Goldacre vs. Furedi

Contributor: Kate Hammond

One of the highlights of ResearchED2013 for me was going straight from Goldacre’s keynote to Furedi’s seminar. In a nutshell, Furedi took several of Goldacre’s assumptions and suggestions, and raised questions about them. These stuck in my mind:

1. The use of Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) in education. Furedi argued that they were a research method created within medicine for medicine, and were highly unsuited for use in an educational setting. Instead, he maintained that education needs to self-generate its own methods for effective research. As other bloggers are noting, we have little idea of what this might be yet. However, I wonder if the pursuit of an educational equivalent might end up with it becoming the new mantra which schools and teachers then feel duty-bound to pursue.

2. Abstraction and decontextualisation. Furedi argued that some current efforts to get research into teachers’ hands was doing more damage than good. He pointed to the idea of Journal Clubs which took an article at random to discuss, or the idea of creating a three-paragraph summary of a journal article for teachers to read rapidly. He argued that this promotes the idea that a quick, generalised fix is enough and that context and cultural specificity do not matter. In contrast, he argued that context is central, and that teachers should be aware of the highly individualised nature of the research they are reading. Here, I think I do sit with Furedi: in understanding the specific context of a piece of research, teachers are encouraged to consider their own specific context and think harder about undertaking research which is relevant and meaningful to them. With Furedi, I am concerned about a ‘this-works-so-let’s-employ-it’ culture which comes from a less considered reading of the context of research. Just because something seems to have met with success in one context does not mean it will in others – or that it should be attempted in others. Keeping teachers aware of this is, I think, an important priority.

3. Teacher subject knowledge. Furedi made the claim towards the end of his presentation that teachers should perhaps be more concerned with updating their own subject knowledge than the latest educational research. He argued that the more teachers knew about their own subject, the more they were able to pass it on well, implying that reading about their subject would pay greater dividends than reading about the latest ‘new thing’. An interesting little grenade to lob at an Research and Education conference! However, whilst I would certainly not turn my back on educational research, I do agree with Furedi here, born simply out of personal experience. Give me time to talk about the latest developments in my subject area as well as about researching education!

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