Sunday, 3 April 2016

Educational Excellence Everywhere and a curriculum for the development of the evidence-based practitioner

If you are a school-research lead, evidence-based teacher or head-teacher interested in the implications of the recent White Paper for creating an evidence-informed teaching professions, then this post is for you.  In this post I  will begin by summarising how the government is intending to support the creation of an evidence-informed teaching profession. I will then go onto to outline a curriculum to help develop trainee teachers, experienced teachers and headteachers develop their knowledge and skills as evidence-based practitioners.

Educational Excellence Everywhere and Evidence-Informed Teaching

The White Paper makes a number of specific references* to the development of evidence-informed teaching profession.  However, the main elements can be summarised as:
  • ensuring ITT and subsequent CPD is evidence-based; 
  • increasing teachers' access to high quality evidence; 
  • increasing the volume of high quality evidence available which can directly impact teachers' practice in the classroom.
However, there is little or no description of the skills or knowledge required by teachers to become evidence-based practitioners.  My own view is that providing teachers with access to research evidence is a necessary, though not sufficient condition for the development of teachers as evidence-based practitioners.  For teachers to make the most of this access to research evidence, they also need to have developed a range of skills that allow them to incorporate research evidence - along with with others sources of evidence and critical judgement to make decisions which will hopefully benefit their pupils and colleagues.

A curriculum for the evidence-based teacher?

In developing a curriculum for the development of the evidence-based teachers a useful place to start is  Dawes, Martin, et al (2005) and the "Sicily statement on evidence-based practice." which provides a 'clear statement of what Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) means, a description of the skills required to practise in an evidence-based manner and a curriculum that outlines the minimum requirements for training health professionals in EBP." So using the 'Sicily statement' as a starting point the following is an amended version of the educational outcomes for health professionals proposed in the 'Sicily statement' and adapted for teachers and headteachers.   It could also be used as a basis for a curriculum for trainee teachers on programmes of ITT.  The proposed curriculum is summarised in Table 1

Table 1 A curriculum for evidence-based practitioners - based on the Sicily Statement

Translation of uncertainty into an answerable question
The teacher/headteacher identifies knowledge gaps during the course of practice and asks foreground questions to fill these gaps, The teacher/headteacher should ask focused questions that lead to effective search and appraisal strategies

Search for and retrieval of evidence
The teacher/headteacher can design and conduct a search strategy to answer questions. The strategy should be effective and comprehensive: likely to retrieve all relevant evidence - research evidence and school data. The teacher/headteacher understands the strengths and weaknesses of the different sources of evidence.

Critical appraisal of evidence for validity and practical importance
The teacher/headteacher can appraise the validity of a study. The appraisal will include: the suitability of the type of study to the type of question asked, the design of the study and sources of bias, the reliability of outcome measures chosen, and the suitability and robustness of the analysis employed. The teacher/headteachers can appraise the importance of the outcomes and translate them into practical and meaningful summary statistics.

Application of appraised evidence to practice
The teacher/headteacher can assess the relevance of the appraised evidence to the need that prompted the question. The teacher headteacher can explore the stakeholder  - pupils, parents, staff and the community - values  and the acceptability of the answer.

Evaluation of performance
The teacher/headteacher asks focussed questions, searches sources of evidence, appraises or uses pre-appraised evidence and applies these in practice. The teacher/headteacher reflects on how well these activities are performed

To provide some further clarity as to the practical implications of this curriculum of evidence-based practice, it is probably worth taking a moment to say what evidence based practice is NOT.  So let's be absolutely clear about evidence-based practice is NOT.
  • Evidence-based practice is NOT the same as research-based practice - in other words, evidence-based practice is not about looking up Hattie's effect size tables and seeking to implement those teaching strategies with the highest effect size 
  • Evidence-based practice is NOT about teachers undertaking research BUT it is about teachers making the use of the best available current evidence to make better decisions
  • Evidence-based practice is NOT about teachers losing their autonomy to make pedagogical decisions about what is best for their pupils BUT it is about teachers using their professional expertise alongside other sources of evidence to make conscientious and judicious decisions which hopefully will benefit their pupils
To conclude
There is currently much interest in evidence-based practice.  However, it be wrong to assume that by merely giving teachers and headteachers access to high quality evidence this will turn them into effective evidence-based practitioners.  To be an effective evidence-based practitioner requires the development of a range of skills knowledge - particularly the ability to develop and articulate well formulated questions.  To help with this task much useful guidance can be gained from the health professions in developing a clear curriculum for  new teachers, experienced teachers and headteachers - as effective evidence-based practitioners.  

*Educational Excellence Everywhere and Evidence-Informed Practice
  • ... we start from the basis that the country’s best school leaders know what works, and that good, enthusiastic leaders should be able to use their creativity, innovation, professional expertise and up-to-date evidence to drive up standards.
  • Strengthen university and school-led training, increasing the rigour of ITT content with a greater focus on subject knowledge and evidence-based practice
  • Replace Qualified Teacher Status(QTS) with a stronger, more challenging accreditation based on a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom, as judged by great schools. This new accreditation will raise the quality and status of the teaching profession, better recognising advanced subject knowledge and pedagogy that is rooted in up-to-date evidence
  • Support teachers  to develop their skills through evidence-based continuing professional development and introduce a new Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development to help schools improve the quality of CPD 
  • We will support the development of a high status, world-leading teaching profession, by supporting the establishment of an independent College of Teaching, a new professional body along the lines of the Royal Medical Colleges 
  • We will increase teachers’ access to and use of high quality evidence, ensure teachers are trained in understanding and applying evidence, and support the establishment of a new, peer-reviewed British education journal 
  • We will continue to work in partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation to expand its role in improving and spreading the evidence on what works in education.
  • We welcome moves to establish a portal for teachers to access education journals. We will also work with teachers to set up a bank of research questions which, updated annually, will focus funders of research and academics on generating evidence in areas which directly inform classroom teaching. 
  • We will continue the pupil premium, and improve its effectiveness by encouraging schools and virtual school heads to adopt evidence-based strategies, drawing on evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation.


Dawes, M., Summerskill, W., Glasziou, P., Cartabellotta, A., Martin, J., Hopayian, K., Porzsolt, F., Burls, A. and Osborne, J., 2005. Sicily statement on evidence-based practice. BMC medical education, 5(1), p.1.

Department for Education (2016) Educational Excellence Everywhere. London CM 9230


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