The current exhibition of photographs from the Mass Observation Archive at The Photographers Gallery in London is about to come to an end after 2 months. For someone who has equal interests in the visual and the social, the exhibition ticked all my boxes and I found it fascinating, so much so that I managed to squeeze in two visits during its run.
What struck me was the way the curators seamlessly blended the photographs of the anonymous observers and glimpses of the social captured by more well known photographers such as John Hinde.
In fact I was so struck by the exhibition that I ended up researching into how to become one of the observers myself. With luck, they were (and still are) recruiting for Males aged 16-44 so I filled in the forms and this week had an email confirming that they are happy to add me to their list of correspondents. I am particularly excited by this because I think the value of the data that the achieve captures is immeasurable for really understanding how changes in society actually impact upon peoples lives.
The divide between the practicalities of the classroom and the world of academic research is not a new one and is one of the things I find particularly problematic about educational research. The previous labour government tried to increase the value placed on research by teachers by encouraging Masters level study by providing funding for it. This is something that has now more or less all dried up. In fact if you want to study a Masters in Education in 2013/14 you are looking at £4500+ with little hope of funding. Given that few schools pay any more for teachers with Masters degrees where is the incentive?
Strangely, some teachers do still want to study at a higher level and understand more about why interventions and policies are effective or not. I am one of those. I managed to gain some credits from my PGCE but it still cost me £2500 to study the remaining modules for my MEd (which I have just submitted the final assignment for). I have learned a few things but here is where the problem lies.
There is no time allocated in a normal teaching load to continue to pursue any research activities. Yes, I can try things, use some of the theory I learned to develop my own practice but if I want to continue to conduct more in depth research into my own practice that adds to the academic literature then that’s for my own time. Hardly a way to encourage practitioner research is it?
What has prompted this blog post though is the British Educational Research Association’s (BERA) annual conference. Scheduled for, you guessed it, the first week of a new academic year for teachers in primary, secondary and further education. Also the first week of many PGCE programmes. To me, this shows how divorced parts of the academy are from their coalface of education. Yes, conference fees are not cheap but you know what, had it have been scheduled in the 6 week school break, I probably would have paid to attend (and I can’t be the only one!).
What is particularly ironic is that the conference coincides with the publication of Why Educational Research Matters which states that “Educational research is necessary for the advancement of knowledge for education and of education”. Hardly the best way when very few individuals involved with using the research presented to inform their practice can attend the annual conference of the association which should be helping encourage and promote the link between the academy and practitioners.
I strongly believe educational research DOES matter but a there needs to be a reconsideration of how to address the issues that divorce it from classrooms. One start would be to schedule BERA2014 so it was actually accessible to teachers and educational practitioners and furthermore if BERA really do see educational research as being so important then maybe they need to start explaining to Policy makers why providing time and space for practitioners to be able to get involved in research is imperative!
Edited: What makes it worse is that they have already scheduled 2014 and 2015 according to their website – both in September!