The Tooley Report on Educational Research: two philosophical objections

Educational Philosophy and Theory 32 (2):249-252 (2000)

Abstract

The report on educational research, commissioned by the Office for Standards in Education, written by James Tooley with assistance, and published under the title Educational Research: a critique, set out to ‘help provide some badly needed evidence to inform the debate about the quality of educational research’. Whether this ‘snapshot’ actually upholds Hargreaves' contention that there is a considerable amount of ‘second rate educational research’ is far from clear, although Tooley does conclude that the majority of studies surveyed lacked a clear focus, employed sloppy methodology and displayed partisanship. Now, those whose work was critiqued might, with some justification, grumble about Tooley's own ideological bias given his well‐known right‐wing, market‐oriented views about education. Concern could also be directed at the report's methodological inadequacies, including the procedures adopted to select the journal sample, the categories employed for analysis, and the validity of the conclusions reached. I leave all of these for others to address. Rather, I shall examine two basic distinctions which Tooley adopts and deems important for his investigation into the state of educational research in Britain. The first is between empirical and non‐empirical research, the second is between quantitative and qualitative empirical research. Philosophically, both of these distinctions are highly problematic and as a philosopher Tooley should, at the very least, have acknowledged their contentiousness rather than simply taking them for granted. The purpose of this short note is to indicate why Tooley's reliance on these two distinctions will not do.

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