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British researchers are now urged to make their research more policy relevant and more accessible. Our universities have laid on a veritable smorgasbord of seminars, awards and competitions, advice-giving support staff, social and other media training and even some funding, all designed to help us to get with the agenda – the public engagement and impact agenda that is. Using the notion of manufacture, a term which like its closed cousin fabrication, has both positive and sometimes negative connotations, I will explore what kind of game this is. I will ask how researchers in education might become kindly disposed to the engagement and impact agenda – or not. 

In answering this question I will take three steps. 

I will first of all canvass the ways in which the hierarchical relations between academic and school based researchers were (re)produced and contested in the post-war period.  It is important to remember, I will argue, progressive policy interventions that supported practitioner research and action inquiry and more grassroots educational reform projects that created space and time for dialogue across the university-school divide. 

Secondly, I will consider the ways in which the relatively stable power relations between university and school teachers are moving, and have been moved, since the late 1980s.  For instance, policy-preferred school-based teacher education has come together with policy-promoted research for ‘evidence’, in which teachers are implementers of ‘what works’.  At the same time, a rapid expansion of the school teacher publishing market and the growth of educational social media movements, school teacher bloggers and twitter celebrities has occurred. Teacher unions have come together with renewed and coordinated clout. I will suggest that these changes demand very careful and ongoing critical analysis and theorisation, as well as active participation. Reflexive scholarly practices are more important than ever in this context.

Thirdly and finally, I will explore what this changed education field means for both securely and precariously employed educational researchers who not only want their research to make a difference, but must also deal with the engagement and impact agenda at the same time. Using examples from my own and other colleagues’ research, I will suggest that there are pleasures and positives in the current situation, but pitfalls aplenty. As both educational expertise and educational experts are seen as both problem and solution there is perhaps, I will conclude, a more urgent need than ever for alliances across institutional boundaries. How, I will ask, is that already happening, and what else might be done?

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Pat Thomson, Professor

Professor of Education at University of Nottingham

Professor Pat Thomson is Professor of Education, Faculty of Social Sciences, at the University of Nottingham. Her current research focuses on creativity, the arts and change in schools and communities, and postgraduate writing pedagogies. She...