Leave research to the academics, John Hattie tells teachers

Teachers should avoid becoming researchers in their classrooms and leave the job to academics, according to one of education’s most influential professors.

Attempts to make teaching more research based have taken off over in England recently, with the success of the grassroots researchED organisation and the UK government’s funding of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

But Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute and one of the world’s most widely quoted education academics, is concerned that the movement does not lead to teachers trying to conduct research themselves.

“Researching is a particular skill,” he told TES. “Some of us took years to gain the skill. Asking teachers to be researchers? They are not.

“I want to put the emphasis on teachers as evaluators of their impact. Be skilled at that. Whereas the whole research side, leave that to the academics.”

The New Zealand-born academic told TES he thought there was a danger that schools were trying to become too theoretical.

“They are more obsessed about how they ride a bike than whether they can ride a bike well,” he said.

But Kevan Collins chief executive of the EEF, which is currently working with Professor Hattie, said he did not want to get “hung up on divisions”.

“What we need to do is build the bridges and encourage a dialogue, because researchers need teachers and obviously teachers need researchers,” he said. “We have seen what happens when those two worlds don’t orbit together – basically nobody gets better.

Professor Hattie’s comments come just a fortnight come after another globally respected education academic, Professor Dylan Wiliam, warned that the idea of teaching as a “research-based profession” was “never going to happen”.

He wrote in TES that it was unrealistic to for teachers to ever expect to find credible research showing what action would lead to better outcomes for their own particular group of pupils.

Professor Hattie, whose 2008 milestone “meta-analysis” of 80,000 separate education studies is considered by some as a guide to what works in teaching, also argues that teachers need to concentrate more on the results of their actions on pupils and “ask about the worth and significance and merit of what they are doing”.

“Research often is about the causality, about how well you have implemented something,” the University of Melbourne academic said. “I am much more interested about the impact.”

He was speaking after giving a talk organised by Pearson in London where he suggested that every school should appoint specialists in interpreting data.

“I think it’s totally unreasonable to ask teachers to be expert in everything,” Professor Hattie said, explaining that education authorities in New South Wales, Australia, were already putting the idea into practice.

“I don’t have any time for making teachers researchers,” he added. “We have got no evidence that action researchers make any difference to the quality of teaching.”

Dr Collins said: “Our studies now involve one in five schools in England and they work because teachers, teaching assistants and heads are willing to become active participants in the research question.

“Just because they not then crunching the numbers does not mean they are not involved. This should be seen as a collaboration.”

“Although it is right [that] primary research has to be rigorous and well established and it is hard to do that in one school, I actually don’t think that means that teachers shouldn’t be using the literacy and sensibility of research to inform their practice.”

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