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Researching the curriculum in schools and colleges: Practice, professionalism and innovation

Gerry Czerniawski

Introducing a special issue of the BERA Blog from the British Curriculum Forum

On 24 February 2018 the British Curriculum Forum (BCF) held its third curriculum event for teachers, academics, policymakers and leaders in education. In line with the BCF’s policy of endeavouring to attract more teachers to this forum, the conference took place at the University of Birmingham School and was held on a Saturday.

‘In different ways this collection explores what is meant by ‘curriculum research’, and what practical, ethical and theoretical issues need to be considered when carrying out innovative research.’

Aimed at all key stakeholders interested in the curriculum in schools and colleges, as well as those new to research, the event considered the perspectives offered by leading practitioners, subject associations and universities, focussing on knowledge emerging from research and practice through a range of keynotes, workshops and panel sessions.

Over the next three weeks the BERA Blog will be publishing a series of contributions from speakers who took part in the event. In different ways this collection explores what is meant by ‘curriculum research’, and what practical, ethical and theoretical issues need to be considered when carrying out innovative research.

Published blogs in this series:

We start this collection with Tim Cain asking, How do teachers use published research? How does research change their thoughts and actions? These questions have been addressed in his article through two empirical research studies. These studies were identical in their aims and methods; their research question was, How can educational research impact on teachers and teaching? Both studies imply that teachers can develop their practice through reading educational research and relating it to their experience, discussing educational research with colleagues, and using this research to investigate their own practice.

Sue Cronin makes an appeal to schools to reimagine the possibilities of partnership work with universities and reassess the importance of their partnership involvement with university teacher educators. Schools, Cronin argues, are missing a trick if they do not develop their relationships with universities by working closely with their local university teacher educators. She writes about some of the partnership work she is involved with at Liverpool Hope University: known as the ‘Hope Challenge’, she describes a series of research projects developed in collaboration with local authorities, HMIs (Her Majesty’s Inspectors) and headteachers.

Alison Fox replies to an article published in the BERA Blog by Danielle Pée (5 April 2018). Just as Pée advocated a move towards a relational approach to socio-emotional programme development, Fox talks about how curriculum development should be about finding better ways to live together. Fox, too, advocates a relational approach to curriculum development – which would result in the relationship-building that is bound up with respectful and compassionate enquiry being more likely to have longer lasting and wider reaching benefits beyond any individual research study.

Giles Freathy writes about his fraternal curriculum collaboration with Professor Rob Freathy (University of Exeter). Over the course of approximately six years, these two brothers have produced a theoretical model underpinning their innovative classroom practice. Freathy argues that the project produced two main outcomes: first, a new critical, dialogic, inquiry-based pedagogy applicable to a variety of subjects; and second, an instance of such a pedagogy in action in the form of the RE-searchers approach.

Writing about further education curriculum research in initial teacher education, Gordon Ade-Ojo and Heather Booth Martin pose two questions. First, how well do we use our courses and modules on curriculum development to prepare our students for engaging with curriculum research? Second, how can we change the current situation so that it further enhances curriculum research? You will have to read their lively and critically informed article to find out their answers.

Jenny Clements argues that opportunities for students to take part in research qualifications at key stages 3 and 4 are not only restricted to some students, but are in fact disappearing from the curriculum for all. Her article draws attention to the benefits of the higher project qualification (HPQ) and the positive impact that this qualification can have on students and their educators.

Karen McInnes, in her article, asks how the curriculum can be meaningfully researched when one is working with children in the early years. She argues that traditional methods of observation and interview have their place, but these need to be carefully considered to ensure that they are appropriate for and respectful to young children. The use of visual methods can be child-friendly, but needs just as much scrutiny other methods. Adapting and combining methods can be especially powerful.

Megan Dixon shares the journey of the school where she works – from the brink of closure to success as the foundation school within a multi-academy trust, a national teaching school and one of the first schools in the EEF and IEE’s Research Schools Network. Her school, she suggests, presents an example of how placing the use of research practices and research evidence at the heart of a school improvement journey not only enriches day-to-day decision-making, but enables the development of strong professional capital (Hargreaves and Fullen 2012) and a framework for self-extending transformation.

Finally, Ruth Dann writes about her involvement in Building Research in Primary Schools (BRiPS). This project developed a small supported network of teachers across six primary schools to develop research, linked to their own school development plans. Studies emanating from this project were focussed on curriculum, pedagogy or assessment. Outcomes and impact were considered in relation to pupil outcomes, pupils’ wellbeing and teachers’ professional development. The studies found that often the strategies that were most effective for the majority of pupils needed greater adjustment, extension, creativity and adaptation for those whose learning yielded the highest and lowest outcomes. More importantly, for Dann, the impact of the research on motivation and wellbeing were important outcomes for both teachers and learners.


We hope that you enjoy this collection of articles over the coming weeks. As with all BERA Blog articles we welcome replies that we can publish in response to the significant contributions to curriculum-related literature contained in this collection.


Hargreaves A and Fullan M (2012) Professional Capital, Transforming Teaching in Every School, Abingdon: Routledge