Letter: Crucial questions only educational research can answer

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Letter: Crucial questions only educational research can answernLET

Sir: Chris Woodhead, Chief Inspector of Schools, ("Nation of fools and Tolkien Readers", 22 January) believes research findings that effective leadership and an orderly atmosphere are important ingredients for successful schools are "blindingly obvious", and that money spent on such investigations is wasted.

About 15 years ago I lectured to around 200 teachers and suggested that school characteristics mattered in how successful schools were. There was almost unanimous disbelief. The only thing that mattered was the sort of homes the children came from. Well-spent research funding on school effectiveness has helped to turn that mistaken view around.

It is disappointing that authorities in the educational world still take such a dismissive view of research. Such an attitude was prevalent for many years at the Department of Education, but I had thought there had been a change. Evidently not.

The pounds 50m spent on educational research is, in fact, pitifully small compared to the research budget of the Department of Health, but the questions are equally important.

If Chris Woodhead thinks research comes up with obvious results, perhaps he would like to predict the answers to the following questions, drawn from my own field of interest.

Have the anti-bullying packs recently introduced by the Department for Education made an impact on the frequency of bullying?

Do disruptive pupils do better if additional resources go a) to provide support within the mainstream school, b) to withdrawal units on the site of the mainstream school, or c) to separate withdrawal units?

Are there any methods of health education which influence the knowledge and/or behaviour of students in their use of drugs and alcohol?

What approaches in preschool education are most effective in achieving "reading readiness"?

Have increasing opportunities for schools to select children resulted, as is sometimes claimed, in the aggregation of "difficult" children in poorly resourced and managed schools.

Which type of children benefit, and which do not, from placement in schools for children with emotional and behaviour problems?

If he cannot answer these questions with reliable evidence and thinks they are important, perhaps Chris Woodhead would encourage the Department for Education to increase its research budget rather than reduce it.


Chair, National Children's Bureau

London EC1