Why should primary schools be engaged in research? @Jon_Brunskill #researched

June 4, 2015  |  #ResearchEd

What is the purpose of education? Jon Brunskill highlighted just how value laden education is, and that when engaging with research it is important to keep coming back to this. Clearly identifying the values behind the questions you are asking is central to research, and leads to clearer questions that just might give some answers.

Research has value if it is to make teachers better, as Dylan Wiliam put it, not because they are not good but because they can all get better. There is a perception that research comes from outside to tell teachers what to do and follow a model they don’t recognise in terms of their experience or their values.

He gave the example of a school using the discredited ‘Brain Gym’ approach. When he challenged the teachers on it the answer was ‘We found it works for us’. The question, it seems, is what we mean by ‘works’, what are we aiming for? If it’s some fun and a bit of physical activity maybe it does ‘work’, if it’s cognitive development then the evidence suggests it’s not that which is going to be ‘working’ for you. There’s another side to this for me, the damage that can be done by further entrenching mistaken beliefs in the power of something shown to not work. However, there is a point in terms of being clear before implementing approaches in school what it is we might want to see from them if we are to say they ‘work’. Not setting any goals leaves them almost guaranteed to ‘work’ in some way.

Jon questioned whether teaching was a profession as it does not have a clearly defined and agreed upon knowledge base or discourse. He made the point that this lack of consensus on what works and what matters leaves the profession open to attacks by politicians.

Four reasons he gives to be research engaged:

1. Immunises against ideas that waste time.
2. It can help improve student outcomes.
3. It can be a shortcut to good new ideas (especially to newcomers to the profession) – drawing on the knowledge base rather than having to gather first hand experience.
4. It is professionalising.

Creating a field of discourse and a body of knowledge professionalises. Jon said it is ‘bottom up’, something teachers will engage with and own rather than feeling top down ideas are nicely framed but ultimately damning criticisms of them.

The elephant in the room, he says, is the time and capacity for research engagement in schools. Senior leadership currently have no reason to believe that engaging with research is going to address their accountability outcomes or their school development priorities.

The challenge is how the engagement with research as a thing in itself make a difference to students. For schools, it isn’t about the pure pursuit of knowledge and understanding for it’s own sake, it’s about how their activity makes the difference they are there to make. More needs to be done to explore how this can work and whether it really does.

Related posts:

How research engaged is your school? Matt Walker, NFER #researched
Research makes education better @kateatkins33 #researched
Becoming a research engaged school #ResearchEd @C_Hendrick

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