Friday, 30 September 2016

Evidence-based school leadership is an ethical requirement - it's as simple as that - Part One

Imagine going to the doctor because you are not feeling well.  Before you had a chance to describe your symptoms, the doctor writes out a prescription and says, “Take two of these three times a day, and call me next week.”

“But – I haven’t told you what’s wrong,’ you say. “How do I know this will help me?”

“Why wouldn’t it?” says the doctor. “It worked for my last two patients.” (Christensen and Raynor, 2003)

In this post, I will argue that the most compelling reason for the use of evidence-based practice is that it helps prevent unnecessary harm being caused to both, pupils and staff, by the non-use of the best available current evidence.  As such, evidence-based practice is an ethical endeavour, with the non-use of best available evidence representing unethical practice. This may seem an obvious point, but is often overlooked.  So to help make the argument as explicit as possible, I have devised a  couple of 2 x 2 tables to summarise the harmful consequences of the non-use of evidence, and the potential benefits resulting from the evidence-based practice.

The harm cause by the non-use of evidence-based practice.

Drawing upon the work of Gray (2001) and cited by (Gambrill, 2006), Table 1 seeks to illustrates the consequences of the non-use of evidence-based practice when making leadership and management decisions.  So in Q1, we may have new practices which are warranted by a comprehensive range of evidence, which are not introduced due to a lack of awareness of the evidence.  In Q2, we have good practices which benefit pupils and/or staff – which are withdrawn without sufficient consideration whether the decision is warranted. In Q3 we may have practices introduced, for which there is little or no evidence, but nevertheless cause harm to pupils and or staff.  Finally, in Q4 we may have practices which are continued to be used – and not withdrawn – despite causing harm to pupils and/or staff.

Table 1 The consequences of the non-use of evidence-based practice




Practices




Introduced


Withdrawn



Net impact

Good


Q1 NO

Q2 YES

Harm


Q3 YES

Q4 NO

On the other hand, Table 2 illustrates the consequences of the use of evidence-based practice.

Table 2 The benefits of the using of evidence-based practice




Practices




Introduced


Withdrawn



Net impact

Good


Q1 YES

Q2 NO

Harm


Q3 NO

Q4 YES


So in Q1, new practices with the potential do provide benefits to pupils/staff will be introduced.  In Q2, practices which are doing providing benefits to pupils/staff are not withdrawn.  In Q3, the introduction of harmful practices are avoided, whereas in Q4, using an evidence-based approach harmful practices are withdrawn.

Some final words

As (Gambrill, 2006) states when discussing the status of the professional code of ethics and states:

Are these merely for window dressing, to impress interested parties that our intentions are good and therefore our outcomes are good, to convince others that we are doing the right things.  Or are these codes really meaningful?  Is it ethical to agree to abide by the guidelines described in professional codes of ethics, for example, to draw upon practice-related research and then simply not do so.(p351)

References


CHRISTENSEN, C. M. & RAYNOR, M. E. 2003. Why hard-nosed executives should care about management theory. Harvard business review, 81, 66-75.

GAMBRILL, E. 2006. Evidence-based practice and policy: Choices ahead. Research on Social Work 
Practice, 16, 338-357.

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