The very small group of people who started research in the field of school effectiveness in the early to mid-1970s were in many ways a highly unusual group compared to those who usually conducted conventional educational research in Britain. Michael Power and colleagues (1967, 1972), whose publication of an article which impertinently asked whether there were Delinquent Schools in Tower Hamlets resulted in them being ejected from those same schools, were members of a Medical Research Council Social Medicine Unit. Dennis Gath (1977) was a child guidance consultant in a hospital setting. Michael Rutter (1979) was a child psychiatrist. As for myself, I had been appointed as a member of the Medical Research Council scientific staff to see if it was possible to undertake work into school differences and school effects in South Wales which had been impossible for Michael Power to complete in London.
The professional location of being the only trained sociologist in an Epidemiology Unit with a staff of clinicians, a statistician and a field-worker trained in the detection of coalminer’s pneumoconiosis from reading lung X-rays was a somewhat jolting experience intellectually. My own preference had been for the use of qualitative methods that had been a central part of the philosophical and educational ethos of the sociology department at the University of Essex where I had been an undergraduate, yet these methods were regarded as ‘soft’ or, to use more technical language, invalid and unreliable by those colleagues working within the conventional positivist paradigm that medical and medico-social research has been based upon. After a time, it became easier to see why these researchers viewed what they regarded as impressionistic data based upon utilization of professional sociological skills and sensitivities with grave disquiet, since the unit itself had been set up because of