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JoTTER contributions held up as examples of classroom research at home and abroad

As in previous years, this volume of JoTTER offers a range of interesting research foci as examples of the kind of small scale studies that are possible for those busy working as teachers in schools. Of course, students on school placements have a little more time to focus on their research than most classroom teachers, but it is very impressive that relative novices such as trainees are able to balance a small-scale empirical inquiry with all the other concerns of someone being inducted into a challenging and complex professional role.

Government advisor calls for research training in initial teacher preparation

Interestingly, the UK government has recently sponsored a report on the teaching profession from Dr Ben Goldacre (Goldacre, 2013), well-known for his championing of the use of well-evidenced science. Goldacre argued the case for ‘building evidence into education’ (p.5). This paper, published online by the Department for Education, talks about teachers collecting evidence about what works best, and developing a culture where teachers routinely use evidence in their decision-making. It is difficult to imagine anyone working in a Faculty based in a building named after Donald McIntyre objecting to that!

Goldacre points out the importance of teachers learning about the nature of research in what he refers to as their ‘basic teacher training’ (p.17), so that they can be ‘critical consumers’ of research. This, of course, is exactly what happens on the PGCE course, as the various contributions to this journal testify. I would like to think that if Goldacre had happened across JoTTER in any research he may have carried out for his paper, he would have been impressed at the work already going on to prepare new teachers for a research-based profession. Perhaps one thing Goldacre was not briefed on when asked to write on this topic, is the way that what whilst he is asking for is already occurring in post-graduate teacher preparation in university-school partnerships, yet is under threat by the government’s preferred option of increasingly shifting teacher preparation away from university departments (Taber, 2013b).

In a previous editorial (see Volume 2) I referred to statements deriving from the UK government suggesting that there was an ideological preference to shift initial teacher education away from school-university partnerships to fully school-based approaches. The public rationale seemed to be that the best place to train teachers is in schools - which is of course what happens in a PGCE course, but with the bonus of time and space to prepare, reflect, share with a group of peers, undertake academic analysis of professional experiences, etc. The intention to reduce university involvement in initial teacher education still seems to be in place, although an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper based around an interview with the Faculty’s Elaine Wilson raised a number of serious doubts about its viability (

A University Education Faculty, such as that at Cambridge, is packed full of educational researchers working with a wide range of theoretical perspectives, grounded in a range of disciplines and traditions, and undertaking all kinds of research - small and large scale, classroom based, policy-directed, etc. A range of staff in the Faculty teach about research methods as a core part of their role. I would suggest that Universities are excellent places for teachers to be based during their initial teacher education if we want them to learn about and engage with educational research.

JoTTER is developing an international readership

The value of JoTTER as a source of examples of research studies that  can inform teachers in their work, and are also feasible given the various responsibilities and constraints on classroom teachers, has been pointed out by Wilson (Wilson, 2013) in her book about school-based research (an edited volume with contributions by a range of colleagues working in the Faculty). That book is published by Sage, a company with an exceptionally strong list of books about research in education and the social sciences. A new edition of my own introductory text on educational research (Taber, 2013a) has just been published by Sage. The publishers asked me to write an updated version of the text, and suggested some areas where they considered the original 2007 edition could be developed. Anyone who has read the book will know that it deconstructs and critiques aspects of a range of published studies to support those new to educational research with their own critical reading of published research (something Goldacre also seems to value highly). Some of these studies were small classroom-based studies, but not all - my intention was to help readers appreciate different kinds of research, and the assumptions different studies are built on.

The publishers felt that this could be augmented by including accounts of the kind of small-scale projects that were feasible for teachers or student teachers. I did not have to look very far for my examples, as here in JoTTER we have a range of very good examples of the kinds of things that teachers can enquire into, and what can be achieved by a single researcher trying to balance the demands of teaching with systematic enquiry into their own practice. In particular, because of the need to think about their classroom enquiries in terms of an ‘academic’ report, JoTTER papers tend to offer the reader indications of implications beyond the classroom where the work was carried out. I therefore drew out points from a range of the studies reported here in JoTTER to illustrate features of small-scale classroom research.

In setting up JoTTER we wished to recognise some of the excellent work being done by our graduate students in initial teacher education, and offer some examples from new trainees unsure what they could aspire to for their own classroom based enquiry. Yet we know that JoTTER is being accessed well beyond the Faculty. Indeed there are hundreds of hits from overseas (reminding us that reports of classroom research needs to avoid or explain parochial terms and local acronyms that those working elsewhere will not know). Here is an interesting question for you to ponder - what are top five countries where JoTTER is accessed outside of the UK?

It may not seem surprising that in ‘second place’ comes the United States. Interestingly, no European countries appear in the top 5 though, with the next most frequent locations of internet access being Malaysia, India and the Philippines. So JoTTER does seem to be developing international reach! But what about the top overseas location for readers of JoTTER. By far this is Kazakhstan: with hundreds of ‘hits’ over the past year. As some readers of this editorial will be aware, the Faculty of Education has an ongoing major project working in Kazakhstan looking at teacher development in that country. It seems that the projects reported in JoTTER not only offer examples for those new to educational research here in Cambridge, but increasingly are being used by those looking to the model used in British Universities such as Cambridge to develop their own systems for teacher education and development.

Keith S Taber
Cambridge, 2013


Goldacre, B. (2013). Building Evidence into Education. London: Department for Education.
Taber, K. S. (2013a). Classroom-based Research and Evidence-based Practice: an introduction (2nd ed.). London: Sage.
Taber, K. S. (2013b). The right medicine for educational research? Education in Chemistry, 50(3), 8. At
Wilson, E. (2013). Refining the focus for research and formulating a research question. In E. Wilson (Ed.), School-based Research: A guide for education students (pp. 24-38). London: Sage.