EDUCATIONAL research has much to contribute to a new style of democracy under the Scottish parliament, but it will have to do better than in the past, one of the country's leading researchers has warned colleagues.
Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational studies at Moray House Institute, told the Scottish Educational Research Association in Dundee that research had failed to explain why education was so often cited as a reason for voting yes in the referendum.
Professor Paterson said there had been no research into why before the last election education had become "one site for a generalised dissatisfaction with Scottish government". He said: "We have no more than a rudimentary understanding of the part which educational policy might play in the new policy."
There was a contradiction between widespread demands for a new style of participative policy-making in the parliament and the existence of a recognised consensus about education, which tended to be conservative and resistant to change.
Professor Paterson said: "A consultative Scottish parliament might be a frustrating place for people who want radical reform."
He claimed that most researchers who had looked at everything from the curriculum to school effectiveness had ignored the political dimension. "We do not know from research how education played in the Scottish political debates of the past two decades."
Considerable attention had been paid to the role of Government agencies, interest groups and citizens in communities but not to "citizens' relationship with the state. So we have no more than the beginnings of an understanding of how education as a cultural institution could shape Scottish society in the new context, and little sense of the specific role which educational research - or any other type of research - could play in building this new educated democracy."
Brian Morris, retiring president of SERA and lecturer in education at Stirling University, said the Government's research programme lacked coherence because it depended on the priorities of ministers of the day.
"SERA should argue for research as an element of policy making and be talking to politicians of all persuasions," Mr Morris said.
A lead had been given through the co-operation between the research association and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which had elicited areas where councils would be most interested in having more research evidence (TESS, last week).
* The conference was told that modern studies makes no difference to children's political tolerance or level of support for liberal causes. Henry Maitles, of the education faculty at Strathclyde University, said a study of Standard grade pupils showed that those taking modern studies had greater political knowledge but their attitudes were no different from pupils who had chosen history or geography as their social subject.
Opinion, page 21