Evidence-based education: marks out of 10?

Sunday 19 October, 16.00 until 17.15, Frobisher Auditorium 2, Barbican School Fights

In his last major speech as education secretary, Michael Gove explained the government’s future direction of education reform, which would move away from ‘a faddish adherence to quack theories like multiple intelligences or kinaesthetic learners’ to ‘solidly grounded research into how children actually learn’. The power of this approach is clear in that it has been universally endorsed by a raft of educationalists from across the spectrum of opinions, from Tom Bennett to Daisy Christodoulou. It seems beyond question that data-driven assessment of what works in the classroom is the way forward to reform education and move towards a ‘more rigorous and evidence-based approach to helping children learn’. Science writer Ben Goldacre, in his much-lauded paper, Building Evidence into Education, calls for the introduction of randomised control trials (RCTs) into schooling.

But is exporting a methodology from one discipline to another, in this case from health to schooling, appropriate? And while educators’ preoccupation with ‘what works’ is understandable, if it becomes the central focus of schooling practice and even educational research, will we see the subordination of the ends of education to the procedural means? Moreover, some fear that if teachers adopt a raft of neuroscience-based methodologies, this may become yet another form of centralised teaching practice, to be followed by rote. While some claim an evidence-based approach can be used to win arguments against the latest educational fads or can ‘prove’ that quack pedagogic theories are ineffective, might this avoid the harder task of making an intellectual case for certain curriculum choices or answering difficult questions, such as what exactly we believe children should know.

Are ideas garnered through experience and reflection, through the everyday experimentation of classroom practice, insightful, or are they unreliable and overly subjective? Should we privilege evidence over professional judgement? Should we replace Ofsted with the likes of Ben Goldacre and the science of teaching and learning? Is teaching an art or a science?

Speakers
Tom Bennett
teacher; founder, researchED; author, Teacher Proof; columnist and blogger; 'Behaviour Advisor to the Department for Education

Carl Hendrick
head of learning and research, Wellington College

Dr Ellie Lee
reader in social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies

David Perks
founder and principal, East London Science School; director, the Physics Factory

Chair
Dr Shirley Lawes
researcher; consultant and university teacher, specialising in teacher education and modern foreign languages; Chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques

Produced by
Dr Shirley Lawes researcher; consultant and university teacher, specialising in teacher education and modern foreign languages; Chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques
David Perks founder and principal, East London Science School; director, the Physics Factory
Recommended readings
Keep the scourge of scientism out of schools

Why evidence-based teaching methods are a bad idea.

Frank Furedi, spiked, 9 September 2013

Evidence-based education: is it really that straightforward?

Ben Goldacre is right - education does need more evidence. But pupils are not patients and their outcomes cannot easily be measured, says Marc Smith

Marc Smith, Guardian, 26 March 2013

Teachers! What would evidence based practice look like?

I was asked by Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Education) and the Department for Education to look at how to improve the use of evidence in schools.

Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, 15 March 2013

What is EBT? Evidence Based Teachers Network,

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