An emerging movement around evidence based education

While we will continue to be baffled about the current liaise faire approach that Ministers have to health education I can’t help admire the speed at which they are trying to advanced the cause of evidence based education.

The latest example is that the DfE have commissioned two new Randomised Controlled Trials of programmes – one for maths and science the other looking at a child protection assessment tool.

Michael Gove says:

We need more hard evidence in the education debate. We also need to develop a better understanding of what counts as effective social work. Randomised controlled trials offer us the opportunity to establish which policies genuinely help children. I am delighted the DfE is embracing a more rigorous approach towards evidence.

The question for me then is whether the prevention field has already got a head start in this field – in that there is a history of running school interventions with RCTs and in producing metareviews of those trials – and whether that might be a way of engaging the Secretary of State in seeing the benefit of the field to educational and health outcomes?

But it isn’t just the Secretary of State for Education who has embraced this agenda it seems to me that there are many enthusiasts amongst teachers and school leaders as well – for example this LinkedIn group has a couple of hundred members, while this conference in September is likely to be oversubscribed many times over.

A final thought, this time from Tim Harford, who writes for the Financial Times and presents for Radio 4, who on his blog, The Undercover Economist, argues that it would be wrong to see this movement as a one way street.  Talking about how research and practice are not mutually exclusive he argues:

In short, evidence-based practice in medicine isn’t a case of doctors, brainwashed into believing whatever clinical trials tell them, passively awaiting instructions. It’s a two-way street, where some of the best ideas for research are suggested by practitioners, and best practice spreads sideways from clinician to clinician rather than being handed down by diktat…
One can see why Dr Goldacre calls this a “prize”. Teachers are better placed than anybody to generate new research questions, based on years of observation of subtleties that would escape any educational statistician.

This seems right to me and fits, I think, with the model of programme development that is set out in the EMCDDA’s standards for drug prevention which talks about justifying the need for an intervention, understanding the target population and tailoring it to the needs of that population – all things where research and practice need to be working hand in hand.

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