The Problem with Journal Access for Teachers

In Debates and Polemics, Evidence in Education by Alex Quigley9 Comments

I have a dream of a teaching profession that has a potent profession voice and that is truly self-improving. It would be so laden with prestige that politicians wouldn’t even dare to meddle in the affairs of curriculum or the nuances of pedagogy. ‘Yeah, right?‘ you say. Of course, you’d be right. We are so far from this idyllic, possibly unachievable vision, that it stirs frustrating rather than hope. But us teachers are an idealistic bunch and I can see small seeds growing that show we are looking to make a start.

Teachers are straining for their voice. Organisations have emerged out of little more than committed enthusiasm. ResearchEd, for example, has within a short time become a movement for research evidence in education that is reaching thousands of teachers. Calls for a Royal College of Teaching are becoming louder, though its reach is still far from the common consciousness of every staffroom. One English teacher, Vincent Lien, has started the ball rolling for research journal access and momentum is gathering as the likes of Schools Week have publicized the campaign – see here. The contrast with Scottish teachers who have relatively cheap access is particularly marked.

Now, I must declare my interests in the matter. I think teachers being empowered to engage with research evidence could help them improve their practice, bolster their professional and provide ballast to argue against the latest dumb policy recommendation to emerge from Westminster and more. I am certainly not arguing that teachers should not have access to research journals, but I do question whether stuffing money into the coffers of a range of journal publishers is going to have any real impact in the classroom.

When we talk about access to research journals I think we are starting in the wrong place. First, we need to demand the time and professional autonomy to engage in good critical reflection that should be the right of any highly performing profession.

You see, we are a mile away from teachers having the time, indeed the inclination, to engage with research. Perhaps we have grown cynical about whether the evidence will be applied with anything like effectiveness. More likely, our workload is sinking teachers in a mire that means genuine reflection and professional reading becomes the preserve of the few. The reality is that you can find a vast array of free research on the web right now. We don’t of course, because there is little time and no structure to support it.

Perhaps the answer is the invest the money instead in devising a journal for teachers, driven by teachers. With enough investment, support and oversight by teachers there is the chance that research evidence could be filter into schools. Perhaps research-leads would be a viable position to embed such research evidence into the veins of school CPD? We need to not dumb down the content, but we do need to make it more accessible. We don’t need to make every teacher a researcher (that isn’t even desirable in my book), but we do need to make teachers more research literate. The journal could emerge from a nascent Royal College, or ResearchEd, or both.

Of course, the elephant charging into the room, and flattening the furniture, is time. If teachers aren’t given time to reflect for professional development then these tools, like a research journal, or access to a spate of public journals, are seeds that will fall on stony ground. I have heard Tristram Hunt say this in person when he visited my school. It is common sense.

You see, I think teachers getting stuck into research evidence in high quality training. I want teachers to be critical consumers who balance their intuitions of their practice with the knowledge of more objective evidence. The two can co-exist in something like ‘educated intuition‘.  Engaging with the evidence will help, but simply giving teachers access to a bunch of journals simply will not work, without the conditions and supports in place to do it well.

 

Related reading:

I wrote this article for NFER on the potential of schools having a structure of Research-leads to support embedding research evidence in schools – see here.

I wrote a post on teachers needing to be ‘Devil’s Advocates’ – asking challenging questions in their schools – see here.

Comments

  1. Superb post Alex. My sentiments exactly. My concern is that teachers access to journals suggests that the problem is a deficit on behalf of teachers – that if only we can do our homework more thoroughly and keep on top of the latest evidence, everything will be OK. It’s another example of an emphasis on research as something to be literate in, or critical of – research as a noun – rather than something that teachers should be given time to actually engage in themselves – research as a verb, informed by the research literature yes, but rooted in enquiry – finding out what works best in a particular context. It’s a step in the right direction I suppose, but it’s certainly no silver bullet, and has the potential to backfire – anyone fancy adding 35,000 new research articles a year into the workload debate?

    1. Author

      The tension between workload and research is obvious. If you don’t provide time and support structures it simply an’t going to happen with any positive impact. I dislike the notion that implies the potential deficit too. The real answer sou;ld need to be a quite radical approach to giving teachers time, but the austerity argument (which I dispute) kills any hope of this.

      1. I think it only needs an hour a week. As a minimum entitlement I think that is achievable, especially if you commute INSET days. We had an hour of CPD a week at my last school. Half covered by commuted INSET days, half by dropping one tutor time session a week.

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  3. The obvious place for teachers to become research literate would be in the ITT, at a good university, including courses in statistics and methodology, as happens in Finland. Currently many ITTs appear to be miles away from that, with indoctrination the preferred approach: too much research literacy would undermine that process. I wonder if the forthcoming review of teacher training will cover this point?

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