Education research in the United Kingdom is "disturbingly sloppy and partisan" and the Pounds 70 million of public money it costs could be put to better use with a huge rationalisation of research projects, a report for schools' inspector Ofsted found this week.
The anxiously awaited report, Educational Research: A Critique, by the controversial right-wing professor of education at Newcastle University, James Tooley, blames the Higher Education Funding Council's research assessment exercise for damaging the quality of educational research.
"It seems to me that the RAE is likely to undermine research," said Professor Tooley. "There is so much pressure to produce articles." The pressure, he said, had led academics to produce "many small-scale, non-cumulative, and not carefully thought through research projects".
There was a clear argument for rationalising the number of research projects, almost all funded by HEFCE, he said.
"It does seem unsatisfactory that we have 12,000 little bits of research. It is not much like what we really need in education." Professor Tooley proposes rationalising the publicly funded small-scale projects into "a dozen carefully focused, major research projects, in order to raise the quality".
He looked at 264 published papers from four elite academic journals and analysed 41. He found only 31 per cent showed "good practice". The work of some education researchers, he said, was "akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burns".