Following a presentation to the school’s staff about the proposed pilot project, one of the more sceptical members of the audience asked if we were recommending the inquiry-based approach on the basis of any personal experience. The project leaders, David Frost and Jim Nixon, were able to say that, yes, they had experienced the benefits of self-critical inquiry at first hand and, furthermore, they were committed to continuing to use it to develop their practice as the tutors for the proposed group (this issue was explored more fully in Chapter 2).
The methods used to evaluate our practice as leaders of RAP groups and to develop the scheme as a whole were shaped by the values underpinning the scheme itself. It was felt that, if teachers were being asked to engage in self-critical inquiry, then the HEI tutor should do the same. We went along with Elliott (1993a), who argued that ‘academics’ who seek to facilitate teachers’ action research and write about it have an obligation to undertake ‘second-order action-research’ in which they look critically at their own practice as teacher educators. This might help to avoid the misrepresentation of action research in a way which perpetuates and legitimates the hierarchical relations between academics and teachers. However, despite this earnest commitment at the pilot stage, it was difficult to sustain the research dimension when it relied upon the determination of just one or two individuals, so when the scheme was extended, David invited other RAP group leaders, amongst them the co-authors of this book, to join with him to establish a collaborative action research project (The ESACS Project) to evaluate and develop it. (ESACS is an acronym which stands for Evaluating a School-based Award-bearing Curriculum Development Scheme. The nature of the scheme has changed significantly since the beginning of the project, so the meaning of the title is less relevant than it was.)
In this chapter, we give an outline of the nature and process of our action research and explore the ways in which such an approach can improve professional practice and support change. We consider the issues which have emerged during the course of our collaboration and examine both the benefits and limitations of collaborative action research.