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Blog post Part of special issue: Practitioner research and commentary in a networked society

Synergising research in early childhood education: Creating a collaborative space between close-to-practice research and academia

Louise Kay, Lecturer at University of Sheffield

Since the turn of the 21st century there has been a push for teaching to become a research-based profession in a way that is practically relevant to the classroom. The recent research report arising from the BERA Close-To-Practice Research project (Wyse, Brown, Oliver, & Poblete, 2018) examined ‘dimensions of quality in close-to-practice educational research’ (p. 4) and identified a need to ‘explicitly promote partnerships that connect universities and practitioners’ in order to help support the conduct of trustworthy and credible research (p. 33).

A systematic review of close-to-practice methodology and education studies undertaken as part of that research project highlights that, of the final 12 studies selected, none focussed on the early years. The aim of this blog, therefore, is to briefly explore the potential for establishing a collaborative space between practitioner and academic research as a way of supporting rigorous and trustworthy methodological decisions and output, with a focus on early childhood education.

‘Establishing a community of research practice between practitioners and researchers has the potential to be a mutually beneficial partnership.’

Drawing on work by Wenger (1998), establishing a community of research practice between practitioners and researchers has the potential to be a mutually beneficial partnership. It is acknowledged that researchers and practitioners are ‘differently qualified and differently positioned’ (Christianakis, 2010, p. 120) within this process, and that both parties bring valuable skills and knowledge to the collaboration. Firstly, practitioners who wish to design and undertake a close-to-practice research project could benefit from the support of university research expertise. Secondly, close liaison with practitioners’ through these processes would help to keep the researchers’ knowledge and understanding of the challenges of classroom teaching current and grounded in practice.

A key aim of this relationship would be to produce robust scholarship on learning and teaching that reflects a wider range of ideas, beliefs and perspectives. The co-operative nature of a community of practice increases the commitment, motivation and interest of the members, making their knowledge available to others while becoming aware of their capacity to access other individuals’ knowledge (Bratianu, 2015). This sharing of knowledge between people with a common set of values and interests within the community of research practice may lead to increasing innovation, both pedagogically and methodologically. Further to this, rather than simply be the ‘recipients of research’, practitioners would themselves be ‘interpreters or producers of actionable knowledge’ (Ozga, 2004).

Taking inspiration from the BERA close-to-practice report (Wyse et al., 2018), and considering my own interests in establishing a collaborative relationship with early years practitioners, the following questions have been devised as a starting point to further explore the potential of this initiative.

  1. What close-to-practice research is already happening across the diverse range of early years educational contexts?
  2. How can academics work with teachers to identify what their specific needs are when undertaking a close-to-practice research project?
  3. What would be an effective way of establishing a mutually beneficial working collaboration within the community of research practice?
  4. How could a meaningful knowledge-sharing partnership within the community of research practice be established?
  5. What is the potential for incorporating research strands into initial teacher education programmes?

It is envisaged that this (very) early thinking will be formulated into a comprehensive research proposal as a way of moving forward and building on some of the key recommendations of BERA’s Close-to-Practice Research project.


Bratianu, C. (2015). Organizational Knowledge Dynamics: Managing Knowledge Creation, Acquisition, Sharing, and Transformation. Hershey, PA: IGI Global

Christianakis, M. (2010). Collaborative Research and Teacher Education. Issues in Teacher Education, 19(2).

Ozga, J. (2004). From Research to Policy and Practice: Some Issues in Knowledge Transfer. Edinburgh: Centre for Educational Sociology, University of Edinburgh. Retrieved from

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wyse, D., Brown, C., Oliver, S. & Poblete, X. (2018). The BERA Close-to-Practice Research Project: Research Report. London: British Educational Research Association. Retrieved from