Furedi criticises ‘methodologically naive’ education research

A leading sociologist has attacked the application of so-called “‘evidence’-based policy” – and much of the research lying behind it – to education

September 15, 2013

Writing in the online magazine spiked on “the scourge of scientism”, Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, argues that “the use of scientific evidence for political ends is particularly troublesome in the sphere of social policy…An area where this is most apparent is education”.

Particularly to be deplored, in Professor Furedi’s view, was the use of the term “intervention”, taken over from medicine, in an educational context, which he believed “reveals how much today’s cultural elite believes in the existence of educational pathology – that is, great numbers of children suffering from some form of quasi-medical educational deficit”.

Where educators ought to be asking “What do children need to know?” Professor Furedi claims that “the current obsession with what works distracts us from thinking about the intellectual and knowledge content of the curriculum”.

Asked where he sees the weaknesses of the academic research which feeds into such policies, Professor Furedi told Times Higher Education that it was often “very thin and methodologically naive – it doesn’t pay enough attention to context”.

He saw lots of research based on “small samples of very few students” and “one-off projects which don’t link up with other projects” but had little sense that the discipline was “generating an expanding corpus of knowledge”.

Instead of being “problem-driven” and open-minded in seeking solutions, education research tended to be “very much policy-driven, and often commissioned by Department of Education, which implicitly knows where the problem lies in advance”.

Both in schools and in universities, according to Professor Furedi, there was room for different teaching styles and no need for a single model to underpin the training and assessment of teachers and academics.

“I have a very distinctive teaching style, which I think is effective,” he said, “but I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody, since it depends on personality. There’s more than one effective teaching style. It’s not a science.” 

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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