Sunday 6 March 2016

An agenda for REAL Evidence-Based Education

Are you a school leader or evidence-based practitioner and interested in bringing about real improvements for your pupils (and colleagues), then this post is for you.  In this post, drawing upon the work of Greenhalgh, Howick and Maskrey (2014 ) I will outline an agenda for real evidence-based education.  Second, I will describe some of the actions necessary to deliver real evidence-based education.  Third, I will outline some of the challenges in delivering this agenda within the current English school system. Finally, I will consider the implications for leadership and management of schools.

An agenda for real evidence-based education?

Greenhalgh et al outline an agenda for real evidence-based medicine, which I have  amended for use in schools and school systems.   As such, real evidence-based education has the following features.
  • Makes the ethical care and education of pupils (and staff) its top priority
  • Demands individualised evidence in a format that school leaders, teachers, parents and pupils can understand
  • Is characterised by expert judgement rather than mechanical rule following
  • Shares decisions with pupils, parents and colleagues through meaningful conversations 
  • Builds on a strong teacher/pupil relationship and the human aspect of education
  • Applies these principles beyond the individual pupil or class level to bring about evidence based schools school systems (Amended from Greenhalgh et al p4)
And to deliver this agenda Greenhalgh et al argue that the following actions are necessary and again amended for use in school and school systems
  • Teachers, senior leaders, pupils and parents must demand better evidence, better presented, better explained, and applied in a personalised ways
  • Initial teachers training must provide comprehensive support for new teachers to help them develop the dispositions of evidence-based practitioners.
  • Producers of evidence-summaries, teaching  guidelines, and teaching and learning toolkits must take into account who will use them, for what purposes, and under what constraints
  • Publishers of educational research must demand that studies meet usability standards as well as methodological ones
  • Independent funders must increasingly shape the production, synthesis, and dissemination of high quality teaching and learning evidence
  • The research agenda must become broader and more inter-disciplinary, embracing a far greater range of approaches, reducing an overemphasis on randomised controlled trials and the greater use of mixed-methods. (Amended from Greenhalgh et al p4)
Challenges in providing real evidence-based education

Inevitably, there will be some challenges in delivering this agenda, many of which cannot be addressed by schools and individual teachers. Nevertheless, there are things that are within the domain of both schools and teachers, and I offer the following for consideration

First, one of the challenges in implementing real evidence-based education within schools is how schools are organised in comparison to health services.  Real evidence-based medicine has as its focus the needs and ethical care of the individual patient.  However, schools tend not to be organised in such a way to provide individual care to pupils, rather they are organised around year  and teaching groups.  As such, the focus is on the needs of the group and the school rather than the individual.  So the question becomes, how would a school be organised if it was designed to meet the specific  needs of individual pupils?

Second, a major difficulty in developing real evidence based education based on a medical model involves the nature of the teacher-pupil relationship.  To what extent is it possible to have meaningful conversations with individual students about different evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning, and which results in genuine shared decision-making about which approach to adopt.   How do teachers go about getting direct feedback from pupils about the relevance and effectiveness of different teaching approaches? How do teachers teachers incorporate the values and preferences of pupils in the teaching and learning process?

Third, in trying to develop real evidence-based education the accountability and performativity environment in which our schools operate within presents a major constraint.  Is it possible to say with real conviction that in all of our schools have the ethical care of individual pupils as the top priority.  Does the 'gaming' of the system lead to unethical decisions which are not in the best interest of the individual students but are taken in the interest of the school. If we were to put the ethical care of individual students at the heart of school accountability processes, what would the system look-like and how would it be different?

And some final words : Given some of the issues identified above vis a vis the organisation of teaching and learning with school and the challenges of having evidence-based conversations with individual pupils, the entry point for real-evidence education in school may not be through evidence about teaching and learning but rather evidence about the leadership and management of the adult members of the school community. In other words, in working in individual staff members it should be possible to have the ethical care of that member of staff as a priority; it should be possible to share decisions with colleagues through meaningful conversations; it should be possible to build strong 'leader-teacher' relationships which are 'humane' and caring; it should be possible to make leadership and management decisions on the basis of evidence-based practice. And if we do all of that, it may give use a chance of creating a culture within out schools where our pupils also experience real evidence-based education.

1 comment:

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