Sunday 19 July 2015

The School Research Lead - Criticisms of Research and Evidence-Informed Practice

One of the tasks of an evidence-informed practitioner is to continually challenge the assumptions underpinning your work.  As during this year I have advocated the use of evidence-informed practice, it is right and proper to offer a critique of evidence-informed practice.  This task is made easier by Brown (2015) who identifies a number of areas of controversy or debate:
  • the epistemological differences between academic researchers and policy-makers in terms of what counts as evidence, the quality of evidence and what evidence can or can't tell us;
  • whether the evidence-informed movement serves to work agains the practitioners' professional judgement;
  • issues in relations to how formal academic knowledge and professional or tacit knowledge might be effectively combined;
  • differentials in power that can affect or limit interactions between teachers or policy-makers and research/ers;
  • controversies in relation to to some of the methods commonly associated with enhancing evidence uses;
  • how the capacity to engage with academic research might be enhanced;
  • issues such as the inaccessibility of research to teachers and policy-makers, both in terms of where it is published and the language that is typically used in such publications. (adapted from p1)
Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) also provide a number of reasons why the case for the use of research-based evidence in decision-making can be overstated:
  • evidence-based decisions can be tainted with self-interest;
  • cast-iron evidence can get rusty later on;
  • evidence-based principles are used very selectively;
  • evidence isn't always self-evident;
  • evidence on what to changes isn't the same as how to change;
  • positive initiatives based on evidence in one area can inflict collateral damage;
  • people can cook the data; 
  • evidence-based teaching is only somewhat like evidence-based medicine;
  • evidence comes from experience as well as research. (adapted from p47)
As an advocate of evidence-informed practice the temptation is to attempt to refute each of the objections or challenges.  However, I am not going to do this. I would rather you to take the opportunity to reflect on these challenges to evidence-informed practice and decide for yourself whether they are sufficiently robust to fatally undermine the case for the use of evidence-informed practice within schools and colleges.  Alternatively, can these issues be challenges been as issues to be addressed through well thought out counter-strategies

That said, I intend to end this post, and with it my last post of the academic year, with the words of Hargreaves and Fullan (2012)

So-called evidence can be unclear, ambiguous, compromised, out of date, indecipherable, contested or jus plain wrong.  This is not a reason to fall back on intuitions or personal preference as the sole based for teaching. We just need to be a bit more humble and careful about what we are claiming.  Teachers with professional capital are not driven by data or overly dependent on measurable evidence - but they inquire into, adapt the best ways for moving forward, making intelligent, critical and reflective use of measurable evidence and considered experience alike.  And they are committed to knowing and showing what impact they have on their students, and to fulfilling their responsibility for making this transparent to the public they serve. (p48)


Brown, C (2015) Evidence-Informed Policy and Practice in Education : A sociological grounding.  Bloomsbury. London

Hargreaves, A and Fullan, M. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming, teaching in every school. Routledge, Abingdon


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