Should, “Education research come with a health warning?”

Is there an argument for all school leaders to have higher degrees or at minimum training to critically evaluate research methods and consider the impact of implementing new ideas into schools?

The article “should educational research come with a health warning?” argues that too often approaches and ideas (phonics, parental choice, discovery learning) in education are identified through research or unresearched ideas then implemented with little thought to the impact of the research or ideas on schools, teachers or children.

In my own experience I have seen this all too often and it is worrying that a snap shot of research findings, a new fad or popular idea can be accepted into practice with little regard to efficacy or impact.

some examples

  • One secondary school liked the idea of learning styles and implemented a programme of assessing every young person’s learning style and them providing teaching through that preferred learning style as a means of accelerating progress and achievement.
  • A primary school that had implemented cursive writing in year 1 and 2 for all children as it could support any child you might be dyslexic.
  • A secondary school who designed their science laboratories around behaviour, having paid a fortune splitting each laboratory into a teaching space and wet experimental area, only to discover it had no positive impact to behaviour and if anything made doing science extremely difficult.
  • A primary school who decided all teaching of curriculum subjects should be done by a specialist, only to discover when they move on there is a distinct hole created…

I’m not saying any of these approaches are wrong, it is great schools are trying new things and pushing the bubble. However in all these cases they had given little thought to the potential negative impact or unintended consequences of these approaches and ultimately the impact on young people.

However, as Professor Humes notes, and I have seen on many occasions, “A lot of educational research operates on a system of ‘let’s try this and evaluate it’. From the very beginning, the researchers, unless they are able to detach themselves from the project, are disposed to look for success and the problem is that sometimes they are blind to the downsides. That is understandable but not commendable.”

While doing research for my MSc and MBA an essential aspect is critical research methods approach, weighing up the advantages, disadvantages and impact within an ethical framework. Within education it is BERA (British Educational Research Association) ( who makes a clear case, “the development of a world-class education system depends on high quality educational research but this field is where policy decisions are often driven by ideology rather than robust evidence.” At a school level by the ‘snap-shot’ from the research, the vocal educational ‘gurus’ or what the school down the road is doing.

To mitigate unintended consequences or negative impact of a new policy or approach in school perhaps all school leaders need to undergo training in research methods so they are better able to critically evaluate research and consider its full impact. An aspect which is lacking in core training and development of head teachers.

As an educational adviser and consultant I do my bit by making sure I reference all material I use and where necessary highlight possible positive and negative impacts!

Thoughts appreciated.

BERA Ethics guidelines:

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