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Where does research fit in Education Queensland [1]

Jim Varghese
Director General, Education Queensland

Research is a key element in the development of knowledge and sharing research offers the opportunity for the educational community to gain greater understanding of different perspectives on education policy and practice. To what, however, does the term research refer? One somewhat dated definition identifies research as a systematic activity directed toward discovery and the development of an organised body of knowledge (Best, 1970). This definition is traditional and refers to what some may think of as pure research. Others have taken the definition further and suggested that in addition to being an organised and deliberate effort to collect new information, research can also be activity that utilises existing information for a specific and new purpose (Verma & Beard, 1981).

The above definitions refer to research as a somewhat abstract activity and as such may not reflect the nature of research inquiry required in education in the 21st century. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) view of research as providing for impartial knowledge that may clarify or support arguments in favour of certain political decisions or practical solutions may be nearer to the mark. A further perspective from OECD offers the view that research may also contribute to establishing a coherent yet always tentative conceptual framework that places the school and the education system in a social context (OECD, 1995).


Increasingly, education is being placed as a critical driver of social change. In order for the Queensland economy to participate in the global knowledge-based economy, the ability of individuals to engage in lifelong learning is essential. The vision of the Smart State for Queensland requires that irrespective of background or circumstance, an education in the state will guarantee: International futurist Tom Bentley (2000) has noted that against the pressures on education to be a panacea for social ills, there is pressure for education to become more open, using a range of resources much wider than public infrastructure, taxpayers' money, contracted parental obligations and the skills of professionals. He believes that education must be able to utilise human, financial, social, cultural and informational resources from the whole of society and stimulate and develop young people's ability to learn and understand for themselves. Bentley draws a picture of the future in which learning will take place not only inside schools and colleges but simultaneously in communities, workplaces and families. With the rapid increase in technology and the impact of globalisation on market economies combined with the increasing number of students completing year 12 or its equivalent, education research, both in and on Queensland state education, is now, more than ever, an imperative.


To be a learning organisation, Education Queensland needs to engage in research at multiple levels:

Macro level

If Queensland is to maintain an education system which delivers internationally recognised schooling outcomes, we must keep abreast of the changed economic, social and technological world into which students graduate. On the one hand, Education Queensland must ask questions about that world of the future: On the other hand are questions about how students will learn in that world: These questions guided the development of Queensland State Education - 2010 (Education Queensland, 2000). QSE - 2010 was underpinned by research - not simply research on education, but research that extended to socio-economic and demographic analysis. This was research undertaken by economists and social demographers in education. This says something quite profound - that decisions about educational outcomes, resources and programs require clear evidence and research if student outcomes are to link to their participation in future education, training, the labour market and active citizenship. This type of research is regularly conducted at the international level by the OECD and UNESCO.

Meso level

At the meso or structural level, research has focused on how learning relations are structured or arranged in addition to how knowledge is produced and selected. Research at this level is at the heart of a learning organisation. Two examples of recent and current research at the meso level are outlined below.

Impact of school structure and governance on the outcomes of schooling

The Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study (QSRLS) undertaken by a team of researchers in the School of Education at the University of Queensland was designed to address some of the outcomes of school-based management processes. This large-scale study was a concerted attempt to ascertain which elements of student learning experiences in classrooms, the organisational capacities of schools and systemic supports contribute to improved learning and social outcomes for students. The research involved observation of 975 lessons across years 6, 8 and 11 in 24 schools from 1998 to 2000, 1000 interviews with 250 teachers, plus 600 questionnaires. One important finding of the research was that individual principals and teachers are the driving force behind student achievement.

Curriculum-orientated research that links curriculum standards to student performance

The New Basics are futures-oriented categories for organising curriculum. Essentially they are a way of managing the enormous increase in information that is now available as a result of globalisation and the rapid rate of change in the economic, social, and cultural dimensions of our existence. The new Basics categories are deemed to be essential for lifelong learning, social cohesion and economic well-being, as described in QSE - 2010. Trials of the New Basics began with 38 schools chosen from across the state and the sample is expected to increase by 20 schools during 2001. The New Basics trial schools are at the cutting edge of curriculum orientated research.

Micro level

In addition to the major research mentioned above, at the micro level over 200 education researchers approach Education Queensland schools and work units each year for the conduct of research. The scope of research activities varies from undergraduate assignments through to doctoral studies. In addition to research undertaken by students, Education Queensland schools participate in research projects led by academic or government staff across a range of disciplines, for example, education, public health and housing.


QSE - 2010 has set the agenda for the scope and complexity of research required in order to ensure that educational policy and practice is critically informed to enable all Queensland students to achieve the necessary knowledge and skills to participate in the Smart State. There are a range of critical areas that require continual research including the following.

The foundation years

International research highlights the importance of the early years in creating the foundations of ongoing ability to engage in lifelong learning. However, there is a lack of significant longitudinal evidence in Queensland of the relationship between early educational experiences and later life successes.

Transition from school to further education or the world of work

Research-based information that goes further than simply documenting pathways is required. Increasingly we need data to inform our understanding of the effect of schooling experiences on students in their post school destinations. Some data suggests that 21 per cent of first year University students drop out. Is this a school problem or is it one for Universities?

Assessment and reporting of student growth

There is a need to develop and test models of monitoring student performance that classroom teachers can implement to measure the learning of students, and that also can be used by schools to demonstrate impact and effectiveness. This is the task of the Assessment and Reporting Taskforce soon to be established to develop guidelines for assessment and reporting across state schools.

Information communication technology

The rapid advances in information communication technology require constant ongoing research and evaluation on the impact on pedagogical practices and student outcomes. All Queenslanders live in the information age and are effected by vast social changes, not least of which, for the Education workforce, will be the progressive retirement of the Baby Boomers. Education has a strategic role to play in not only preparing young people for their life pathways but also in engaging the wider community in lifelong learning. This must be a whole of government and community agenda.

Education Queensland recognises the importance of developing a learning organisation culture and the imperatives of collaborative partnerships with a diversity of research institutions and sites. As Bentley has identified, these are new times and new ways of acting are required.


  1. This paper is an abridged version of a presentation to a recent research forum of the Queensland Institute for Educational Research (QIER) entitled Where does research fit in Education Queensland and reflects on the role of research in relation to public education in Queensland.


Bentley, T. (2000). Looking Beyond the Classroom: Education for a Changing World. London: Routledge.

Best, J.W. (1970). Research in Education. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

OECD (1995). Research Training: Present and Future. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Education Queensland (2000). Queensland State Education - 2010. Brisbane: EQ.

Verma, G.K. & Beard, R.M. (1981). What is Education Research?: Perspectives on Techniques of Research. Aldershot Hants: Gower.

Please cite as: Varghese, J. (2001). Where does research fit in Education Queensland. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 17(1), 9-15. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer17/varghese.html

[ Contents Vol 17, 2001 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 17 Oct 2004. Last revision: 1 Dec 2004.
URL: http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer17/varghese.html