Teachers in the UK are falling behind their colleagues in other countries because of a lack of coherent training after they have entered the classroom, a new report has said.
An 18-month joint inquiry by the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and the RSA think tank has found that in many cases, teachers’ experiences of professional development is “fragmented, occasional and insufficiently informed by research”.
It points out that in contrast, top-performing education systems, such as Finland, Canada and Singapore, have teachers who are involved in educational research.
The report Research and the Teaching Profession: Building the Capacity for a Self-Improving Education System says that being research literate has a key role to play in an environment in which teachers are “bombarded with assertions about ‘what is good for children’.”
It adds that there is a close link between teachers being involved in research and quality of teaching, but currently staff are being hampered by a short-term need to hit targets.
“Many of those who contributed to the inquiry are deeply concerned by the emergence of an environment, often narrowly data-driven, that appears to militate against teachers’ engagement in more open forms of research and enquiry,” it says.
The report recommends that teachers across the UK should be supported to become research literate. This should include being given frequent opportunities to read up on the latest findings, with every pupil entitled to lessons which are informed by the best evidence.
Joe Hallgarten, the RSA director of education, said: “Attempts to create a world class school system will fail unless greater prominence is given to teachers’ engagement with research.”
Tom Bennett, TES behaviour guru and co-founder of the researchED conferences, said that having the skills to assess what is sound research and what is not is as important for teachers as it is for doctors.
He added: “There's a second tier that can be explored here: that of making teachers not just discerning analysts of good and bad evidence but positive contributors to the research process, participating in trials, or even generating and conducting research in conjunction with link organisations.
"If teachers want to be active partners in research that drives their own profession - and I think more of us should - then we need to be actively trained in the methods of generating and analysing meaningful data.”
Professor John Furlong, of 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 research-rich schools and colleges are those that are likely to have the greatest capacity for self-evaluation and self-improvement.”
In its interim report published in January, the inquiry said that high quality teaching was the most important school-level influence on students’ achievement and that there was strong evidence that teachers need to be equipped to engage in enquiry throughout their working lives.