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Wednesday, August 26, 1998 Published at 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK


Education research panned again

Classroom teachers 'not being assisted by research'

A second attack within a month is being made by the government on the standard of educational research in the UK.

A report commissioned by ministers concludes that too much educational research is of questionable quality and even the good material is often inaccessible to both teachers and policy makers.

The Education Minister Tessa Blackstone said: "Sixty five million pounds are spent on educational research annually. Some of that money is wasted."

Recently the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) said much educational research was partisan, conducted in a biased way, or logically incoherent. In response, the the British Educational Research Association (Bera) said it was establishing a commission to examine the issue.

The new report, by the independent Institute for Employment Studies, recommends that there should be greater co-ordination of the research effort with more involvement by users to ensure that teachers and policy makers are better informed about the main issues affecting educational standards.

It comes in the same week as the Bera annual conference, which starts in Belfast on Thursday. The report itself is one of more than 240 papers being presented at the conference.

'Academic curiosity'

The institute's director, Richard Pearson, told BBC News Online said that researchers and policy makers were failing to communicate: policy makers did not listen to the research evidence even when the research was high quality.

"The research isn't done necessarily to be useful, it's done for the purpose of academic curiosity - and there should always be that but at present the balance is wrong.

"The things that drive researcher curiosity are set by the research community: a high percentage of the money is allocated through the university system so is not focussed on specific areas such as what makes a good classroom tick."

The money is spread too thinly and, because researchers do not liaise enough, a lot of "reinventing the wheel" goes on.

"If there was a greater proportion of research being done in centres of excellence you would get researchers learning from each other and crossing the discipline divides, and it would encourage more of a research career because on of the problems is that people dip in and out of research.

He suggests the government could put up money to be bid for, following the model established by the research councils. This would also allow work to be funded on a longer term, say for ten years, to get more continuity, because a lot of what is done now is very small scale.

'Practical use'

A crucial gap, he says, is work on what is happening in the classroom rather than the theory of how teaching should work, in part because it is expensive in time and labour to do classroom-based research. This is something that especially bothers ministers.

"Most educational research should have a practical use for teachers and others involved in education," Baroness Blackstone said.

"I want to see more high quality research focused on improving classroom practice and greater emphasis on spreading findings so that more teachers and policy makers know what works."

The government therefore wants to see greater involvement of teachers and policy makers in setting the research agenda, and funding being concentrated in between 10 and 20 centres of research excellence - rather than the 100 or so at present - which will have to send their findings to schools.

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