are meant to be about? Nevertheless, it is disturbing that the impact of this research on policy and practice is very small. At least that is the view of bodies like the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the National Education Research Forum (NERF), which emphasise the need to build better understanding of the findings of education research and its relevance to policy and practice.

Certainly there is a constant complaint that we do not yet know the real value of ICT, or what constitutes best practice. More worrying perhaps is that even when research offers a strong steer, it may not make a difference to practice. The research into the cost-effectiveness of integrated learning systems did not stop large numbers of schools investing in them - even though this was not the obvious thing to do given the well-publicised findings. But no doubt there are many schools for which this proved successful, highlightimg a problem of research and attempts to find national solutions: the average picture may not apply in a specific school or classroom.

One way of getting round this is to build a research culture into teaching practice. Teachers need time, training and support to experiment with their own practice. This may be in response to a personal or local question or to test out the findings of regional or national research in their own contexts. Those larger programmes are likely to be the result of practitioner-based research as partnerships between researchers and teachers form an increasingly common model of research design. Currently, however, there are severe obstacles to the development of a research-based culture in schools. The Best Practice Research Scholarships offer one model where a teacher receives a small grant to work with a research mentor, usually in a higher education institution. The resulting work is then publicised through the DfES website. This cannot embed research into the school culture, however, and is likely to have little impact beyond those directly involved.

If an understanding of research, how it can be done and how to interpret and apply its findings is to become normal practice in schools, several things have to happen. Initial teacher training courses need to address research explicitly. Teachers should be given an entitlement to support for a higher degree which could include help with fees. Researching practice should be part of workload assessment and each school should have a research co-ordinator who acts as the interface between the school and the rest of the research community. At the same time, that community must have a responsibility to communicate effectively among its members. Perhaps the National College for School Leadership's Networked Learning Communities and Virtual Communities could offer models here.

None of this can happen without a boost to education research funding to help teachers fulfil their potential as professional reflective practitioners.

www.dfes.gov.uk, www.esrc.ac.uk, www.nerf-uk.org

For best practice research scholarship details visit mirandanet.ac.ukthinkteachers

Angela McFarlane is professor of education and director of learning technology at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol.

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