What is Practitioner Research and why is it important in the Early Years?
Practitioner Research is, as the name suggests, research carried out by practitioners, but importantly it is ‘for the purpose of advancing their own practice’ (McLeod 1999). It is about those involved in the delivery of a service not just trying out something new but instead deeply questioning ‘how’ and ‘why’ things are done. It is about those involved systemically gathering evidence to gain a greater knowledge of their own impact on the services that they offer and giving them a greater knowledge, understanding and confidence to make constructive changes for the better. Those people working on the front line with young children and their families, whether they know it or not, have a vast wealth of knowledge grounded in real life experiences and through developing practitioner research this knowledge can be used to improve service delivery without the need to bring in outside observers.
Although the discipline of Practitioner Research has been growing within the Early Years field in recent years it has been viewed by some as the preserve of the few and only for advanced CPD and not for widespread use across the sector. However the call for greater ‘Evidence based’ practice by several government reports in 2011 including those by Frank Field and Graham Allen, has made it imperative that the sector changes its perspective in order to meet the growing challenges that it faces. Adoption of such a paradigm also meets with Ofsted’s increased focus on ‘evidence’ to support practice. This approach is critical to check we are making progress on achieving the appropriate outcomes for children and their families and making a real difference in their lives. It is also crucial (and getting even more so in these financially constrained times) in being accountable and ensuring that services are providing the best value for money – a requisite of many funding streams, particularly for commissioned-out services. Incidentally at a time when budgets are tight effective Practitioner Research is the most cost effective way of evaluating impact because there is no need to employ outside consultants or advisors.
We also feel that there is a wider importance for practitioner research and that is to share good practice across the sector which is why we at CREC decided last year to launch BECERA – an association devoted to promoting practitioner research supported through an accessible annual conference where progressive Early Years practitioners can present and share their research in a supportive environment. Academics who work within this field are also encouraged to share their knowledge, and workshops are provided to introduce new skills and frameworks to those setting out on developing themselves as practitioner researchers. The inaugural conference was a great success and we will be holding our second conference on 15th & 16th February 2012 entitled: Evidencing Practice through Professional Inquiry.
As well as the opportunity to present papers and listen to others, there will be keynote lectures from Professors Julia & Joao Formosinho (University of Minho, Portugal) as well as from us, Professor Tony Bertram and Prof Chris Pascal.
Prof Chris Pascal & Prof Tony Bertram, Directors of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood.