What motivated you to write The Trials of Evidence-based Education?
There is a pressing need for good evidence on education to help inform policy and practice but, in general, research in this area has been weak and untrustworthy. Recent initiatives to improve the situation worldwide are promising and deserve support, but are also taking wrong turns even at this early stage, with the new research becoming more like what it was originally intended to replace. We wrote the book because we wanted a much wider audience, including practitioners and policy-makers in education, to think critically about what is going on and how the situation might be improved even more. This is a book of hope. The model of evidence-based education has been shown to work, as illustrated in the book. It now needs courage to maintain the course in face of pressure from so many vested interests – whether from those whose expertise is threatened, policy-makers whose pet ideas have been shown not to work, or companies selling solutions to schools but which do not want their products fairly and independently tested.
What are the innovative research methods used in the book?
Perhaps the most innovative proposal in the book is the call for more simplicity in the conduct and presentation of research. This should not need to be a radical suggestion but in an era of increasingly complex dredging of data for success, and courses on ‘academic writing’ pushing long sentences, theory and neologisms, simplicity needs to be valued. We show in the book that randomised control trials are easy to do, and their design allows their results to fall out like ripe fruit. No dredging is necessary. We do suggest a few simple innovations, like the number needed to disturb a finding, to help portray the level of trustworthiness of any finding. We also show in the book that systematic reviews can be robust as well as very simple, and again we suggest a few simple innovations, such as the sieve, to help research users to judge the quality of evidence.
What would be your advice for a school wanting to run their own research project?
The book describes a range of randomised control trials run by schools themselves, and these provide much higher quality evidence for all of us than the usual small-scale, before-and-after, happy sheet, or action research models of evaluation. Schools can produce good evidence on what works best for whom. The book contains practical advice to this effect. For example, schools need to band together (in their existing networks such as authorities, clusters and MATs) so that their individual trial results can be aggregated to create a much larger-scale study. They will probably need workshops on how to conduct a trial, and are advised to ask an independent body to conduct the randomisation. Above all, teachers and leaders need to care a lot about getting a trustworthy result, while caring hardly at all what that result is.
What is the one message you hope readers take away from your book?
As a sector (including schools, policy-makers, and researchers) we can easily do so much better than in the past, in terms of providing the kinds of evidence that will assist good practice and beneficial decisions for education. We need to cherish this opportunity, and work together so that sound evidence has more impact than cherry-picked findings that are merely convenient or sound plausible. Researchers need to understand more about how to furnish that sound evidence in usable forms, and research users need to be able to discriminate between trustworthy and useless or even dangerous research results. The book addresses all of these issues as clearly as possible.
The book explores the promise, limitations and achievements of evidence-based policy and practice, as the attention of funders moves from a sole focus on attainment outcomes to political concern about character-building and wider educational impacts.
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Professor Stephen Gorard BSc PGCE MEd DipRes PhD FRSA FAcSS is Professor of Education and Public Policy at Durham University, having previously been a secondary school teacher and leader. He is an advisor to the UK Cabinet Office, a member of the UK DfE Associate Pool, a Methods Expert for the US government Institute of Education Science, member of the British Academy grants panel, of the ESRC commissioning panel for Strategic Networks, and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. His work concerns the robust evaluation of education as a lifelong process, focused on issues of effectiveness and equity, especially regarding school intakes. He regularly gives advice to governments and other policy-makers, and is a widely read and cited methodologist, involved in international and regional capacity-building activities, and used as an adviser on the design of rigorous evaluations by central and local governments, NGOs and charities. He is author of around 30 books and over 1,000 other publications.
Dr Beng Huat See BA Dip Ed RSADip TESOL FPDE MEd DipRes PhD FRSA is Associate Professor in the School of Education at Durham University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Wolfson Research Institute at Durham University. She was a secondary school teacher and leader in Singapore. She is also the author of Understanding Teacher Supply in England and Wales and co-author of Overcoming Disadvantage in Education, Do Attitudes and Aspirations Matter in Education?, Teacher Supply: The Key Issues, and The Most Effective Approaches to Teaching in Primary School (described by Schools Week as one of the best pieces of research of 2016). Her work is largely concerned with improving the quality of education for all children.
Dr Nadia Siddiqui BA MA DipRes DipTEFL PhD FRSA is Assistant Professor (Research) in the School of Education, Durham University. Her professional career began as a primary school teacher in Pakistan. She was a university lecturer for seven years, before working as a Deputy Director for the Higher Education Commission in Pakistan. She worked as a Research Associate at the University of Birmingham, UK. She has led a project funded by Nuffield Foundation and is currently co-investigator in two ESRC funded projects. Apart from evaluation research involving large scale randomised control trials in education and quasi-experimental studies, she has also published research papers using secondary and population data resources from England and Pakistan. Her interests are focused on the issues of inequalities in the education systems, the barriers to achievement and the wider-outcomes of school education in the UK and developing countries.