Education shake-up promised

August 28, 1998

Ministers have promised a fundamental shake-up of the educational research establishment after the publication of the second damning evaluation of the sector's scholarship in a month.

Public money is wasted on poor educational research, which is too often irrelevant to teaching practice or inaccessible to teachers, the government said this week as it published the report Excellence in Research on Schools, by the Institute of Employment Studies.

Noting that Pounds 65 million is spent on educational research, education minister Baroness Blackstone said: "I want to see more high-quality research focused on improving classroom practice and greater emphasis on spreading findings."

The findings reinforce James Tooley's damning report on educational research for the Office for Standards in Education, which also said too much research is small scale and fragmented. Jim Hillage, lead author of the IES report, said that the findings had big implications for the funding of educational research.

Ministers are considering the report's key recommendation to establish a National Education Research Forum to create an overall strategy framework. The forum would rationalise research projects, foster coordination between research funders and set up broad, collaborative schemes centred on ten to 20 centres of excellence, where funding would concentrate.

The government is particularly keen to have teachers and policy-makers more involved in setting the research agenda and creating centres of excellence.

Professor Hillage said that the funding council's research assessment exercise does not "look at the relevance of research to the world at large". He said the RAE panels should include teachers and policy-makers, as well as academics.

The British Educational Research Association, debating the report this week at its annual conference, breathed a collective sigh of relief for the report did not recommend a research funding cut. Professor Hillage also warned against moving too far away from blue-skies research. "Educational research must not be totally applied and utilitarian," he said.

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