Well I wasn’t quite sure how the direction of this re-started blog would go and it turns out that it’s going to be eclectic.

Next weekend we are popping over to Paris for my Open University MEd graduation. It’ll be a small, intimate* affair at Versailles *might not be. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I chose that venue but it will be the culmination of three years spent squeezing reading and research, tutorials and assignments, into everyday life and holidays. Whilst it doesn’t lead me to any particular job and there’s no pay rise, it was worth every minute.

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It seems almost perfect that this final part of my MEd journey comes the weekend after the first ResearchEd conference, bring together teaching professionals, educators and researchers to open up the debate of research in education.

It all came about when Ben Goldacre spoke about research and education and it created a spark on twitter. Within a day Tom Bennett found himself ploughing forth with a conference and a huge amount of support from all corners of education. It turns out that people are interested in bringing high quality, reliable research to the forefront of education and maybe what happened yesterday is the catalyst for bringing everything together.

The Day
I have to say, not everyone at the event was in education. I dragged Howard along as I had a spare ticket – he works for the NHS as a data and systems manager for sexual health services. This isn’t exactly the coal face of education but he seemed interested by most of the day.

There was a lot crammed into the programme. Following Ben Goldacre’s keynote speech (with classic use of the non-connecting laptop/projector combo so many of us are familiar with), there were six sessions with up to six parallel speakers.  It was difficult to choose what to go with but most of the sessions were filmed and hopefully I’ll be able to see some of the ones I missed. So here’s what I went to:

  • Ben Goldacre – ‘The need for a better infrastructure to support evidence-based practice in teaching, and how to get there.’
  • Dr Frank Furedi – ‘Scientism in the classroom: opinion masquerading as research.’
  • Kay Yeoman – ‘School/University Partnerships Programme at the University of East Anglia.’
  • Stephen Lockyer – ‘Copyrights & Wrongs: The rapid decline of provenance in Education, and why giving credit matters more than ever.’
  • Daisy Cristodoulou – ‘Statistical significance &theoretical frameworks: how can we discover the root causes of successful teaching & learning?’
  • Becky Francis – ‘Addressing gender gaps in attainment: what doesn’t work, and what might.’

I enjoyed everything I went to and managed to choose a good spread of topics, with contrasting opinions on the value of different research methods within education. There were some points in the day where I felt like I was at a rushed INSET event, but I think that may have been mostly down to the 5:30am start and no allocated lunchtime!

I suspect that on a professional level, the most immediately valuable session for me was the focus of gender gaps with Becky Francis. Working with boys who are (mostly) working at low levels, there was a lot that I’ll follow up from her presentation. On a more personal and long term level, I really enjoyed the session with Kay Yeoman and I am eager to get involved in some sort of School/University Partnership. There seem to be so many Trusts and Networks that work in this area that there’s surely something I can get involved with.

I only had a couple of disappointments from the day. The first was networking. With such a packed programme and short gaps between sessions/no lunch break, there wasn’t as much time to talk to people as I would have liked. Following the day up on twitter and through blogs will ease this but maybe next year it needs to be more spread out. My other disappointments are more selfish. In the whole day I didn’t hear anyone mention teaching assistants or special schools/SEN pupils. Obviously I wasn’t at every presentation or workshop, but even Howard got a mention of sexual health from Ben Goldacre so I felt a bit left out! I really believe there’s more space for integration with TAs and research, and as a special school we often have the opportunity to be more flexible in our approach to different pupil needs and I think this could be an ideal environment for pilot schemes.

My Reflections On It All
In some respects a conference like ResearchEd is preaching to the converted. Everyone there was likely to already be involved in practitioner research or interested in how it might fit in for them. I actually think you’ve got to be quite brave to get involved with research in schools. You face coming across like a bit of a nobber if you start arguing a point with references to academia, and it can be difficult to oppose the opinions of those higher up when you know you’re right but they’re in charge. For those who haven’t been ‘converted’ educational research is thought to be carried out by people locked away on a university campus and a waste of time.

We’re quickly getting to the point where most people working in schools, including a lot of TAs, have a degree and most of the pupils in schools, including those with special educational needs, are in the mind set that they will go to university and get a degree. It would surprise me if this wasn’t connected to the increased appetite for research in education – we have a host of people who have studied research methods and conducted research of their own and events like the one yesterday are perfectly timed to feed this appetite.

So how do we keep the momentum?
There are calls on twitter for journal clubs, virtual and live, lots of people are blogging about it and lots of people will go back on Monday to disseminate their experience. The focus of the session lead by Stephen Lockyer was about maintaining a level of provenance in our work. Throughout my MEd we were taught to conduct critical analysis – not take anything at face value and read around a subject to draw our own conclusions. There isn’t time to do this for everything of course, but a difference between universities and schools is access to journals. Our school subscribes to three journals and until last Christmas I had access to the online journals though the OU. Without this resource, how can we expect people to at least have a look at how research is conducted and what is out there? How can people be expected to take an interest if they can’t make an informed decision?

Another difference between schools and universities is the loom of Ofsted. It’s lovely to think you can try things out and find out ‘what works’ but it takes a brave teacher (or teaching assistant) to go against the routines in school and try out something new. When you’re given paperwork on how to deliver the ‘perfect Ofsted lesson’ you need to be brave to rock the boat. It’s not necessarily Ofsted who need to be open to new theories, it’s school leaders who need to be brave and take a leap of faith (too dramatic?). When it comes down to it though we are experimenting with children’s lives and the ethical implications of that. You can offer a successful drug to placebo patients after an RCT, you can’t offer a science intervention once the GCSE results are out.

Of course practitioner research doesn’t have to be massive or whole-school. You can conduct your own action research in your own class and it’s good to take a step back for a bit of reflective practice. The thing that has really excited me is the potential for partnership with academic researchers, not only in the education faculties but other departments in universities. Getting pupils interested in research, how to do it properly and how it relates to the ‘real world’ is a fantastic opportunity. I think the fire has been lit for research in education and it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t go out. Let’s be brave!

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