How useful is evidence in education?
From an insightful, optional approach to education a few years ago (which the Education Forum discussed at the time), evidence-based education (and data) have now become the norm in most schools. Is the current focus on evidence - as Estelle Morris recently argued - an objective way of confronting the unwelcome dominance of ideology, politics and dogma? Morris backed the growing influence of the Education Endowment Foundation in establishing ‘what works’ in classrooms and how children learn. Indeed, many teachers, angry at what they perceive as the constant interference from politicians and Ofsted, seem to feel empowered by the potential of evidence-based education. Bloggers increasingly appear to agree and science writer Ben Goldacre, in his popular paper ‘Building Evidence into Education’, has even called for the introduction of randomised control trials into schooling.
However, as conversations about education across the land are increasingly framed with evidence-based spectacles, some significant questions arise. How much should teacher evaluation and judgment depend on formalising evidence-based approaches? Is exporting an apparently valid methodology from science and medicine into education even appropriate? Can teaching even be reduced to scientific approaches? As more and more schools seek teachers capable of embracing ‘action research’ and evidence portfolios, this Education Forum will step back and explore the underlying issues. Should we privilege research evidence over teacher intuition, experience and professional judgement? Should teaching really be a research-led profession? Why would teachers ignore the tools that evidence offers to improve their teaching? Or has the mantra of evidence-based education itself become merely the latest ‘snake-oil’ it was supposedly designed to combat?
Kevin Rooney, head of Social Science at Queen’s School, near Watford