Education letter: Victim of poor research

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The Independent Online
WAS IT Sibelius who counselled us to never pay any attention to what critics say? It is tempting advice, but the comments of Mary Tasker and David Packham ("Publish and be doomed", Education, 8 October) make a response irresistible on two counts.

Firstly, they damn our report on educational research merely by association with another, completely separate, piece of work conducted by a different researcher (Professor Tooley) using a very different method for a different client.

All the substantial criticism is addressed to Professor Tooley. There are no specific arguments aimed at our report, yet Tasker and Packham bracket us together for no apparent reason other than chronological convenience. One wonders whether they have read it.

Secondly, the implication is that that both Professor Tooley and ourselves favour greater central direction. Professor Tooley can speak for himself, but as a graduate of the Institute of Economic Affairs I believe he advocates less rather than more state intervention. We come from a very different perspective.

Well over 80 per cent of research funding is public money in some shape or form. The argument is about the control attached to that funding. The essential thinking and analysis behind our research was to suggest the following.

More (public) money needs to be put into educational research to support the balanced programme of research of all forms (theoretical, applied, action-based and others) necessary to support the required improvements in the general education system.

The government should have less direct control, but work more closely in partnership with researchers to determine (where appropriate) mutually agreeable research agendas and methods.

This does not mean coming up with previously conceived answers, but it does mean basing research conclusions on rigorous foundations from which generalisations can be made. It also means turning research round quickly; there should be a government commitment to more explicit evidence-based policy and practice supported by a crucial mediation infrastructure to help interpret research.

This will in effect create more, rather than fewer, challenges to government thinking, especially when research results run counter to political aspirations. The greater centralisation thesis is an easy attack to make, and a concern we would share. However it needs to be based on firmer foundations than this if it is to carry any weight.

Jim Hillage

Senior Research Fellow

Institute for Employment Studies

University of Sussex

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