What the resource is
This is a report produced by the Innovation Unit at the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE). The report considers the barriers which exist between education research and educational practice, along with a description of solutions which are currently offered by various agencies to bring these two closer together. The final part of the report raises a number of issues relating to the future of evidence-based education research, including the possibilities of raising the status of research generated by teachers themselves.
The aims of the resource
As stated on page 5, the aim of this publication is to address "a key challenge for education in the future - how to ensure that the workforce who are teaching pupils have access to the latest knowledge about pedagogy and can apply it in practice for the benefit of children's learning".
Key findings or focus
In 1996, David Hargreaves challenged the education world to think about the implications for teaching, learning and educational policy of using evidence based research effectively to inform educational practice in the same way that medical practice embraces this concept (p.6). This report highlights the progress which has been made in this area, as well considering the challenges and difficulties for the future.
The report provides plentiful evidence that access and engagement with evidence-based education research is far more common now than in 1996, which may, in part, be related to the changes in professional practice. For example, the ‘professional standards for teachers' at all levels require practitioners to keep far more extensive records to evidence their work. There have also been a number of recent initiatives to engage teachers in small scale research which will benefit pupil learning.
As described on page 12, Hillage (1998) indicated a number of reasons why teachers did not effectively use research to inform their decision making at that time, which relate to the relevance, reliability and accessibility of educational research. The report identifies many of the barriers which still exist. For example, few teachers have easy access to research articles due to the expense, writing style and time needed to search for the information they are seeking, since journal titles and abstracts can often be misleading. A key challenge which needs to be addressed is the lack of time and opportunity which teachers have to fully consider both the possibilities and impact of implementing new learning opportunities, since it may not always be immediately obvious how research findings can be successfully translated into different learning situations.
The report indicates that teachers are willing to engage with research so long as it is accessible to them and they can see the relevance of the findings in relation to their own work. However, this is only part of the process. In order for this research to be interfaced with classroom practice, a ‘mediation infrastructure' is needed. Many of the national agencies have taken note of this and have developed interesting and engaging resources which are, to some extent, successful in reaching their target audience. Page 18 outlines some of the initiatives which are in place to support this development and overcome some of the inaccessibility issues. For example, resources are written in ‘plain English'. Most break down research findings into small, digestible chunks and include explicit links to allow teachers to reflect upon their own practice in relation to the case studies, vignettes or information offered. These resources are written with the specific target audience in mind and offer interesting insights into a varied range of topics. Chapter 3 also briefly discusses funded CPD opportunities which may be available for teachers to engage in evidence-based research. The website addresses for all of the resources discussed are listed at the end of the publication.
The report offers some suggestions about the direction of fruitful future developments. Key to this issue is funding; at present, many of the projects designed to bring research evidence and inquiry into classroom practice are only funded for a few years, thus their true potential and impact is never realised and a longer term view is needed. The report also highlights the amount of time it takes to get research findings into the public domain. An added dimension is that of some published research is not UK specific. Whilst some organisations already work together, there could be a case for a national framework for bringing together research and evidence based studies in a way which teachers can easily access and engage with. The report also points out that true ‘knowledge transfer' goes beyond simply communicating ‘tips' for teachers, to the point where the underpinning principles are understood. It is only through gaining and applying this knowledge and understanding that we will be able to continue improving teaching and learning in the longer term through encouraging teachers to engage with high quality resources which help them to overcome three key barriers - access, opportunity and relevance.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource
This report was produced by the Innovation Unit, which has been involved in many of the initiatives described. Whilst the report should be applauded for bringing together some of the key developments relating to evidence-based research impacting upon educational practice, it is somewhat repetitive and, at times, difficult to engage with. This is a shame because it has many links to resources which practitioners may find useful and addresses issues which are pertinent to educators at all levels. However, it raises many pertinent issues relating to reasons why teachers are reluctant to engage in evidence-based classroom research and what can be done to improve this in the future, as well as suggesting that current classroom based research is potentially of great value to raising educational standards.
A graphic representation of the ‘products designed to raise awareness of and practitioners' engagement with research' appears on page 16 in which the various attributes of these products are ‘measured'. These relate to:
- The diversity and breadth of audience;
- The rigour of the research project selection process;
- The core purposes of the research product.
Somewhat ironically, the ‘measurement' of these factors seems somewhat subjective and the report does not seek to substantiate this data.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors
There are many examples in the report evidencing where progress has been made in making credible and relevant educational research more accessible to teachers. The report also cites a ‘wish list' of teacher concerns (p.32), many of which are linked to current policy priorities, for example, using ICT in teaching, teaching gifted and talented pupils, and behaviour management. All of these areas and more have been addressed through the plethora of searchable resources which have been produced to help bridge the gap between education research and educational practice (which includes the TTRB, as mentioned on page 30). This report gives mentors and tutors a number of suggestions about where to find these resources and reports. ITE tutors and mentors may wish to consider the resources discussed in light of their own practice and also share them with ITE students. They may also wish to engage their students with the issues raised about how and why to promote small-scale evidence-based inquiry in the classroom.
The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance
The report highlights the importance of being able to implement research findings in order to raise teaching and learning standards. The resources listed would be useful for ITE students both in their teaching practice and possibly their written assignments, since many provide practical advice for developing reflective learning through evidence-based inquiry. With the introduction of Masters level requirements on many PGCE courses, we are seeking to make teaching an occupation where research informed practice and the ability to critically reflect upon relevant research become part of a teacher's armoury, and the resources detailed in this report provide a very good starting point for ITE students to begin this process.