Education research has been conducted in three groups since 1996. Since then, their activity has grown, both in the volume of externally funded grants and contracts awarded and in strength of publications. They have been reconstituted as Recognised Research Groups (RRGs) within the University’s internal arrangements for research management. This has assisted redefinition of individual research aims and activities, and has secured a closer fit with developing research and teaching priorities within the School of Education. Government led reforms of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers and growth of interest in ICT for learning, in the context of new initiatives for cross-border collaboration in Education following the Good Friday Agreement, encouraged establishment of a research group in Professional Development and School Organisation. The post-compulsory education research group, which had included a number of internationally distinguished researchers, whose work figured prominently in the 1996 submission [Field (to Warwick) and Lovett (emeritus)], has been substantially re-formed. Confirmation of support from UNESCO for the Department’s wide-ranging research and development in education as a medium for development of democracy and human rights, as assisted consolidation, expansion and formation of new research plans in these areas.
External constraints on resources have included the reduction in the unit of funding for teaching in Education, withdrawal of Department of Education (NI) support for teachers undertaking advanced and research degree courses, and successive reorganisations of teacher education provision in Northern Ireland. Recognising these, the University has renewed its commitment to Education as a field of study and research. Five new Lecturer appointments based on research, as well as teaching credentials, have been made in the last year. The University has continued to increase its internally allocated financial support for Education Research and has established a Centre for Access and Lifelong Learning (CALL-NI). Lifelong Learning opportunities and provision are identified as central features of the University’s Corporate Plan: http://www.ulst.ac.uk/corporateplan/strategic.html. Among these objectives are two with particular implications for education research, namely the University’s commitment to "widening access, increasing participation and the promotion of opportunities for lifelong learning" and to "seek strategic partnerships with the new regional assembly and regional development agencies in the pursuit of social and economic regeneration and social inclusion".
Research Active (RA) staff are supported by the University within Research Units of Assessment (RUAs). Each RUA is led by a Research Co-ordinator and is accountable through the Research Office to the Research Committee, which provides advice and periodic reporting facilities for active research staff and assistance with financial and grant application procedures. The work of research graduate students and academic staff supervisors within the Education RUA (hereinafter termed ‘the Department’) receives administrative support from the Faculty’s Research Graduate School.
Organisation of Research
The Department has 22 research active and 16 research contract staff distributed across several Schools working in cognate fields. Just under two-thirds of research active staff are in the School of Education, with the remaining third in Social and Community Sciences, and the Faculties of Informatics and Humanities. Their work is supported and monitored by the University’s Research Committee, which appoints a Research Co-ordinator (Strain) to undertake a broad management and accountability rôle on its behalf. The members of this department are sub-divided into three Recognised Research Groups:
A) Professional Development and School Organisation
Research projects in this group (Director: Dr. J. Dallat) have included whole school development, literacy, differentiation, needs of newly qualified teachers, ICT as a medium of pupil and professional learning, education and the law, and the management of educational change in organisational settings. Research issues and questions have included:
The professional needs of teachers with management and leadership responsibilities, including their use of support systems (e.g. applications of CD-ROM and video-conferencing technologies to support teachers’ professional development). Austin‘s work has explored how ICT, applied to the enhancement of learning within the school curriculum, can facilitate greater mutual understanding among children and young people in the North and South of Ireland; significant new work in this area has been commissioned in the last 18 months, following new political and constitutional developments affecting education governance in Northern Ireland and the possibility of future collaboration with education developments in the Republic of Ireland. The In-TENT project (Infusing Teacher Education with New Technologies) evaluates the rôle of ICT in Initial Teacher Education through collaborative, institutional case studies, and explores the development of new evaluation models, generic and specific, as well as enhanced ICT competence among student teachers and in staff implementation of school policies and procedures. Collaboration includes researchers from five participating Universities. North’s work also has specialised in professional and organisational contexts of application. His work (North, 1997; 2000) examines the question: ‘Do, and if so how do, experienced teachers adjust management practice when exposed to training in the use of ICT mediated information systems’? His contribution to national developments in this area is reflected in significant contributions to a BECTA handbook (North, R., Connecting Schools, Networking People: ICT planning, purchasing and good practice British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, [for NGfL], 1998, pp. 66). The early professional development of newly qualified teachers has been studied by Moran and Dallat, in a DENI funded project to explore and develop forms of mentoring in support of newly appointed secondary teachers.
Curriculum studies: Marriott and Abbott (see RA6) have carried out a DENI funded study of differentiation among learners in the primary core subjects of the Northern Ireland Curriculum, including teacher strategies and in-service support; and a CCEA funded study on the organisation and management of resources in primary schools. Marriott also has a special interest in imaginative writing and literature for young learners (1998). Mentoring, as an individual and organisational platform for development of collegial and collaborative approaches to learning and teaching in primary schools, is a specialism for Moran and Dallat and has been supported by a DENI funded pilot project. Other specialisms in this group include: curriculum and teacher education studies in religious education (Barnes), poetry and drama (O’Hara), children’s reading (Marriott), media literacy (Collins, J.); the impact of educational reforms, and of professional development courses employing action research in the context of reform (Hutchinson), drawing on an earlier ESF study and on work over many years with experienced teachers undertaking an MSc (Education Management); education, privatisation and the law (Parry); critical and historical studies of education policy and school management in the UK (Strain; Hutchinson) and Ireland (Dallat). Milliken has explored school ethos in Northern Ireland, and the implications of leadership styles and forms of governance for school community relationships.
B) Inclusive Learning & Social Policy
Research in this group (Director: Prof. G. McAleavy) has focused on removal of barriers to learning, as a dimension of social and personal development. It relates closely to associated University and regional initiatives in lifelong learning. Barriers to learning are examined in relation to how technological change and organisational practices enable and restrict learning opportunity. Area and sectoral studies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have explored research questions focused on the improvement of health and social and personal education, bullying, sexual identity, virtual learning environments, access to health and learning about health, new forms of health service delivery and of professional training in nursing, and the development of business enterprise and co-operative communities in areas of economic decline. The outcomes from this research are designed to inform policy in lifelong learning, the organisation of health and community development initiatives, and to provide an evidential basis for policy makers and professionals in these fields. Methodologies employed are eclectic and use a wide range of quantitative and qualitative tools (including structural equation modelling).
Major studies have been undertaken in: providing for adult learners’ needs, following college incorporation (McAleavy); health education provision in schools (McAleavy); bullying in schools, a major current concern in NI and the subject of further research funding initiatives by the NI government following successful pilot work by this group (Collins, K; see RA6); health promotion among adolescent girls (Irvine; see RA6); retention rates in FE colleges (McAleavy); voice strain disorders among teachers; and measures to stimulate work related learning in the context of new and ICT supported agri-business initiatives (McAleavy). The form and aims of the study exemplify strikingly how new inter-professional research approaches can generate knowledge in areas where welfare and learning efficacy may be inter-dependent, and are inescapably mediated by professional (expert) knowledge and practice. The project will examine whether mediating professional models and discourses subvert the enabling objectives of care delivery and their implicit learning opportunities. Another new project, funded by a major (Irish) national charity and social welfare agency (the Society of St. Vincent de Paul), will employ a similar approach to the study of mediating factors in the maintenance and distribution of trans-generational poverty in Ireland. This group was also awarded a BT Research Award, in open, national competition, for work to develop networked distance learning opportunities for small farmers and SMEs.
Pritchard’s work on re-unification, education reform and social change in Germany has been supported by individual research grants from the ESRC, the German Academic Exchange Service and the Leverhulme Trust, from which she holds a Research Fellowship. Her work occupies a leading position in the study of the changing relations between religion, social beliefs and educational and organisational reform, with particular reference to the effects of social and political reform in Germany and Eastern Europe. Strain’s publications on lifelong learning have received attention in a number of prominent papers concerned with conceptual and policy oriented analysis of lifelong learning issues. His recent research has included a study of policies for educational disadvantage (Department of Education) and identification of social learning through third sector enterprises (Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister). The work of O’Dubhchair examines the capacity building opportunities of ICT and new virtual networks (the Fermanagh University partnership) for rural regeneration and development in sparsely populated sub-regions. Rooney’s research is focused more particularly on social rôle and personal development, with opportunities for women as agents in politics and community capacity building. McClenaghan works closely with community-based professionals as agents of change and personal capability. Her work explores how professional workers, in partnership with locally based social movements, mediate the developmental goals of the state through engagement with community members in reflective practice. In a wider context, she has worked collaboratively with the University of Hokkaido (Japan) and with community education developments in Germany and Denmark, through networks sustained within the European Society for Research in the Education of Adults (ESREA).
C) Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy
This research group (Director: Prof. A. Smith) provides a focus for research and development on new rôles for education within divided societies. It has a special interest in education and the conflict in Northern Ireland (Smith, 1999) and has specific expertise related to the curriculum theme of Education for Mutual Understanding (Smith and Robinson, 1996); the teaching of History in divided societies (McCully, 1998); and the development of integrated schools (Morgan, 1999). A significant strength of the group is the relevance of its work to policy (exemplified most notably in Morgan’s (1999) publications) and practice (evidenced by projects that have included collaboration with Channel 4 television on the rôle of the media in the teaching of controversial issues (McCully, O’Doherty and Smyth, 1999). The group has also completed a study funded by the Royal Irish Academy on History teaching and national identity, and participation in the ESRC Project, ‘British Island Stories: History, Identity and Nationhood’ (McCully, 1999).
The regional focus has also given rise to research on the critical position of plural values in contemporary society and their rôle in education systems and processes. Projects in this area have included:
The work of the group is acknowledged formally in government proposals for a review of the Northern Ireland Curriculum. A major research and development project related to the introduction of citizenship to the Northern Ireland Curriculum is currently being undertaken in partnership with the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (NICCEA). Further evidence of impact on policy is provided by the group’s involvement in research into the selective system of grammar and secondary schools in Northern Ireland (Gallagher and Smith, 2000), and this has also formed the basis for an official review of the system, now being conducted by a government appointed Review Body, which will examine the research findings in detail, carry out wide consultation and prepare advice for government. Extensive engagement by this research group in the evaluation of government policy initiatives and implementation of strategic educational and social reforms, requires a heavy commitment to the process of public dissemination and consultation. The publication of a number of significant research reports and dissemination papers has ensued.
International projects include a Commonwealth study of young people’s understanding of human rights (Smith and Birthistle, 1997); a major project on education and social cohesion in Bosnia supported by World Bank funding; and links with the National Institute of Education to support education reforms in Sri Lanka. The relevance of this work has been recognised internationally through the establishment of a UNESCO Chair in Education, with responsibility for a research and development programme in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy. The University has made this a permanent post. A UNESCO research studentship has been established to investigate the rôle of international organisations in promoting social cohesion. A visiting academics programme has introduced new expertise in cultural pluralism (Feinberg, University of Illinois); methodology in History teaching (Barton, University of Cincinnati); and civic education (Print, University of Sydney).
Staffing Policy and Sustaining Development
The University allocates to each Department an annual Research Strategy Budget, equivalent to around £1500 pa/RA staff. This is used to support attendance by research active staff at conferences and meetings of national research bodies, SIGs and research networks; two or three each year have been relieved temporarily of teaching duties to concentrate on applications for grants or accelerate publication of completed research. Visits by distinguished Scholars are also supported by these funds.
New professorial appointments have been made to Chairs in Human Rights Education (Smith), in Further and Higher Education (McAleavy), and in European Education (Pritchard). Five new lecturer appointments to the School were made during 2000 to support new areas of teaching and developing research strengths (ICT and learning, social inclusion, Education Management, International Education). All have significant research experience and will participate fully in achieving the Department’s research plans. Two research development officers have been appointed to support strategic activities (including networking; communications and information in support of research and publications). In addition to specific duties relating to contract management and design of new research initiatives, they assist individual researchers and groups with formulation of new research proposals and the preparation of research reports for publication in professional and academic journals. The Co-ordinator is responsible for career development among Contract Research Staff (CRS); development days on ‘Sharing Good Practice’ have been arranged by the University’s Staff Development Unit to support development of Co-ordinators in this aspect of research management. Contract Research Staff contribute to research training seminars for research students, and are supported in the same way as academic staff in attendance at conferences, research seminars and specific courses related to their research and career needs, both within and outside the University. The Department’s funds are used also to provide a bridge between contract periods to maintain continuity of employment and engagement with specific research fields for a core of CR Staff.
Support for Research Students
The establishment of the Faculty Research Graduate School (FRGS) in 1998 has encouraged and effected a range of specific forms of financial, intellectual, and practical support for the Department’s research students, whose number has risen from 13 (FTE) in 1996, to around 30 (FTE) in 2000. In addition to the methodological and issue based seminars which are provided within the EdD programme, the FRGS provides an annual programme of generic research skills for all the Faculty’s research students. This programme is expected to be strengthened in the near future, as the University’s FRGSs make concerted arrangements to implement ESRC Guidelines for research student training. A postgraduate research conference is held three times a year, incorporating a constructive and rigorous monitoring of research progress with opportunity for students to relate their work to concurrent research in other disciplines, and to have their own work recognised, from an early stage, as meriting discussion and dissemination among peers. All registered research students may apply for full financial support to attend conferences relevant to their own work. A small number of full and part-time students have begun to make use of this, and have within the last year attended conferences in the UK and US. Small sums are also made available to support practical needs such as questionnaire production and distribution.