By Beth Greville-Giddings.
There has never been a more exciting time to be engaged with education and research. Rapid changes to the curriculum, school structures and repeated calls for increased professionalism, alongside the increase in online publication and social media use, have provided the perfect opportunity for schools to engage with research to inform the way they work – and for researchers to engage with schools.
It seems that ‘Research’ has quickly become the new buzz word in education. No longer is it a school vs university thing or just reserved for the member of staff completing a masters module; people think getting involved in research is for them. Whether it’s members of a Teaching School Alliance as part of their ‘Big Six’ core areas of responsibility, or an enthusiastic headteacher that’s seen something on Twitter and maybe attended a conference, people are clamouring to get involved and all of a sudden everyone wants to be seen to be doing ‘it’. I think we need to be careful though that this rush to be involved doesn’t turn research into the latest, flash-in-the-pan educational fad. There’s always the potential to get bogged down in research for research’s sake and not look at why it’s important or how it can impact; the opportunities are too important for that.
Schools have a history of being subjected to a wealth of new ideas and interventions, often with the promise of an evidence base. As they are increasingly given control over areas such as marking, appraisal, CPD and assessment, schools have the chance to develop something that really works for their setting. Add to this the issues of accountability around use of funding such as Pupil Premium; when there’s so much hanging on getting it right why wouldn’t schools look to work with researchers and the evidence they can provide?
Being involved in research doesn’t have to mean conducting a full scale Randomised Control Trial and searching for the definitive solution to ‘what works’. The interest in educational research has certainly opened up opportunities for schools to take part in these things through organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation or The National College for Teaching and Leadership, but it’s by no means the only way to get involved – and it shouldn’t be. The term ‘evidence based practice’ is giving way to ‘evidence informed practice’ and practitioners are realising that they’re already using forms of enquiry in their day-to-day work. Whether that’s stopping to evaluate how programmes and processes are working within school, or simply taking part in personal reflective practice; taking that next step of asking some questions about how something has been tried before allows schools to have more control and confidence in their decisions.
The time for schools to get involved in education research has never been more important nor has the need to develop a critical eye. There are lots of people ready to jump on ‘research’ to sell solutions and our best defence is knowledge. Working in partnership, schools and universities can use research to drive the agenda; there is room for both deep, intellectual debate and for direct application of evidence. Research engagement isn’t a magic bullet and there will be different levels for different settings, but at a time when ‘scepticism of the expert’ is increasingly acceptable, it matters that we seize this opportunity to have research as central to our profession.
The School of Education takes no institutional position and all authors’ views are their own.