Read all about it

For a period of about 10 years, whilst I was doing an MA (through the OU) and my wife was studying for her Cog Sci degree (a 1st actually, thank you for asking) I was fortunate enough to have access to the online journal libraries of the respective Universities. It was wonderful. I could actually read the research papers and not go bankrupt.

If there is a reason that teaching practice is not as evidence based as some would like it to be then this is it. If you wanted to read the research you either had to be as rich as Croesus or have access through a university. If you had that access it tended to be through your course and consequently your investigations would be directed by your course leaders. So the opportunity for self-directed research was limited.

In my view this approach stifles innovation, and militates against change.

I strongly support any attempt to enable free journal access for teachers. This already occurs in Scotland where members of the GTCS have access. Pity that the GTC didn’t organise something similar, it might still be with us. There will obviously be a cost. For example, the OU pays around £1m per year for a number of students around half the number of teachers. If the right deal is struck (on an actual usage, rather than potential usage basis) then the cost need not be that high. Perhaps around about the cost of a DfE vanity project. Or perhaps the Education Endowment Foundation could use some of the interest on the £125m endowment to pay for it. Giving such access to knowledge to all teachers is a better way of spending £1m than many I can think of.

There are a number of ways that this could be achieved. Whichever way it is done there should be as few barriers as possible. Simply being a teacher should be enough. For selfish personal reasons I would say the simplest way would be to enable anyone with a teacher reference number to access online research libraries for free. All these details are held by the teachers pension company so perhaps using the same database would be easiest – if you can log on to see your pension stuff then you can get to the journals.

What is not required is any further barrier. Having to prove to someone else your reason to look at the journals is a valid one. Or, if the access is through membership of some other organisation, having to register at a different level. Certainly there should be no need to prove any ‘research capability’ before access is possible. Often the very act of reading the papers can be a good learning exercise in itself and prompt to self-improvement.

For too long access to this knowledge has been locked away, accessible only to specific groups of people. This has led education in particular directions, driven largely by that small group. I’m not suggesting that the direction has been right or wrong (in reality it has probably been both in different areas). What I will say is that the direction would possibly have been different, and more practically directed, had more grassroots members of the education profession had better access to the knowledge the direction was predicated upon. Teachers are, by and large, in the main, generally speaking (*caveats forever*) an intelligent group of people who can be trusted to read research papers and make sense of them. Having wrestled some degree of control of the profession from one small group I would hate to see it replaced by another, equally dedicated to restrict access to knowledge.

Unmediated access to research papers is not a dangerous thing.

Unless you are not convinced of their quality. Or you want to maintain control of who has the knowledge. Me? I think the more we make knowledge freely accessible the better for all.

If anything I’ve said helps to convince you then do sign this petition.

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4 thoughts on “Read all about it

  1. I’ve been saying this for years! I have been wondering what the purpose of these documents is, if their findings are not accessible in schools, at least for a basis for discussion…..for awareness of new practice, etc…

    I also wonder how many such documents are produced each year – how many journals, how many universities, how many academics? Given that recent announcements call for ‘evidence based’ practice, does this mean that schools could now be bombarded with dozens of new recommendations about ‘what works’ and even more declarations about what teachers should be doing?

    And while I welcome developments in teachers’ involvement in lesson study, peer coaching, etc, I’m aware that many teachers are not familiar with appropriate methodological practices. And yet it might well be that teachers who haven’t been trained recently, who don’t have Masters degrees, are the very ones who might benefit from this sort of personalised professional development. These are the teachers who might have reached the dreaded ‘plateau’; they might be the ones who don’t want the next ten years to be the same as the last, yet, for whom, under the current system of front-loaded career development, there isn’t at the moment much variety or career enrichment ahead.

    I am hoping that the proposed College of Teaching will be established, and will be able to put long term career development, drawing on a range of resources and practices, as a core priority.

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