Teachers and research

This is a response to another blog post here. The point is well made, that teachers should have access to academic journals so they can follow ongoing research. Open access for researchers is a topical issue, of course (see here and here); and there is no reason why teachers, who are often research subjects, should be denied access also. Moreover, as a teacher who is also a researcher, a researcher who is also a teacher, I have never been able to regard my teaching and research activities as inseparable. I would encourage any teacher who wishes to do research (not an easy undertaking with a teaching workload, of course, but likely to be rewarding). It is often said that education policy should be evidence-based (see eg Biesta, 2007; and, more recently, this article and this article, both in The Guardian); however, if ‘evidence’ is one of those words we have been taught to take for granted, I would rather say that teaching should be(come) a research-based profession, perhaps another matter entirely.

What interests me, then, is the possibility that the culture of schools might be transformed. I suspect that many, even most, education researchers have stories to tell about the difficulties of gaining access to schools, and I am no different; I shall always be grateful to those schools (and individuals in schools) who have made my research possible, and I have willingly helped researchers who have applied to the school I worked in. Consequently, that teachers should have access to research is inseparable from the access that researchers should have to schools, if only because it meant that schools and teachers welcomed them. It is now almost 20 years since Stephen Ball (1995) pointed out that education researchers, by explaining the processes that lead to differential achievement, had effectively given the government ammunition to use against teachers. Rereading this paper now, one is struck by its prescient nature. Ball notes that ‘the reproduction of unequal social relations were discovered to be lurking stubbornly in every classroom nook and cranny and every staffroom conversation’; and ‘[t]he teacher as cultural dope was now the subject of derision from all sides’ (257-258). Research, in Foucaultian terms, had a disciplinary function (260-261) and, consequently, teaching ‘changed from being an intellectual endeavour to being a technical process’ (266). One should aspire less to being an intellectual than to being a professional. Moreover, as Reay (2006) has noted, effectively updating Ball’s account from the previous decade, teacher-training might currently ignore the sociology of education and, in particular, ‘social class as an educational issue’ (302); this knowledge is no longer relevant. Hence, if this description of teacher-training is accurate, an ignorance of theory might be seen as one feature of professionalism (301-303).

As Ball was writing in the mid-1990s, Ofsted inspections had just been introduced, of course; my first inspection was in 1994 and my recollection is that teachers and inspectors were, at that time, unsure of their roles. In the years since we have all been disciplined. Not least, teachers have had to get used to being judged by inspectors armed with evidence, usually but not always in the form of statistics. Such judgements often lack validity; and there must be many teachers for whom the term ‘data’ is inseparable from a painful Ofsted experience. One might readily understand if teachers are wary of outsiders about to judge without understanding. However, given the absence of a grounding in education theory, do they also fail to see the point of research, even when it would allow them to challenge those discourses of accountability and self-evaluation that have been used so effectively to discipline them? If this is the case, access to academic journals might turn out to be another imposition, one that merely confirms an existing antipathy to research.

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