Dylan Wiliam says in the TES that teaching cannot, and will never be a research-based, or research-led profession. Tom Bennett, a co-founder of researchED , which has done so much to put teacher led research on the political agenda, surprisingly agrees.
Wiliam has always been a master of the counter intuitive insight and these frequently grab the headlines.
But there is a danger that too much navel gazing ,among those currently dominating the research agenda, will undermine its longer term credibility and lead the agenda into a cul de sac. Bennett is right, of course, to highlight that there is quite a lot of poor research out there, that is well marketed , and there is too little effort going into separating the wheat from the chaff. It is also true that good research is often misunderstood and oversimplified, with the nuances and the full context lost, so that it ends up being misapplied. (how many of us simply look at the press reports or executive summary rather than the full report). I would also add that rather too often good insights are lost as researchers look at data from too narrow a perspective, only seeing what they want to see. and that which supports their particular agenda. And, of course, research literacy is generally quite poor in the profession though this is not limited to teachers. Civil servants and politicians lack research literacy too. But there does seem to have been a recent shift in the centre of gravity of this debate, focusing on the possible negatives particularly the negative impact research might have on teachers professional judgement and ‘craft’. The glass used to be half full. Now its veering towards half empty.
Professor Wiliam talks about the limitations of research, quite a lot, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped him pushing his own research agenda and indeed working closely with the EEF in research related to feedback (formative assessment, assessment for learning etc)
Kevan Collins of the EEF is right when he says that while there has been too much qualitative rather than quantitative research Wiliam is dead wrong to imply that the solution is to return to a time when teachers shut the door to evidence. Collins writes ‘ For too long, too many teachers have been as guilty as politicians of acting on what they believe to work, rather than what has been shown to work. Instead, we need a middle way where teaching is informed by the best evidence so that their practice is improved, and collectively the teaching profession does more to improve results especially for poorer pupils’
Quantitative research has to be combined with qualitative research to create the full picture.
Lets keep this agenda on track. We need to identify good research to inform practice, we need to get good teachers more involved as researchers, but make sure that they are supported properly in this, ( dont assume teachers are natural researchers) and there must be a role for ‘action research’ Why? Because it encourages reflection and deeper understanding of the teaching process, and can be part of professional development. We need to manage and distribute this research and knowledge better , ensuring that it is user friendly and can be applied at the chalk face-and we should refrain from navel gazing.