Practitioner based Research Education

practitioner research or descriptions of classroom practice and practitioner research and professional development in education practitioner research in the primary school
Dr.CherylStam Profile Pic
Dr.CherylStam,New Zealand,Researcher
Published Date:04-07-2017
Your Website URL(Optional)
Comment
Researching Teachers, Researching Schools, Researching Networks: A Review of the Literature Colleen McLaughlin Kristine Black-Hawkins Donald McIntyrePRACTITIONER RESEARCH AND ENQUIRY Colleen McLaughlin University of Cambridge Faculty of Education Introduction This section will explore the traditions of individual and collaborative practitioner research and enquiry and the different conceptions and purposes of practitioner research contained within them. Current debates about the place and form of this research are debated and research on the effects of and conditions for practitioner research and enquiry explored. The argument is that practitioner research and enquiry is a particular form of knowledge generation with its own particular warrants and place in the generation of knowledge about practice. The arguments for practitioner research and enquiry Dewey described teachers’ contributions to educational research as an ‘unworked mine’ (1929). This theme echoes in the work of Lawrence Stenhouse, ‘It is teachers who in the end will change the world of the school by understanding it’ (1981), Hargreaves, ‘One alternative is to treat practitioners themselves as the main (but not only) source for creation of professional knowledge’ (1999, p.125), and others (Elliott, 1991; Rudduck & McIntyre, 1998; Zeichner & Noffke, 2001). These writers have argued for teachers to be more than the subjects or consumers of educational research and for practitioner research and enquiry to have a particular role in the generation of educational knowledge. However, the traditions contain different conceptions and place a different emphasis on the role, nature and purposes of practitioner research and enquiry. There has also been much debate about the quality, status and type of engagement of practitioners. There is a long tradition of tension between two contrasting aspirations for practitioner research and enquiry. One is that teachers should investigate their own practice to improve it. The other is for practitioner research to contribute to public knowledge about teaching and learning. The following quote from Bridget Somekh illustrates the contrast:‘If action research is not recognised as a research methodology, the knowledge generated from action research is neither taken seriously nor disseminated widely and effectively. The knowledge is seen merely as an outcome of a professional development process, devalued into something that concerns only the individual who carried out the action research – local, private and unimportant. In this way the operation of power in the social system works to neutralize the voice and influence of practitioners and promote the hegemony of traditional academic researchers’ (1993, p. 28). The different traditions, conceptions and purposes of practitioner research and enquiry One can distinguish different traditions and purposes in practitioner research and enquiry: research and enquiry undertaken for primarily personal purposes; research and enquiry undertaken for primarily political purposes; and research and enquiry undertaken for primarily school improvement purposes. Often these are interwoven, not simple and distinguishable or as neat as here presented. This section of the review will deal with the first two of these. The following section will deal with the third of these categories. The first two can be characterised as a ‘bottom up’ tradition, while the third might often be ‘top down’. 1. Research and enquiry undertaken for primarily personal purposes This framework contains the teacher as researcher, action research and reflective practitioner traditions, as well as the work undertaken by subject associations in the USA and the UK. Research and enquiry can be individual or collaborative but largely the work is characterised by practitioners following their own agendas for research and enquiry, rather than those of the school or policy makers. The action research tradition in the USA The action research tradition can be traced back to Kurt Lewin (1946) and John Collier (1945). These two were concerned with a form of research that would redress some of the social imbalances, promote democratic forms of leadership and address the needs of disenfranchised groups. Corey (1953) built on the Deweyan idea of enquiry and advocatedaction research specifically for the study of education. He felt that it would help teachers to make better pedagogical decisions and his work focused on curriculum problems. Action research here was a collaborative group activity, with those in higher education or outside of the classroom often leading the collaboration. Action research was generally seen as a cyclical process of identification of a problem area; selection of a specific problem; the collection of evidence on actions; inferring generalisations from the evidence regarding the degree to which the goal had been achieved; and the continuous retesting of the generalisations. Others, however, saw action research as a linear (Taba & Noel, 1957) and hypothesis testing process. Action research fell into disrepute in the USA in the 1960s due to the dominance of the positivistic paradigm in research; the use of action research as an in-service education method rather than a methodology of knowledge production; and a shift in the form of educational research at a federal level, whereby research and development centres were set up in universities across the country (Zeichner & Noffke, 2001). Zeichner and Noffke (2001) show that the teacher research movement re-emerged in the USA in the 1980s influenced by the growing acceptance of qualitative and case study methods; the pioneering work of many teachers of writing, who conducted case studies on the teaching of writing; the increased emphasis on action research in university programmes and the reflective practitioner movement inspired by the work of Schön (1983). It included conceptual work, both theoretical and philosophical, and empirical research. Included in empirical research is journal work; oral inquiries in groups; classroom studies based on observation, interview and document collection. Zeichner and Noffke (2001) note that despite this resurgence, ‘Much practitioner research, however, still remains as part of a fugitive literature that is accessible only locally’ (p. 304). It remains a knowledge that is largely shared orally at conferences and other meetings. Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1993) define teacher research as ‘systematic intentional inquiry by teachers about their own school and classroom work’ (pp. 23-24). They argue that this is the purpose of practitioner research and enquiry. This tradition ofresearch and enquiry undertaken by practitioners in their own subject area is also to be found in the UK. The teacher-as-researcher movement in the UK Stenhouse initiated much of this work while at the University of East Anglia. He coined the term teacher-as-researcher in 1975. He argued that, ‘It is teachers who in the end will change the world of the school by understanding it’ (1981) and that being an extended professional involved studying the work of teaching and researching it oneself, not leaving it to others (1975). It involved three main elements: • ‘The commitment to systematic questioning of one’s own teaching as a basis for development. • The commitment and the skills to study one’s own teaching and • The concern to question and to test theory in practice’ (p. 143). Research and enquiry were connected to school-based curriculum developments such as ‘Man a Course of Study’, the ‘Humanities Curriculum Project’ and later the ‘Ford Teaching Project’ and ‘Teacher-Student Interaction and Quality of Learning Project’ (Elliott, 1976-1977; Elliott & Ebutt, 1991). Stenhouse (1979), Elliott (1976), Rudduck (1998) and Adelman (1993) were all concerned to develop and document developments that were ‘bottom up’, made the curriculum more relevant to the life themes of students, and changed pedagogy to employ more interactive and discussion-based approaches. In the UK, Elliott (1991) argued that action research was a distinct form of research, distinguished by its aims to transform practice not just study it. He summarised the methodology thus: ‘It is directed towards the realization of an educational ideal (e.g. as represented by a pedagogical aim); It focuses on changing practice to make it more consistent with the ideal; It gathers evidence of the extent to which the practice is consistent/inconsistent with the ideal and seeks explanations for inconsistencies by gathering evidence about the operation of contextual factors;It problematizes some of the tacit theories which underpin and shape practice (i.e. taken-for-granted beliefs and norms), and It involves practitioners in generating and testing action-hypotheses about how to effect worthwhile educational change’ (p25). Elliott and the British researchers were concerned with the transformation of practice, not just the improvement of teacher decision-making. This overlaps with the second framework of research and enquiry undertaken for primarily political purposes. 2. Research and enquiry undertaken for primarily political purposes Those working within this framework conceive of research and enquiry as primarily to increase democracy and justice (Elliott, 1991; Lewin, 1946; Carr & Kemmis, 1986) or the rights of the oppressed (Freire, 1970). It includes the following conceptions. Critical emancipatory action research Carr worked at the University of East Anglia and took to Deakin University in Australia ideas from work with John Elliott and colleagues, where he worked with Kemmis. They developed emancipatory action research, an approach based on the ideas of Habermas, which challenged the former approaches and saw them as conservative. They saw action research as a series of cycles of planning, acting, observing and reflecting. ‘Action research is a form of collective self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their social or educational practices, as well as their understanding of these practices and the situation in which these practices are carried out’ (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988, p. 5). Participatory research Participatory research has taken place most fully in Latin America, Africa and Asia (e.g. Freire, 1970). It differs in that it is rooted in liberation pedagogy and aims to ‘produce knowledge and action directly useful to a group of people through research, adult education and s ocio-political action. The second aim is to empower people through asecond and deeper level through the process of constructing their own knowledge.’ (Reason, 1994, p. 328) The aim is to engage the people in every stage of the research process and to alter the normal power relations between researcher and researched, by engaging those inside and outside the social situation in devising every stage of the research process. The outsider is usually more in the role of facilitator. Key issues arising from these traditions If we examine these traditions we see that individual and collaborative practitioner research and enquiry has largely occurred in collaboration with those in universities or others working outside the mainstream educational system. It has involved personal and political purposes, but has been seen primarily as a form of ‘bottom up’ practitioner research and enquiry that is outside of the institutional and policy making frameworks, or indeed aims to critique them. This independence was highly prized and debates have ensued about attempts to capture or colonise practitioner research and enquiry. Colonisers have included academics as well as policy makers. Research was conceptualised by Stenhouse (1981) as the basis for teaching that was critical and this was the basis for teacher development. The audience for the research was the ‘village’ of the school or the individual practitioner, not necessarily the wider educational community. Cochran Smith (2001) argues for the importance of this conception of enquiry and for the generation of local knowledge: ‘Evaluation might be measured by learning gains in the student or by emphasising that critique of curriculum standards and practices … with inquiry as outcome. The focus on how teacher candidates work with professional commitments to construct local knowledge, open their decision making strategies to critique ... with multiple perspectives and use the research of others as generative of new questions and strategies’ (p. 537). This argument for the importance and distinctiveness of the knowledge generated by practitioners links to the work of Gibbons et al. (1994), as noted by Hargreaves (1999) who distinguished between Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge. Mode 1 knowledge is tacit, generalisable and more similar to traditional academic research. Mode 2 knowledgeproduction is increasingly produced in the context of practice itself – in industry and the professions. ‘Out of Mode 1 grows Mode 2 knowledge production, which is applied, problem-focused, trans-disciplinary, heterogeneous, hybrid, demand-driven, entrepreneurial, accountability-tested, embedded in networks … Mode 1 knowledge is not created and then applied: it evolves within the context of its application, but then may not fit neatly into Mode 1 knowledge structures’ (Hargreaves 1999, p. 136). Practitioner research and enquiry can be seen as Mode 2 knowledge production. 3. Current conceptions and developments There have been some important recent developments in this field. Stimulated by criticisms of educational research in general and in particular of the credibility and usefulness of research produced in university departments (Hillage et al., 1998), different claims for practitioner research have been put forward. Practitioner research as evidence-based practice The arguments put forward by Hargreaves in 1999 were that there was an ‘urgent need for better professional knowledge about the management of schools and effective teaching and learning. This demand arises in part because university-based researchers have not hitherto been very successful in either the creation or dissemination of such knowledge’ (p. 122). He argued that education should learn from industry and medicine in creating knowledge. Hargreaves argues for a more central and different place for practitioner research in knowledge creation and he links it directly to the agenda of school improvement. The debate was also met by a range of initiatives by government and other bodies in the UK such as the Teacher Training Agency, the Department for Education and Science (DfEE, 2000), the National College for School Leadership, Networked Learning Communities, the National Union of Teachers and the General Teaching Council, all ofwhich aimed to support practitioner research through various initiatives. Examples of these initiatives are: Best Practice Research Scholarships (TTA, 2000); the National Union of Teachers’ Scholarships; the National College of School Leadership’s promotion of practitioner research through a range of means including attached research associates and support for the development of Networked Learning Communities. A Teacher Research Panel was established by the GTC and TTA to develop practitioner involvement. Research consortia were established by the TTA (TTA, 1998a & 1998b). Some of these initiatives were based on the conception of research and enquiry as evidence-based practice (TTA, 1996) but the Best Practice Research Scholarships were the most significant in the field of individual practitioner research and enquiry. They gave rise to a further conception of practitioner research and enquiry. Practitioner research and enquiry as best practice research This conception differs from the arguments put forward by Hargreaves in that teachers were working on their own agendas and it was much more in the domain of personal practitioner research. An evaluation of the BPRS scheme conducted by Cardiff School of Social Sciences (Furlong, et al., 2003). found that ‘lone scholars’ undertook 70% of projects and that 67% of them were classroom teachers. The largest numbers of project were classified as ‘subject based’ and 55% focused on aspects of pedagogy. An analysis of the BPRS website (June 2004) showed the following as the major areas of research and enquiry undertaken: Table 1 Analysis of the BPRS site on June 2004 Major areas of research Percentage in each area Cross-curricular 36 English 20 Maths 11.5 Science 8.7 Geography 4.3Topics researched Percentage in each area ICT- use of 13 (n 115) Thinking skills 12 (n 106) Specific teaching strategies 11 (n 96) Attainment - raising of 8 (n74) Special Educational Needs 5 (n46) Assessment of learning 4 (n 38) Behavioural issues 4 (n37) So this scheme seemed to reflect the individual practitioner research and enquiry traditions described earlier. Some have seen this as an attempt to harness or colonise practitioner research to serve the purposes of policy makers and to restrict the agenda of what is researched. Presage et al. (2003) highlight some of the tensions of purpose and style in the BPRS Scheme. They argue that the scheme was primarily aimed at raising pupil standards and that this was in tension with teacher development purposes. Outcomes were measured solely in terms of pupil outcomes. Each proposal was asked to define the way that the suggested research would raise standards. ‘This aim remains paramount and will form the underlying rationale for departmental dissemination strategy’ (DFEE, letter 28 September 2000 p. 3 cited in Presage et al., 2001). High quality research was seen as a prime aim of the scheme. Higher Education Institutions were asked to ‘Support teacher using research processes to investigate their classroom practices as a valuable tool for building knowledge and understanding about raising standards of teaching and learning … ensuring high quality research’ (Estelle Morris, 2000). Presage et al. (2001) highlight the tensions in these aspirations. Research is often a slow and deliberative process, which if it is to be of high quality requires that issues of validity and generalisability be explored. There may be confusion here between the Mode 1 knowledge production and the Mode 2 referred to earlier. The extent to which useful andmeaningful individual practitioner research can be transferred to other contexts or produced amidst the pressures of teaching is one that needs further exploration and research. Presage et al. (2003) also argue, as did Stenhouse, that critical reflection is central to good research and this involves being critical of both practice and the research process. ‘The development of critical intelligence may not be the intentions of the BPRS scheme, where the public language ‘raising standards’, ‘research outcomes’, ‘best practice’ sets a specific agenda’ (Presage et al., 2003, p. 62). The TTA (TTA, 2000) characterised the projects undertaken in 1999 as having the following qualities: • ‘The research looks at how thing are done as well as whether they should be done and does in relation to pupil outcomes. • The projects contain a wealth of detail of teaching learning processes in classrooms. • Many of them are cumulative; they build effectively on previous projects, moving the work forward progressively. • The projects start from and try to contribute to what’s known already. This shapes methods and analysis rather being an ‘add-on’. • The projects are steered and supported by colleagues able to combine sympathy and support with challenge and relevant expert knowledge’ (p. 11). The report for the OECD (DfES, 2002) on research and development in the UK concluded thus in relation to these initiatives to develop and support practitioner research and enquiry: ‘While progress is being made there is no justification for complacency. The “juries” of researchers, teachers, policy-makers and funders are still out on the progress made over the last five years’ (p. 24). The report identified the need to continue ‘to develop and make more transparent the criteria for judging quality across the range ofmethodologies in educational research; to develop greater demand for, understanding of and opportunities to participate in research amongst practitioners; to provide more development opportunities in research methods; and to improving the access to currently available “best” evidence’(p. 24). These recent developments emphasise the role and importance of practitioner research and enquiry but there can be tensions in terms of the agenda for research and the conceptualisations of practitioner research and enquiry. A summary of the purposes and conceptions of practitioner research and enquiry So if these traditions are examined we see the following purposes and conceptions of practitioner research and enquiry: For practitioners to develop their own practice through understanding particular or general aspects of practice or solving pedagogical problems. To address issues of power and injustice, through critiquing policy, promoting equity and seeking to optimise the social conditions of practice for practitioners and learners. Contributing to official agendas by validating and disseminating ‘best practice’. Contributing to public knowledge about education, teaching and learning. The effects of practitioners engaging in research and enquiry There is a growing body of evidence about the effects of practitioners engaging in research and enquiry. First, we see that through engaging in research teachers gain a better understanding of their practice and ways to improve it. This often involves close studies of children’s learning or curriculum innovations (Elliott & Adelman, 1973; Dadds, 1995; Posch, 1993), as well as examining theories that are part of educational practice. There is still an ongoing debate about whether practitioner research has contributed significantly to public knowledge, but there are some significant and promising examples of this e.g. Hart et al., 2004. There is some evidence that engaging in this type of research and enquiry givesteachers an enhanced sense of the student’s perspective in the classroom (McLaughlin & Black Hawkins, 2004). Richert’s (1996) study of the effects on teachers of engaging in research and enquiry in the Bay Region IV Professional Development Consortium mirrors the findings of many others (Elliott, 1991; Dadds, 1995; Zeichner, 1999; TTA 2000; McLaughlin & Black Hawkins, 2004). The effects were: It resulted in a renewed feeling of pride and excitement about teaching and in a revitalised sense of oneself as a teacher. The research experience reminded teachers of their intellectual capability and the importance of that capability to their professional lives. The research experience allowed teachers to see that the work that they do in school matters. The research experience reconnected many of the teachers to their colleagues and to their initial commitments to teach. The research experience encouraged teacher to develop an expanded sense of what teachers can and ought to do. The research experience restored in teachers a sense of professionalism and power in the sense of having a voice. The conditions for practitioner research and enquiry When one looks at studies of the conditions for practitioner research and enquiry (e.g. Cordingley et al., 2003; Presage et al., 2003; James & Worrall, 2000; TTA, 2000; Elliott, 1 1991) the following emerge as important factors in its power and effectiveness. External and internal agents support it. External agents, often colleagues in universities, are important in providing research knowledge and training. An example of the need for experienced mentoring is in the TTA (2000) study. They 1 Many of these factors are discussed more fully in the two ensuing sections, especially those that relate to school or network learning.found it was important that the focus was systematic and manageable so that practitioners were not swamped by problems or enthusiasm. Internal support from heads, senior management and teacher colleagues is also significant. Access to libraries and other information resources in an accessible form was also important to teachers. There is the support of a group. This can be an internal or external group but it is characterised by support, development and problem solving around the research process. This links to the next point. There is a process of critical debate in either a partnership or community, which is also supportive. This was one of the key issues in the Stenhousian conception of research as critical enquiry. The support of the headteacher is vital if change goes beyond one classroom, and at least one member of each school group should have direct access to the formal structures of school management in order to influence decisions concerning the removal of institutional barriers to change. The chances for development are enhanced in collaborative research if at least one member of each team has experience of research and development. Where practitioner research and enquiry aims to influence more than the individual practitioner’s classroom then the involvement and commitment of the senior decision-makers is very important. When the focus of the research and enquiry is important to the practitioner. The commitment and ownership of the problem or the topic are clearly linked to the motivation to undertake and act on the research and enquiry process. There is time, space and the appropriate resources to undertake the research and enquiry. The financial support of the BPRS scheme (TTA, 2000) was found to be very important. Dilemmas in and debates about practitioner research and enquiry Many of the dilemmas and debates have already been referred to and are highly interrelated. They are as follows:Knowledge construction, validity and trustworthiness There has been much debate about the value of practitioner research and of the criteria on which it should be evaluated. Should it be undertaken with a view to meeting the same criteria as those on which academic research is judged, or not? Some have emphasised the contrast between the expertise needed for teaching and that needed for research (Hitchcock & Hughes, 1995). Practitioners researching their own practice have been seen as a distraction from teaching by some, although the interaction between researchers and practitioners has been seen as a valuable synergy (Huberman, 1996; Ruthven, 2002). The criteria for the validity of practitioner research are rarely the same as those for judging other forms of research. James et al. (2003) argue that the warranted claims appropriate to the outcomes of varied research projects are different and different kinds of assurances about trustworthy conclusions will be sought by and of different groups of researchers. Other important considerations that will affect the warrant are: • The intended users of the research. • The cumulative nature of the research. • The theoretical framework drawn on and generated. • The nature of the empirical work. McIntyre (2004) suggests that we view educational research as a continuum of possibilities. He argues that there are three general criteria for judging educational research: its usefulness, its contribution to knowledge, and its methodological rigour. If the continuum of possibilities includes, for example, reflective teaching, action research and researching teaching and learning, then the application of these criteria would be different depending on the type of research being undertaken. Anderson and Herr (1994) offer a definition of validity for practitioner research. They argue for five criteria for practitioner research: i. Democratic validity: the extent to which the research is done in collaboration with all parties who have a stake in the problem under investigation, and multiple perspective and interests are taken into account.ii. Outcome validity: the extent to which actions occur that lead to a resolution of the problem under study or to the completion of an action research cycle. iii. Process validity: the adequacy of the processes used in the different phases of the research such as data collection, analysis etc. This validity includes the issue of triangulation as a guard against viewing events from one data source or perspective. It also goes beyond research methods to include several general criteria such as the plausibility of the research. iv. Catalytic validity: taken directly from Lather’s (1991) work. This validity describes the degree to which the research energises the participants to know reality so that they can transform it. v. Dialogic validity: the degree to which the research promotes a reflective dialogue among all the participants in the research. So the critical outcome for Anderson and Herr relates to changes in practice and in the dialogue among participants, not to contributions to public knowledge. Their view is attractive but many, like Somekh (1993), find it demeaning to practitioner researchers. This position of Anderson’s and Herr’s does not address whether the research needs to be disseminated to a wider group. Problems of dissemination and sharing The dissemination of knowledge beyond the immediate group or the practitioner is a major issue. The BPRS scheme used a website to assist this. Others have noted that many practitioners are uneasy with the discourse of the current traditional academic literature and lack the time to write up their findings for others in the wider educational community. Whether it is realistic to expect practitioners focused on their own purposes to write up their research in conventional ways, in academic journals for example, has also been debated. Complexity of the setting for research The complexity of classrooms and the inability to use students as experimental subjects means that undertaking worthwhile research is highly complex. This relates to the issues of validity and the criteria suggested by Anderson and Herr is one way of addressing this issue.Conditions for practitioner research and enquiry to flourish Given the recent increased claims for practitioner research and enquiry the conditions, i.e. the time, space and resources for practitioners to conduct research and enquiry on top of a highly demanding job, is a serious one. There is a strong argument for teachers to have the necessary conditions to undertake this activity, no matter how rewarding. This would necessitate a change in current working arrangements and be very expensive. Recent initiatives such as the BPRS and the like previously described, have explored ways of addressing issues of funding and the resourcing of practitioner research. However, if there is to be an expectation that practitioners should conduct rigorous research, then radical changes would be required to teachers’ conditions. Support for the process and the development of the very particular problems of this methodology The methodology used by practitioners needs to be acknowledged by those who have expectations of this mode of knowledge generation, and the issue of the warrants for this work needs to be further researched and developed. This relates to the role of those in higher education who have been criticised for not developing research that is useful, easy to access and assists those in the classroom. The collaboration of those in higher education and practitioner researchers is one that continues to need development. Partnerships between these arms of educational research have been seen to be powerful when well-focused, whilst polarisation of the two is unhelpful. This relates to the purposes and conceptions of practitioner research. The potential differences and tensions have been highlighted earlier. These include concerns that practitioner research can be reduced to an approach which serves only a standards agenda controlled by policy makers, and that it is in danger of being colonised. Elliott (1991) argued strongly for practitioner research and enquiry to continue to have a role in going against the grain and in critiquing policy and practice. These different purposes are not necessarily exclusive.SCHOOLS AS RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS Donald McIntyre University of Cambridge Faculty of Education Introduction This section involves a major shift of perspective from that of the previous section. The latter was concerned with the very robust and well established tradition of individual teachers engaging in research or enquiry on their own or in collaborating groups. But here we have to concern ourselves with the idea of schools as institutions committing and organising themselves to conduct or support, and to use, educational research. This shift from personal projects to institutional projects has profound implications. There is of course some considerable continuity in the ideas involved. Most fundamentally, there is continuity in that the primary purposes are to question current or proposed practices and so to improve the quality of educational practice. Just as the research of individual teachers has been most commonly aimed at their own professional development, and thus the improvement of both their educational understanding and their professional practice, so the dominant concern of schools as research institutions is with their institutional learning, and thus with the improvement of both their policies and their practice. And just as the aspirations of some individual teachers have been to go beyond development of their own thinking and practice, to challenge and enhance existing understandings, settlements, policies and practices more widely, so there has been some aspiration at the school level for schools not just to be concerned with their own improvement but also to become ‘knowledge- creating’ institutions. It may even be argued that it is historically misleading to distinguish strongly between the tradition of individual teachers engaging in research on their practice and schools seeking to become research institutions. Elliott (1991), for example, in his account of the origins of educational action research in England, suggests that in the 1960s some secondary modern schools developed in which innovative teachers were able, through debate and enquiry, to challenge and change the schools’ curricula. His account suggests that, although it wascollaborating individual teachers who were the prime movers in such developments, one crucial facilitating condition was ‘a management structure which supported a “bottom-up” rather than a “top-down” change process, and “a collegial, rather than an individualistic or bureaucratic form of accountability”’ (p. 7). He emphasises too the importance of a ‘free, open and tolerant professional discourse among all the school staff, fostered by frequent face- to-face interactions’ (p. 6). As Elliott’s account develops, however, the initiative continues over the subsequent decades to lie with individual teachers, usually collaborating with external academics like himself. And while Elliott clearly recognises the importance of facilitation from people in senior management positions, this facilitation was not found to be self-generating or self-perpetuating: ‘It was as if the internal facilitators required their strategies within schools to be validated by a strong external support team possessing influential sponsorship’ (ibid., p. 41). More generally, the idea of schools developing themselves as research institutions has seemed to be much more complex than that of teacher- as-researcher, and one that has developed more slowly. It is important to note here, however, a striking resemblance between the picture that Elliott paints of these innovative secondary modern schools of the 1960s and the characteristics of schools identified in the 1990s as those in which staff have operated as ‘professional learning communities’. The use of this concept for thinking about schools was stimulated by the work of such organisation theorists as Senge (1990) and Sergiovanni (1994). Hord (1997), reviewing research findings on professional learning communities, as the staff of ‘change- ready schools (those that value change and seek change that will improve their schools)’, emphasises first inclusiveness: all teaching staff should understand the proposed mission for change and should be involved in deciding about change. School principals in such schools work supportively as peers and colleagues with teachers, engaging with them in professional development, being in the middle of things, easily accessible and making opportunities to stimulate conversation about teaching and learning. Active support is given by leaders for teachers seeking to develop their teaching strategies and skills. A culture of inquiry and questioning, searching for new ideas, critical thinking, dialogue, debate and collective problem-solving is deliberately fostered. Partly this is done by creating conditions for teachers to work together, protected time and space being crucial resources, and partly through policies which prioritise effective communication, collaboration and an undeviating focus on meaningful student learning. Emphasis is placed too on fostering community solidarity withinthe staff and the development of trust and mutual respect among colleagues. Conflicts are not avoided but are actively addressed and resolved through discussion and debate. Fullan (1991, p. 353) is quoted approvingly as recommending ‘a redesign of the workplace so that innovation and improvement are built into the daily activities of teachers.’ These then are the suggested characteristics of schools in which staff are committed to learning and to changing their practices in the light of that learning. These might then be necessary but probably not sufficient conditions for schools to become research institutions. It was primarily in the 1990s that the idea of schools as research institutions developed, apparently in close relationship to ideas about schools as self-improving institutions. Building on the already well established idea that it is on their thoughtful research into their own practice that teachers’ professional growth can be most fruitfully based, the idea was promoted that school improvement was closely tied to teachers’ professional development (Hargreaves, 1994; Bradley et al., 1994) and so to schools in which teachers’ research was actively promoted as facilitating school improvement. One widely influential version of such ideas was in the movement for Professional Development Schools in the USA (Darling- Hammond, 1994). Just like the Professional Development Schools initiative, so more generally the movement for schools improving themselves through becoming research institutions has been internally quite diverse. At least five different and not closely related strands may be distinguished, and although it is the fourth of these which is most central and which will merit most attention, all five are potentially significant facets of such schools: • schools using academic research • schools making use of their ‘data-rich environments’ • school self-evaluation • corporate engagement of teachers as action researchers • involving students and other members of schools as researchers It would be wrong however to suggest that the only important argument that has been advanced for schools becoming research institutions is that it is a way in which each school can improve itself. A quite different argument that has bubbled for decades is that the kinds