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Watch out: there are ankle-biters about

Pupil mobility, workforce reform and exploring the consciousness of female teachers will be among the hot topics debated by the cream of education academia this week. More than 800 papers are being presented at the annual British Educational Research Association (Bera) conference as some of the UK's leading education researchers gather in the Midlands to share their work.

Nearly 1,000 delegates were expected, with experts travelling from countries as diverse as Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates and Romania. But Professor Geoff Whitty, Bera president, has warned that attendance may not be so healthy in future years as the profession faces a demographic timebomb.

"Educational research in Britain is better funded than ever and the quality is improving. But an ageing workforce means a huge number of researchers will be retiring over the next few years," he said.

"At a time when there is a growing demand for high-quality research, we are in danger of lacking the capacity to deliver it."

He said the Government's desire to link the teaching profession and its training more closely to research could be compromised because of the way funding was allocated. There was an uneven distribution across the country, and pure academic research was better funded than that based on classroom practice. "Most of the research money is concentrated in less than 20 university education departments," he said.

Speakers at the conference, being held at Warwick university, include Baroness Estelle Morris, former Secretary of State, and Guy Claxton, "learning to learn" guru.

Professor Claxton will argue that pupils, parents and teachers have lost sight of the point of education. "When driving up standards becomes seen as the end of education, surely we have lost the plot," the professor of learning sciences at Bristol university said.

"I suggest that education should offer young people a powerfully expanded capacity to learn. Many young people - successes and failures alike - leave school feeling insecure in the face of real-life complexities and uncertainties."

But "learning to learn" could not be reduced to revision guides, spidery diagrams or learning styles, he said. Real scientific and teaching research was needed so that pupils could be given systematic help to become better learners, rather than just hints and tips.

The papers presented cover everything from "Dispirited Pupils, Learning Mentors, and Tranquility" to "Person, Process, Product: A Conceptualisation of Emotion within Creative Subjects".

Other weird and wonderful titles include: "Working with the ankle biters; constructing the male early years teacher", "Help, we're lost! Don't panic we've got a road map" and "How to be monstrous through discourse analysis".

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk

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