A striking feature of research on school effectiveness and improvement is its popularity with policy-makers. Gray, lesson and Sime (1991) have observed the 'vigour and enthusiasm' exhibited by many LEAs in England and Wales which have recently set up systems for monitoring and evaluating the quality of education on offer. In Scotland, the Scottish Office Education Industry Dept. (SOEID) has devoted a substantial part of its budget (£330,000) to commission research on school effectiveness. It has been suggested that enthusiasm among certain sections of the research community has assumed almost religious proportions. Describing Professor Peter Mortimore, one journalist commented:
For just a second or two he looked and sounded like an evangelist bringing tidings of great joy. His aims were outstretched and his smile was blissful. 'In many ways I think our time is rapidly coming' he told his brethren. (Budge, 1994, p. 14)
The appeal of school effectiveness work undoubtedly lies, at least to some extent, in its promise of simple solutions to practical problems. In this chapter, our argument is that school effectiveness and improvement research does indeed have the potential to be useful to policy-makers and practitioners concerned with improving the quality of education. However, unless it is informed by an awareness of both the macro and micro contexts of schools, the research is likely to be intellectually bland and of little practical use. The key element in the macro context which school effectiveness and improvement work frequently ignores is social class. In the micro context, the problem is a neglect of how teachers themselves make sense of the world of the classroom and the importance of that in any strategy to bring about improvement.
We begin by commenting on the treatment of social class and teachers' thinking within school effectiveness and improvement work, and subsequently consider the way in which these occupied a central position within our own study.