Evaluation of the TTA school-based research consortium initiative (2000-2001)

Where is educational research best located - in schools and classrooms? University offices? Who is best qualified to do it - teachers? Professional researchers? If educational research is useful, then how? And to whom? Are teaching and research related, unrelated, the same thing? Can you teach if you don't research? Who sets the agenda for research?

These are the kinds of question raised in a national evaluation conducted by CRED in the Faculty of Education. They reflect questions that were being raised in a national debate about the value of educational research in a context of a growing trend towards 'evidence-based practice'. The government had expressed a wish to bring educational research much closer to the realities of teacher practices and government policy than had been the case in recent years. For some, this suggested a threat to co-opt research into the policy agenda; for others a refreshing return to relevance; to yet others a natural development for universities in an age where their alleged elitism can no longer be sustained; and for teachers a new element in their repertoire or just something else they had to do.

The evaluation was of the school-based research consortium initiative. This initiative was aimed at improving teaching and learning in classrooms by encouraging clusters of schools, universities and LEAs to work together as consortia. The central idea was to engage teachers in doing research on their own practice and in using research done by others to improve their practice. Typically, teachers collaborated with others in their own school or in other schools to critically review how they teach and to seek new ways of teaching. Or they set up research projects - sometimes with pupils - looking at conditions surrounding what happens in the classroom.

Our evaluation of this Initiative focused mainly on getting people to talk about their experience and to reflect critically on what they were doing and on what was happening to them. These are often difficult and challenging experiences - research is not natural territory for teachers; supporting teachers in doing research is not a natural activity for many universities; and it has been many years since LEAs played a role in supporting this kind of 'professional-cultural' development in schools. The role of the evaluation was not to judge the quality of people's accomplishments - much less to make judgements about failure or success. Rather, we aimed to portray experience in ways that made it accessible and understandable; identifying issues which faced people undertaking such ambitious enterprises.

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