Lisa Pettifer, head of professional development in a large secondary school in England, proclaimed in her blog post Living with research in 2015 that, from a practitioner perspective, ‘…the call for teaching to become more of a research-based profession … raises a number of problems for teachers, many of whom cite contradictions in the notion of educational research itself’. She spoke of the perceived distance between notions of academic research and what she termed ‘the immediate and unpredictable physical world of childhood’; whereby childhood could be replaced by any context for learners.
This blog special issue has resulted from a coming together of researchers in a range of education settings (primary, secondary, tertiary and higher education institutions (HEIs)) over a number of BERA events during 2020–22. These have created spaces for dialogue about what research means and how research is promoted and conducted in non-HEI settings. This issue deepens that dialogue with rich insights from diverse settings and by researchers and practitioners.
Geoff Whitty laid down the gauntlet in his 2005 BERA presidential address that there were differences between educational and education research to be distinguished and disentangled. Jack Whitehead’s BERA Blog post from 21 July 2015 responded not only by clarifying the differences but, in doing so, also by promoting the importance of practitioners in educational research. Since this time, Marie Huxtable and Jack Whitehead, both based in the University of Cumbria, have been curating their ActionResearch.net webspace for and by those conducting the kinds of research which answer questions such as ‘How am I improving what I am doing?’ At the time of writing this editorial, 330,000 visitors had visited the site which hosts master’s, doctoral and other academic publications by educational researchers. Their post in this special issue highlights the importance of researchers bringing their own personal values to educational research and how these can drive meaningful research. Following on from a 2022 BERA Conference workshop, this sets the scene for the invitation to join a Living Educational Theory Research Scholarship group which aims to connect practitioner researchers in a sustainable community.
In her post, Nicole Brown, convenor of the Practice as Research network at the UCL Institute of Education, offers reflections about ‘doing action research ethically’. After highlighting that there are different interpretations of what might be considered action research, she focuses on the ethical considerations associated with the unifying core principles of ‘close proximity to the research process, keen involvement in research and transformation’. The implications of enacting each principle for ethical action research are linked to considerations of research rigour, highlighting the dual benefits of criticality, transparency and reflexivity.
This blog issue then turns to a set of reflections by practitioner researchers in different educational settings about their experiences.
(Audrey) Hibah Aladsani, from King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia, charts in her post how she became aware of action research through attending the BERA Research Methodology in Education special interest group (SIG) event in November 2021, and how this helped her and her school-based sister to address her sister’s professional concerns about how to respond to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic to support the learners for whom she was responsible. Hibah found additional resources to overcome her sister’s hesitation and she is now committed to advocating action research as a core element of teacher capacity building.
Islean Gibson and Rhona Black, who both lead a primary school run in an island setting in Scotland, are already committed to practitioner enquiry as being embedded in not only teachers’ professional development but also a school’s development. Gibson brought her previous experience as a headteacher of being led by student ideas for and involvement in the design of research, presented in the BERA Research Methodology SIG event in May 2021 (Gibson et al., 2021). Their post outlines the model of transformation, which embodies the key practices of: criticality, transparency and reflexivity listed by Brown (2021). In particular the range of stakeholders, especially the children in the school, are foregrounded.
Gaurav Dubay’s post explains how in order to introduce a curriculum initiative in practice into his secondary inner-city school in England, the whole learning community needed to come together to interpret it. Discussing what ‘empathetic learning environments’ and ‘diversity’ meant for staff and students is presented as the findings of a case study approach enacting a four-stage research process in the school.
Competence and autonomy were also themes in Debbie Bogard’s post, written from an inner-city further education context in England. She writes about how teaching and learning communities were created in her sixth-form college as a vehicle for developing action research, and how this offered staff ‘the antithesis to the hyper-accountability deficit measures prevalent in so many institutions’.
The contribution of action research to professional motivation and job satisfaction are examined in Cathy Clarkson’s post. Cathy uses a gardening metaphor to chart the role action research has played in her (and colleagues’) growth and wellbeing. She illustrates that she was inspired, through action research, to better support the online learning of trainees in her further education context in England.
Returning to the key role practitioners play in conducting educational research, this blog issue concludes with Kate Wall’s post about ways to embed research in practice, in which she offers key takeaways for taking forward practitioner research. She refers to how practitioner research connects to the insatiable curiosity of practitioners about their practice – which is well illustrated in the earlier posts in this issue – and she calls for practitioners’ increased confidence in the evidence they generate as being meaningful, worthwhile and feasible.
Brown, N. (2021). Criteria for good quality research [schematic]. In J. S. Leigh, & N. Brown, Embodied inquiry: Research methods (p. 73). Bloomsbury.
Gibson, I., Clark, A., Dunnigan, H., & Cantali, D. (2021). Enabling positive change in primary school: Learner-led research in a Scottish context. Support for Learning, 36(2), 278–295. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9604.12355
Whitty, G. (2005, September 17). Education(al) research and education policy making: Is conflict inevitable? Presidential Address to the British Educational Research Association, University of Glamorgan. https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/2005-geoff-whitty-bera-presidential-address
Linked BERA events
Principles into Practice: Supporting Practitioner Research, presentations 21 August 2020; panel 21 August 2020 and keynotes From Action Research to Intervention – The Aspirations Game 10 August 2020 and Exploring the impact of using Participatory Action Research evidence in informing the teaching environment and practice 3 August 2020
Developing a Living Educational Theory Research Scholarship Group, 8 September 2022, BERA Conference 2022, 6–8 September 2022, University of Liverpool, UK