Teachers face high paywall to access research free to Scots

– REVEALED: Scottish one year trial cost just £30k

– DfE will not be drawn on support for free access

– Teacher petition grows as high profile academics join the call

Teachers in England face hefty paywalls to access education research journals while their Scottish counterparts can freely access the same material under an initial deal secured by their teaching council for just £30,000.

As reported online by Schools Week last week, a petition calling on Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to provide free access to research journals

is attracting growing support – including among high-profile academics.

The petition has received a flurry of support in recent days, and Dominic Cummings, a former special advisor to former Education Secretary Michael Gove, tweeted: “When I left [in January 2014] this was in pipeline to happen, DfE accepted the case and senior officials supportive.”

Asked about this, however, a Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said the government was actively supporting efforts to make teaching more research-led, but did not address the claim that bringing in free access to e-journals had been due to happen.

The petition, set up by English teacher Dr Vincent Lien, says that free access for teachers was “absolutely fundamental” to enable teaching practice to be better informed by research.

Dr Lien set up the petition after completing a Masters of Education at Clare College, Cambridge, and being frustrated that he could no longer access academic articles as they sit behind paywalls.

The petition has received the support of Professor Chris Husbands, director of the London University’s Institute of Education; however he recognised its financial implications.

“I’m very supportive of the idea of giving access to research journals to teachers. The sticking point is that journals are commercial undertakings by private companies – publishers – so there would be a cost,” he said.

Some of those supporting the petition, however, pointed to Scotland where, since August, the 74,000 teachers registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) have had access to online journals for free.

The scheme grants access to over 1,700 education journals, and is being run by GTCS on a one-year, trial basis. Schools Week can reveal that the cost of the one year scheme is approximately £30,000, though Zoè Robertson, acting head of educational services at GTCS, said that this was “very much an introductory price”.

Ms Robertson said that reaction to the scheme had been “overwhelmingly” positive, and that around 3,000 search sessions had been carried out in the service’s first month.

She also said: “We’re only three or four months into our trial, so it would be too early to make any formal statement about [whether the trial will be extended]. But certainly early indications from the data we have on the engagement so far, and from the feedback we’ve received, it would be very hard to justify not continuing this.”

Responding to the petition, a DfE spokesperson: “The government is actively supporting initiatives to increase and improve the use of research and evidence in teaching – for example our recently launched World-class Teaching Profession consultation proposes new funding to support the establishment of a portal where research and evidence about effective teaching can be accessed and shared.”

The consultation, which is now closed, stopped short of proposing free access to e-journals and instead proposed “an effective online platform for knowledge-sharing” drawing on models such as the York University Institute for Effective Education’s Evidence4Impact website, or the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

The consultation also said that a new professional body for teachers could have a role “collating and disseminating educational research in readily-usable formats and providing a focal point for best practice.”

This more cautious approach is echoed by Tom Bennett, director of the ResearchEd conference series, who said he was “broadly supportive” of the campaign but questioned its cost. Given the variable quality of education research, a drive to increase teacher research literacy should also accompany the opening up of research access, he said.

Meanwhile Dr Rebecca Allen, a reader in the economics of education, said she felt the campaign didn’t go far enough. She supported greater access to teachers but would also “prefer to see academics deciding to publish their work in open access journals”, she said.

“In most cases, the public will have paid for the research to be carried out, so it doesn’t make sense for them to have to pay again for teachers or others to access it,” she added.

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