Use, misuse and abuse of research in the education White Paper

BERA vice-president Ian Menter examines a confusing reference to his work in the government's teacher training proposals

April 1, 2016
Children and teacher in a classroom
Source: iStock

In the few days since the government‘s education White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, was published, a number of colleagues have contacted me asking about the appearance of my surname on page 29:

2.23. We know that when teachers have extensive ITT in schools, they perform better8.

Footnote 8 at the bottom of the page says simply:

8. Musset (2010); Reinhartz and Stetson (1999); Menter (2010).

In the absence of any further details anywhere in the White Paper of the publications that are being referred to here, there is no way of confirming that this third item is actually a reference to my work.  However, my colleagues and I are unaware of any other Menter who researches teacher education, either in the UK or elsewhere. It seems safe therefore to assume that this is a reference to my work.

When I saw the “citation” – if you can call it that – I was immediately reminded of an earlier Department for Education publication, entitled Training our Next Generation of Outstanding Teachers – an Improvement Strategy for Discussion, which concerned the “implementation plan following the 2010 White Paper, The Importance of Teaching. I was reminded of it because on page 13 of that document the following appeared:

Where teachers have had extensive initial training in schools, they perform better14.

And what does footnote 14 say?

14. Reinhartz and Stetson (1999); Menter (2010).

Musset et al (2010) appears as footnote 15. So it seems that there is nothing new under the sun and the government is perfectly happy to recycle old words and incomplete and inaccurate citations. Unkind commentators might call that “self-plagiarism”.

The next problem is that, according to my own list of publications, to my shame, I was not a sole author of anything in 2010. What did come out in 2010 with my name at the front of it was a literature review that a team of us at the University of Glasgow carried out for the report on teacher education in Scotland, then being undertaken by Graham Donaldson. That publication was entitled Literature Review on Teacher Education for the 21st Century. Perhaps in both instances, the DfE has been intending to refer to that, in which case the correct citation would be Menter, Elliot, Hulme and Lewin (2010) or, if the DfE is trying to save words, then the convention Menter et al would perhaps have sufficed.

But of course we cannot confirm that this is what they are referring to, because no further details are given.

However, if we do assume that it is this publication that they are referring to, can we find a substantiation of what they claim I/we said? Well, the closest I can get is on page 18 of that report where we wrote, summarising a government-funded study carried out by a team led by Andy Hobson:

The final report (Hobson et al, 2009:iv) notes that “trainees who had followed employment-based and school-centred programmes tended to give higher ratings of the support they received and their relationships with mentors and other school-based colleagues than those who had followed other ITT routes”.

But this needs to be balanced by an extract from page 20:

A synthesis of findings from six evaluation studies of alternative (secondary) provision in the Netherlands (2000-05) suggests that school-based teacher education by itself does not guarantee valuable and accelerated training outcomes (Brouwer, 2007).

As we wrote on page 17:

The evidence base on the effectiveness of different routes is inconclusive and high quality longitudinal research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies over time.

So the full literature review shows that there is no simple conclusion of the kind the DfE claims to have drawn from our work – if this is indeed their source!

Therefore I am afraid that the DfE has to be awarded a fail grade, an E, on four counts:

  1. incomplete reference to a source;
  2. incorrect designation of authorship;
  3. unacknowledged self-plagiarism; and
  4. misrepresenting the point that was being made in the original document; the worst sin of all in my view.

I just hope that the authors were not educated at the University of Oxford; that would be an enormous embarrassment for us as well as them.

The deep irony of this misuse and abuse of evidence comes when we read elsewhere in the same new White Paper of their commitment to the use of evidence in the teaching profession. There is a section entitled “Fostering a world-leading evidence-informed teaching profession” (from page 37) and, on page 12 in the introductory section, it is averred that:

We’ll ensure discredited ideas unsupported by firm evidence are not promoted to new teachers.

How are we to take any use of evidence by this government seriously when they are capable of such shoddy and cynical practice? Their contempt for high quality and systematically organised initial teacher education is shown by their calamitous approach to the allocation of teacher education places over the past year, which I have blogged about elsewhere.

What hope is there that we can have a sensible debate about the content of the White Paper when the starting points are so ill-informed and biased?

Ian Menter is emeritus professor of teacher education at the University of Oxford and vice-president of the British Educational Research Association. He writes in a personal capacity.

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Reader's comments (1)

This seems to miss the target. It is unlikely to be wilful misrepresentation and more likely to reflect problems in how policy is made in Whitehall. For a fuller response, see: http://www.hepi.ac.uk/2016/04/01/3203/

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