BERA Statement on Close-to-Practice Research

20 November 2018

BERA offers this statement to serve as a shared reference-point for high quality research, conducted within diverse research traditions, that shares the central aim of making a contribution to educational practice. In it, we define high-quality close-to-practice research as follows.

 

High quality close-to-practice research requires the robust use of research design, theory and methods to address clearly defined research questions, through an iterative process of research and application. The research process will be well documented and the conclusions that are drawn will be appropriate to the strengths and weaknesses of the design, theory and methods used. Such research will draw upon practitioners’ and researchers’ reflections on both practice and context.

What is close-to-practice educational research?

Education is an applied discipline, and there are several well-established traditions of educational research focussing on issues of practice. These traditions include (but are not restricted to) action research, practitioner research, design-based research, randomised controlled trials and lesson study. Some of these have more established and explicit quality criteria, while in others there is less consensus over methods and how their quality can be judged. BERA is adopting the term ‘close-to-practice (CtP) research’ as a shorthand for any research that focusses on educational practices in order to better understand or improve them. (This is not to suggest that CtP is a new research tradition or paradigm.)

Drawing upon Cooke’s (2005) definition from medical research, BERA defines CtP research as follows.

 

Close-to-practice research focusses on issues defined by practitioners as relevant to their practice, and involves collaboration between people whose main expertise is research, practice, or both.

In some cases the researcher may also be a practitioner; in other cases different individuals will occupy the role(s) of researcher and practitioner. A broad understanding of ‘practice’ is assumed: the practice of teachers and other educators will be a significant focus, though the practice of other actors in the education ecosystem (including examiners, education policymakers, curriculum developers and so on) may also be included.

About this statement and report

BERA is committed to advancing the quality of education research. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the proportion of research outputs in education judged as ‘world-leading’ (4*) broadly matched those of other ‘units of assessment’ (UOAs: subjects or fields as defined within the REF) within the social sciences. However, there was a significantly larger proportion of lower-graded outputs (that is, 2*, 1* and ‘unclassified’) in education than in other social science UOAs. The funding formula does not attribute quality-related funding to work rated as less than 3*, although the value of such outputs is acknowledged in quality descriptors. Furthermore, of all UOAs, education submitted the lowest proportion of higher education institution staff to the REF (as indicated by Higher Education Statistics Agency returns).

In feedback on the 2014 REF exercise, the education sub-panel drew attention to areas of relative strength and weakness. On classroom enquiry, for example, the panel observed the following.

 

‘There were many examples of practice-focused research, the best of which drew on social scientific theory, method or both. Some of these were world-leading, particularly those featuring co-production or close collaboration between learners, teachers and researchers. Weaker outputs were often descriptive and were judged to be of modest originality, significance and rigour. Such research is a very important form of professional activity in the development of self-improving education systems but is, by its very nature, contextually variable.’

In its spring 2015 issue, BERA’s members’ magazine Research Intelligence carried articles on the 2014 REF, which included comments about the quality of close-to-practice research. In response to this feedback, and to ongoing debates about the nature of quality in educational research, BERA Council set up a working group to provide guidance to BERA members on dimensions of quality in classroom enquiry and other areas of close-to-practice research, in advance of the next REF in 2021. A small-scale research project was commissioned, and as a result the following statement has been adopted by the Association to provide guidance on quality in close-to-practice educational research. A summary of the report of that research project is published here in summary form, with the full-length report to follow shortly.