THE first thing Jane McGregor says about her research into teacher collaboration at Lucy Cavendish College is how much it has changed her life. Last autumn, after 22 years as a geography teacher, she was given secondment from her head-of-department post to take up The TES Research Fellowship at the Cambridge college. Next week she is to report on her findings at a London seminar, but has already started work at the Open University on a PhD, funded for three years by the Economic and Social Research Council, on teacher collaboration in secondary schools.
Since ESRC grants are like gold dust, the subject, the teacher author, and her groundwork must have struck the right note, but the Lucy Cavendish effect is important too. Since the fellowship to research educational policy-making was proposed in 1994, the national climate of research has changed.
When Baroness Perry, president of Lucy Cavendish College, dreamed up the idea, research into education policy-making scarcely existed. Now, following the Hillage Report on "Excellence in Research in Schools", an evidence base for policy and practice is high priority at the Department for Education.
Meanwhile, Ruth Hawthorn, who spent her fellowship year studying media influences on career choice, has stayed on as admissions tutor at the college. Annabelle Dixon, a former primary school deputy head who used her fellowship to research ciizenship, is now doing full-time research at the university's school of education. Like Ms McGregor, they chose subjects pertinent to the national agenda, as well as their own career development.
As head of humanities at Bottisham village college in Cambridgeshire, Ms McGregor had begun to reflect on teacher culture: "I wondered how much we were really challenging each other," and took this further on a part-time master's course at Cambridge's school of education. Back at Bottisham she set up a small research group, looking at pupils' views on learning, gender and leadership issues - "a really good example of teachers working hard at what interests them" - when she saw the fellowship advertised in The TES.
Successful, and installed at Lucy Cavendish last October, she soon found limits to what can be done in an academic year - "it was not hard to motivate myself, but it was hard not to do too much" - and a different way of working. She believes she was welcomed into schools as an observer because she was a classroom teacher. She is keen to share findings with teacher-collaborators:
"Education research has to be of use, or it is worthless."
She also thinks confidence is a key factor for women teachers in research. "They need more than one person to suggest it to them before they will try."
Lucy Cavendish College, which specialises in courses for mature women, is the place to find that confidence.
Gender difference is one aspect of staffroom collaboration which she wants to look at in her ESRC research. That is one reason why she applied to the OU, where her mentors, Dr Carrie Paechter and Professor Doreen Massey, are noted for their work on gender and the curriculum. She also wants to define collaboration and collegiality. Both represent aspects of teacher professionalism at the heart of the "Teachers: meeting the challenge of change" Green Paper. Are collegiality and performance-related pay incompatible?
The proof either way is not yet evident. If Ms McGregor's paper on "Teachers meeting the challenge of collaboration" illuminates that debate at all it will become one more
triumph for the fellowship.