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Reflection point: What is your view of educational research? Can you think of a significant project that has influenced your work as a student teacher, teacher, or pupil (e.g. phonics, Nuffield Science)?

In the reflection above, you may have thought of something in your subject such as ‘Children’s learning in Science Project (CLISP)’ (Driver, 1994) or ‘Cognitive Acceleration through Mathematics Education (CAME)’, or something generic like the ‘Thinking Together’ project about language as a tool for learning and problem solving. You may have struggled to come up with a specific project, but the chances are that you know about and understand some important ideas, such as Assessment for Learning, which emerged from research and have now become embedded as part of the accepted professional knowledge that all teachers need to have.

Despite these contributions, teaching is not perceived to be an evidence-based profession and is subject to interventions from politicians, based on ideology rather than on evidence. Ben Goldacre (2013) argues that teaching should be an evidence-based profession and that this would lead to better outcomes for children. In particular, he suggests that:

a change in culture is needed, in which teachers and politicians recognise that we don’t necessarily ‘know’ what works best – we need evidence that something works
teachers need better access to the outcomes of research
teachers need to understand how research works so that they can become critical consumers
teachers need access to networks where they can engage with others who are interested in research.
Goldacre advocates a particular approach to educational research. He believes that randomised trials (or ‘fair tests’), of the type that are used in medicine, are required. These randomised trials are generally large scale and compare interventions against each other in a systematic, controlled manner.

There is a debate to be had about the transferability of the notion of ‘randomised controlled trails’ from medicine to education. However, the assumption of this unit is that the evidence-based practice is a good thing and that the changes advocated by Goldacre can be achieved through teachers researching their own practice. Indeed, research practices are embedded in an increasing number of schools and there is a recognition that this can contribute to school improvement.

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