The importance of research for the teaching profession

British Educational Research Association (BERA) has recently published a report titled Research and the Teaching Profession which reflects some of my own personal beliefs – teachers need to be encouraged to and allowed opportunities for proper academic research into education for the enhancement of their practice. First of all, please read the report, which is now available at their website. Click here to download and read it.

In short, it identifies main ways in which research can contribute to teacher education: by informing the content and structure of teacher education programmes by research-based knowledge, teaches teachers how to discerning consumers of research and equips teachers to conduct their own research and investigate impact of positive and negative effects of practices in education. BERA has commissioned 7 papers, written internationally, into the impact (or lack thereof) of research-rich environments on the level of performance of educational systems.

The findings are:

  • research-rich environments are indeed best high performing education systems (internationally)
  • if teachers want to be effective, teachers and teacher educators need to engage with research – keep up to date with recent academic developments in their subject and in education overall
  • teachers and teacher educators need the capacity, motivation, confidence and opportunities to engage with and in research
  • research cannot just stop after the initial teacher education – but should be sustained throughout their careers so that enquiry is embedded in the professional lives of teachers and schools and become normal way of teaching and learning

BERA provides a series of recommendations following the evidence they have uncovered. They recognize that, in the UK, there are different educational contexts to take into consideration: in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Below, I provide their recommendations for England as that’s where I am teaching at the moment:

  • DfE needs to revise the existing teachers’ standards to make research literacy an explicit requirement for gaining QTS
  • The National College should work with the Teaching Schools movement to set up a National Network of Research Leaders in Education (RLE) to accredit the existing research leaders and support professional development of other practitioners (teachers)
  • headteacher standards should aim to prioritise the development of research literate school leaders and the leadership of research-rich school environments
  • Ofsted should consider teachers’ engagement with research and enquiry as one of the hallmarks of ‘outstanding’ practice
  • DfE should publish a review of its impact of teacher education policies on university departments and address any consequences for teacher research literacy that are uncovered

Personally, I feel very very strongly that teachers need to be allowed the time, opportunity and be encourage to conduct their own research. Many of us simply do not have the time to reflect on what we do. And, often, it takes just that one article read to do so. Whilst I do expect schools to deliver high-quality INSET CPD sessions, this is often going to be done “to teachers” rather than “for teachers”. Teachers need to know what other ideas are out there and they have the right to be afforded the time to take the time to consider other ideas, alternatives, opinions and criticism, all present in the education research out there. We need to be able to stop, look at our practice, at the practice of others (in other countries, too) and look critically at the provision in our own classrooms, schools, authorities and the policies of our government shaping the system.

I strongly believe in the bottom-up approach to shaping education; that is, it is the teachers who are on the ground, it is the teachers who know how it feels to work with the children on an every-day basis. It is, therefore, the teachers who need to be able to reflect on their own work through their own study. And it shouldn’t stop at the university level. Too many times have I heard teachers and middle leaders alike state how it’s no longer realistic to do academic study now that they’re in school. Aren’t we supposed to know what’s going on out there? As far as I am concerned, if we stand still in the field of education, we’re actually going backwards! The awareness of other discourses, opinions, strategies for improvement and beliefs in educational values can only enhance our practice and allow us to continually improve. I have benefited massively myself from my own engagement in research. I continue my own research into my field and in education in general – and refuse to stop despite the time and resource pressures of the UK’s educational system.

I call for the creation of time and opportunities for the teachers to engage and conduct their own research. Even simply engaging with journal articles / academic books is enough to start, but even more effective would be conducting one’s own qualitative study for one’s own benefit. But teachers need to have time for it and they need to know that this is valued on the leadership and government level. The fractured state of the academia vs schools collaboration at the moment needs to improve: we need a clear nation-wide system of collaboration. I support BERA in call for research-rich school environments. As they have pointed out and as their evidence proves, high-performing systems are those that are research-rich. Let us be that high-performing systems through the academic empowerment of our teachers!

*I am a member of British Educational Research Association.

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