Skip to content

Blog post

Calling time on chaos: our personal responsibilities for R&D in a self-improving education system

Marilyn Leask Sarah Younie

Politicians and teachers find access to educational research problematic. Teachers call for open access to research journals and some national teachers’ councils provide this (Scotland and the Republic of Ireland). However, a search on Google on the topic Physics Education gives three million returns so open access is not the magic bullet supporting education as an evidence-informed sector.

Politicians such as Nick Gibb an UK education minister said at the ResearchEd annual conference on Saturday 10 September 2016 that educational research journal articles are unintelligible to those outside the ivory towers. At the ResearchEd annual conference in 2015 he said he found Twitter a good source of ideas for policies. As Professor Michael Bassey pointed out in writing the BERA Guidelines for Good Practice in Research Writing (2000) four levels of research publication are appropriate to meet the needs of different audiences (see the diagram). Academic articles fulfil the role of evidence-based dialogue in an academic discipline showing how new knowledge is building on and linked to what has gone before.

The ‘professional report’ level could include research summaries, videos, blogs and other outputs relevant to practitioners. Teacher association professional journals could fulfill this role and sometimes do. The research underpinning these outputs should however be made clear so that the reader can assess the strength of evidence. SIG members have been working on models of professional reports. We have defined reports directed to practitioners as ‘translational research’ outputs and are developing standards for these. Translational research is a term widely used in some disciplines but not education.


The Educational Research and Policy Making SIG is addressing these issues as one strand of work. This SIG was originally set up by academics – Professor Judy Sebba, Professor Lesley Saunders, Professor Marilyn Leask among others who had knowledge management national roles in government agencies and in the Department for Education. At BERA plans are being discussed for the next phase of this work, which includes the second Teacher Education Knowledge Mobilisation Summit in London in May 2016 and an international joint BERA SIG conference in June with the Comparative Education SIG to further develop ideas.

The MESHGuides approach, shown on is one solution to the Translational Research challenge and it is similar to solutions in medicine, see for example the NICE pathways. Following quality assurance processes of peer review as for academic journal articles, a flow chart approach is used to publish research summaries which give access to top level summaries to the user with links back to the full research.

To build an accessible database of research summaries in education, i.e. an ‘Edupedia’ requires a small amount of effort in the part of those who hold research-based knowledge – hence our title – what are our own professional responsibilities? The concept behind this approach is that evidence based practice comes about through the application of professional knowledge to evidence. The evidence does not dictate the practice as any findings require contextualization. This is not a reductionist approach but rather one pragmatic approach addressing teachers’ needs to access research. The intention is to empower teachers to exercise professional judgement based on research and their assessment of the relevance to their context. So far SIG members efforts published via have reached 174 countries according to independent Google analytics reports. There are only 196 countries in the world. Such is the reach of the international networks of educators, alumni and professional associations. This initiative demonstrates that it is possible to make research easily accessible to educators and policy makers anywhere.

The UK is not alone in dealing with these challenges. This is an international problem. Professor Poonam Batra from India gave a powerful keynote speech to the 2016 BERA Conference highlighting similar problems in India. A significant number of the 196 countries in the world are too small to have a large base of researchers but even in the developed countries access to and use of research is problematic. For example, the OECD found in an international survey of teaching and learning in the most developed nations, that: “In many countries, education is still far from being a knowledge industry in the sense that its own practices are not yet being transformed by knowledge about the efficacy of those practices…” OECD Teaching and learning International Survey 2009 p.3.