Consider all the evidence

12th July 1996 at 01:00
Carol Taylor Fitz-Gibbon, professor of education, University of Durham: The point that David Hargreaves made in his address to the Teacher Training Agency was that education should be more like medicine. In the best medical practice, treatments are chosen not on opinion but on evidence that they work.

The creation of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford signalled the need seen in medicine for greater attention to data derived from randomised controlled trials. That there is too little evidence-based practice in education is not in doubt but there has been some progress and more is to come.

Professors Maurice Galton and Paul Croll (from Leicester and Reading respectively) and I are developing E-BE UK (Evidence-Based Education in the United Kingdom). We already have a database of more than 100 schools that have expressed interest in participating in the kind of research which collects strong evidence of what works. During the coming school year there will be a series of conferences to plan and implement research into "what works", and one on Performance Monitoring and Evidence-based Research at Durham University in July 1997, with researchers from medicine, education and other disciplines.

If Professor Hargreaves suggested that English educational research was useless to schools perhaps he was thinking only of his own discipline, sociology, though even there I would not altogether share his negative view. Accompanying the TES account of Professor Hargreaves's views were articles from noted educational researchers which illustrated the diversity and relevance of much educational research. The experiments needed for an evidence-based approach will be feasible, because of the likely imminent arrival of a national system of value-added measures in secondary schools. These measures have been derived from research which thousands of schools and dozens of local education authorities have found so useful as to purchase. So whose research is useless?

The Teacher Training Agency is to be commended for looking to making teaching a research-based profession. The task will not be easy, but it will be interesting and vitally important, and even sociologists may find something useful to contribute. Indeed, the effect of Professor Hargreaves's eloquent exposition of the ideas is doubtless already useful.

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