Free Education Campaign: The college of teachers as a champion of research

Reblogged from Pedagog In The Machine, aka the Free Education Campaign (@FreeEducation

Pedagog in the Machine (@_FreeEducation)

In the first post of this series, I examined what is apparently the primary purpose of the proposed College – to “boost the status of the teaching profession”. While this would be a welcome development, it is clear that this is not reason enough to establish a new College of Teachers. (As one commenter noted, teachers are already doing pretty well on the reputation front, coming second only to doctors in a 2011 Ipsos Mori poll).

In the second post, I examined what is undoubtedly the key question hanging over the proposed college – whether or not it will have a policy remit. To recap:

a)    It is currently unclear whether it will have a policy remit;

b)    It definitely should have one.

Perhaps the next clearest area of consensus in the essays is that the College should act as a conduit between academic education research and classroom practitioners – simplifying and sharing research findings, and potentially funding small-scale research projects.

It is difficult to foresee anybody taking issue with this. The gulf between academic research and classroom practice has been too great for too long, and any attempt to build bridges between the two – rather than building a ring road around “the blob”, which would appear to be Michael Gove’s preference – is a welcome development.

Dame McVittie suggests that the College should have a research arm, so that it can not only help simplify and disseminate research findings, but carry out research itself. However I would side more with Jonathan Shepherd, who thinks the College should refrain from carrying out research itself. In fact I believe that to do so would not only be unnecessary, but it would compromise the impartiality and independence of the College. Education research is inherently ideological: the questions you ask and the methods you use to resolve them place the researcher in positions which need to be defended against alternative viewpoints. For the College to undertake research itself would undermine its ability to establish itself as an impartial voice of reason. In addition it would save a tidy packet, and since it is currently unclear how the thing will be funded, it is probably best to resist the temptation to engage in research itself.

The work of the Teacher Development Trust in promoting enquiry-based approaches to CPD is an extremely valuable contribution to this debate, because it emphasises the importance of education research where it most matters: at the implementation end. It is not enough to just say “I use methods that have been shown to work in an RCT” – the focus has to be on whether teachers can show that they work for them, and for the youngsters in their care. Although the tone comes across as perhaps a shade strident at times (as in ‘The new body must demand evidence that teachers have undertaken activities that have explicitly improved the quality of teaching and learning in their classrooms’), the intention is a good one and I support it whole-heartedly.

The inevitable ‘but’

Disseminating research findings and facilitating research-based CPD is one thing. But what about when government ministers promote policies that run counter to the evidence? As the Gove versus Reality website so lucidly highlights, the current administration has enjoyed a rather, er complicated relationship with research evidence to date. But it’s not just Gove – it has often been said that ministers appear more interested in policy-based evidence than evidence-based policy, and with good reason.

In reflecting on the relationship between the Royal College of Surgery and the Government, Jonathan Shepherd suggests that “responding constructively to government proposals… [is an] important and continuous challenge.” Here lies a potentially fatal tension in the remit of the college:

How can it promote the use of research evidence while simultaneously “responding constructively” to government proposals that frequently run counter to the evidence?

In his introduction, Andrew Hall says that the proposed College would “provide a structure where issues of mutual concern and interest can be shared and debated”. And so to the deliberately dastardly question that rounds off this third post:

Is this not the very definition of a talking shop?

Talking Shop