The education research agenda and how to progress it will still be there after the May election.
In 2009 the OECD talked of the need for ‘ knowledge rich evidence based education systems in which school leaders and teachers act as a professional community with the authority to act, the necessary authority to do so wisely and the access to support systems to assist them in implementing change’..
Improving the professional knowledge base of teachers and the efficient management of knowledge is closely associated with the drive to raise the quality of teachers and teaching in the classroom. It also impacts on professional development. The task at hand is to identify what works best in practice, manage this information, ensuring that it is understood and gets to the chalk face in a form that is usable.
There is clearly a need to do more to engage school leaders with research evidence. This may imply a need for training in research literacy and in ensuring that the leadership teams, including governors, engage more constructively with research. Combining good evidence on practice with professional judgement seems to be the way forward. We must also be aware that there is poor data and evidence out there, that has been used to inform poor practice.The good has got be separated from the dross.
The system is just beginning to realise that teachers themselves can identify where research is most needed and indeed undertake research themselves engaging with research , reflecting on how best they can use it, seeing it more as an opportunity than some form of threat (some do)- to improve their classroom practice and pupil outcomes. This has considerable potential as has been noted by Tom Bennett and others through the ResearchEd programme .
But education has always had a problem with dissemination of good research and what is called knowledge mobilization and knowledge management, and with securing the widespread adoption of the most effective practices. Hence all the recent work being done to dispel myths, ie those common practices, that have no basis in evidence.
Professor Chris Husbands of the Institute of Education believes that Teaching schools could make a significant contribution to improved knowledge mobilization and innovation mainstreaming in education. He has a point.
But, so too could other agencies, whether for profit or not for profit. School networks and chains could clearly have an important role in identifying, managing and disseminating good research, but probably need incentives to do this. These are the intermediaries, or whats termed ‘ third party knowledge mobilization organisations’As ever , collaboration between schools, groups of schools and within schools is important to advance this agenda.
Husbands writes ‘ Work on knowledge mobilization has often stressed the importance of agencies and organizations which can play an explicitly knowledge mobilization role, and who are structured to secure the results of such a role. In medicine, that role is clearly located in the research community. Teaching hospitals play a critical role in anchoring the research community in practice-based institutions – though the practical divide between practitioners and researchers is often greater than is sometimes presented. It is not clear that the task of knowledge mobilization can be discharged solely by practitioners. The experience of highly devolved and autonomous schools systems is that knowledge mobilization can be more, rather than less, difficult in devolved structures. Teaching schools – rightly – had to identify strategic partners, but at the moment we know relatively little about how those partnerships are working out.’
In practice ,we know a good deal about effective knowledge mobilization strategies. We have Professor Carol Campbell to thank for this. She spells this out clearly in straightforward stages –
New Research, New Knowledge
Communication, Collaboration to spread knowledge etc
Adapting knowledge to context and need
Applying it to practice to improve outcomes
Cumulative and sustained integration of information though research policy connections to inform discourse, attitudes etc
So, we need to find and generate useful knowledge, understand it, because it is rarely straightforward, share it, use it effectively and integrate it so it is sustained throughout the system and over time (Campbell, 2011; Campbell and Levin, 2009).
This will be one of the big challenges post May. Bottom up ,tends to be better than top down, which is why the work of ResearchEd is so useful. The government’s role should be to help create an enabling environment by providing incentives. What is not needed is top down prescription and one approved source of orthodoxy. But there is also a role for intermediary bodies to help manage and disseminate knowledge across the system, in a proactive way. Simply relying on busy teachers to search out good research for themselves, is unrealistic and will not work.