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Goodbye Mr Chips: can research tell teachers how to teach?

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Published on Nov 24, 2015

Is education an art, a craft, a science, a combination of these things or something altogether different? It matters because today more and more of education is being analysed through the lens of research evidence and data. Government ministers, academics, teacher training institutions and leading education groups like the Education Endowment Foundation are all agreed in calling for more use of scientific research in education. The Carter Review into teacher training recommends every teacher be a researcher and thousands of schools have embraced ‘action research’, while head teachers encourage familiarity with the latest research in performance management targets. The way for teachers to get ahead is to drop into any conversation a knowledge of Carol Dweck’s research on ‘growth mindset’ or the latest evidence on mixed-ability setting. Teachers sceptical about what the research tells us ignore it at their peril.

Some see this as a way of ‘reprofessionalising’ teaching. For others, like the teachers’ group ‘Researched’, it is a means of debunking quack theories like brain gym, multiple intelligences and learning styles, which were imposed on teachers without much evidence. Others see the focus on evidence as a way of stopping the politicisation of education. Yet politicians and government are among its most enthusiastic advocates, pumping in ever larger amounts of money into research. Indeed, evidence of what works is almost universally welcomed and seen as a way helping kids who underachieve. Is the value of all this a no-brainer, then? Science writer Ben Goldacre thinks so and has proposed that education borrow from the methodology of science and medicine in order to improve. Nevertheless, some teachers caution that the focus on research evidence is undermining teachers’ judgement and intuition. They believe teachers should not be expected to be amateur researchers; let academics in universities research and let teachers in schools teach, they say. Educationalist Dylan William argued recently in the TES that proponents of research evidence are over-claiming for it, and that no amount of research can tell us what a perfect lesson plan looks like.

Research sceptics maintain that education is about an open-ended, subjective relationship between teacher and students, one that can’t be measured by the scientific method. Are they right, or is this a romanticised, Mr Chips view of teaching that should be dropped in favour of research evidence that will improve educational outcomes?

Session introduced by Chris Muller, head, Sir William Perkins’s School

Speakers
Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, Politics of Fear, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history

Jack Marwood
primary school teacher; education writer, Icing on the Cake blog

Munira Mirza
deputy mayor, education and culture, Greater London Authority; author, The Politics of Culture: the case for universalism

Nick Rose
teacher; leading practitioner in psychology and research; shortlisted TES Teacher Blogger of the Year

Chair
Kevin Rooney
politics teacher and head of social science, Queen's School, Bushey; blogger at Fans for Freedom; co-author, Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?

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