Head for evidence and avoid snake oil

30th July 2010 at 01:00

What a welcome change it is to see knowledge coming back into fashion. In The TESS of July 16, there were two references to its importance. Brian Boyd wrote urging the use of evidence, rather than unsubstantiated assertions, when considering changes to teacher education and Alma Harris wrote of the importance of the "robust use of data" as a driver of change in education in Wales - oh that Scotland should be so lucky.

This brought to mind a very informative visit members of the Literacy Commission made to North Lanarkshire's literacy base. There, it was emphasised to us that their literacy programme was based on sound research evidence and that, as the programme moved forward, it was adjusted in the light of further evidence. The highly successful nature of the programme owed much to its sound evidence base.

Early in my experience of working in education, I became convinced of the value of knowing what I was talking about, of knowing facts, of not simply following the latest fashionable trend. The truth can sometimes be counter-intuitive and very unpopular. So I find it encouraging to see knowledge, facts and evidence re-surfacing after too many theories and suppositions.

Anyone who has followed education for more than a nanosecond will be aware of the endless stream of bright new ideas. When the magic doesn't happen, the idea is forgotten, only for its place to be taken by another all- singing, all-dancing solution to everything. Facts and evidence tend to be a little more complex and often offer only the best option, not the ultimate solution.

However, I agree with your contributors that only by basing change on evidence will we ever make progress. This may mean incremental change, rather than any eureka moment, but the alternative is a permanent diet of snake oil followed by disappointment.

Now it would be good to see the reinstatement of knowledge taken one step further and given more prominence in the Curriculum for Excellence; then we would be seriously moving forward.

Judith Gillespie, Findhorn Place, Edinburgh.

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