Can we have an evidenced based profession?

NTEN-logoIf there is one over-riding theme that has emerged from the profession over the last 5 years, it is that we should be investing our time ensuring that the methods we use in the classroom have an evidence base.

There have been many fads over the past twenty years and although most of us knew they had no basis, we dutifully trod down the paths of a number of ‘snake oils’.  Learning styles, green pen marking, left brain, right brain, hydration and Brain Gym have all found their way in, to a greater and lesser degrees into our classrooms.  We all knew that there was something wrong with them, but we followed or compelled to follow them.  What was damaging was the way in which some of these became policy of schools and teacher training providers; I still look at learning styles on a lesson plan and despair.  None were proven, and most were pseudo-science.  Some had an element of usefulness, for example in the case of brain gym, exercise was good it just didn’t stimulate certain parts of the brain.

So the last five years has been about trying to make the profession evidenced based.  Ben Goldacre, author of “Bad Science” wrote a paper about what evidence based practice could look like.  The paper was well received and actually brought ‘real’ research methods into the language of teaching.

He also explained the virtues of randomised trials and how they could be useful.  Scientifically valid, yes.  But morally right?   Ultimately you would be interested when a significant impact was found.  Meaning that one group could do significantly worse or one group significantly better.  But, which group would you want your children to be in?

So the profession has continued to act cautiously, especially when Education theory heavyweights such as Dylan Wiliam points out:
1.      Research can’t tell you what could be
2.      Research is rarely clear enough to guide action

As Tom Bennett noted in his TES article:

“Teaching can — and needs to be — research informed, possibly research augmented. The craft, the art of it, is at the heart of it. Working out what works also means working out what we mean by ‘works’, and where science, heart and wisdom overlap and where they don’t.”

So schools, like Uplands Community College, are working with other schools to see how we can start to be more evidenced based.  As members of the National Teacher Enquiry Network we are into our second year of Lesson Study.  This is a process of working with other teachers to investigate how to ensure students make better progress in their learning.  You can find out more here



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