Emer Smyth

Educational Research and Policy Reform: Unpacking the Relationship

Thursday 25 August, 11:00 - 12:00
Location: NM - Theatre L

The relationship between educational research and policy making has been the subject of much debate. This presentation seeks to unpack the relationship by using a case study of research on lower secondary education in Ireland and how it has fed into policy reform measures. It also suggests the need for research to seek to inform policy and practice at multiple levels – system and school.

In providing a case study of the research-policy relationship, the discussion draws on the Post-Primary Longitudinal Study, which followed a cohort of young people in twelve case-study Irish schools from first year of secondary education to the end of upper secondary level. The study placed a strong emphasis on student voice, exploring school organisation and process from the perspective of young people themselves. The presentation focuses on three key issues which emerged from student accounts: what they see as good teaching; the nature of teacher-student relations; and whether they see their schooling as adequate preparation for the future. The presentation discusses the challenges in informing policy using mixed methods research and describes the way in which the findings fed into the lower secondary (junior cycle) reform agenda.

The proposed model of lower secondary reform promised an emphasis on the kinds of active teaching and learning methods which students find engaging and much more flexibility at the school level to engage in course design. However, it has encountered strong opposition from the teacher unions, especially on the issue of whether assessment should be school-based. The discussion traces the nature of the debate and the lessons which can be learned from trying to effect system change. From a more positive perspective, it argues that, even in a highly centralised system, schools have considerable autonomy over the kinds of practices which influence student outcomes and argues for the importance of disseminating research to school leaders and teachers to facilitate ‘bottom-up’ change.

About Emer Smyth

Emer Smyth is a Research Professor and Head of the Social Research Division at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). Her main research interests centre on education, school to work transitions, gender and comparative methodology. She has conducted a number of studies on the effects of schooling contexts on student outcomes, emphasising the importance of taking account of student voice in policy development. She is on the management team of the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study and has published a number of reports and journal articles based on GUI data, most recently focusing on the factors influencing child wellbeing. Her current research includes a study of the transition to primary education, a review of the School Completion programme, a study of teacher induction practices, and comparative analyses of the relationship between subject choice and post-school outcomes.

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The aim of the ‘European Conference on Educational Research’ is to create an inclusive platform for initiating, reporting, discussing and promoting high quality educational research ...
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