Evidence-Based Practice in Education

Evidence-Based Practice in Education

Evidence-Based Practice in Education

Evidence-Based Practice in Education


"Where does hunch end and evidence begin? Too much is written and said about school improvement - about improvements in teaching and learning - with far too little attention to this question. This book provides vivid discussion from distinguished protagonists and antagonists about what gets called 'evidence-based practice'. Reading it, all involved in education - policymakers and practitioners alike - can proceed more confidently." - Professor Tim Brighouse, London Schools Commissioner

The movement to evidence-based practice in education is as important as it is controversial, and this book explores the arguments of leading advocates and critics.

The book begins with an explication of evidence-based practice. Some of the ideas of its proponents are discussed, including the Campbell Collaboration, and the application to education of Cochrane-style reviews and meta-analyses.

The thinking behind evidence based practice has been the subject of much criticism, particularly in education, and this criticism is aired in the second part of the book. Questions have been raised about what we mean by evidence, about how particular kinds of evidence may be privileged over other kinds of evidence, about the transferability of research findings to practice, and about the consequences of a move to evidence-based practice for governance in education.

Given that the origins of the interest in evidence-based practice come largely from its use in medicine, questions arise about the validity of the transposition, and contributors to the third part of the book address this transposition.

The issues raised in the book, while primarily those raised by educators, are of relevance also to professionals in medicine, social work and psychology.


Gary Thomas

What is evidence?

None of the contributors to this book denies the importance of evidence in shaping and enhancing practice. At issue is not the significance of evidence but its nature – and its value contingent on that nature. At issue are the potency and value ascribed to certain forms of evidence in supporting propositions that arise in educational practice. Many kinds of evidence are available to practitioners in support of ideas and propositions that arise as part of their work: from observation, from documents, from the word of others, from reason or reflection, from research of one kind or another. It is the respect and worth credited to these that I shall explore in the first section of this introduction, and I shall hinge that exploration around notions of evidence in various spheres of inquiry.

Evidence may take different forms, and be valued differently, in different places – in the legal system, in the natural sciences, in medicine, in the humanities. Those who promote evidence-based practice in education are not seeking evidence in the way that an historian might seek evidence of the existence of factionalism in England at the fall of Cromwell in 1640. Neither will they be looking for evidence in the way that a physicist might seek evidence for the existence of Higgs boson. Likewise, they are unlikely to be satisfied with the kind of implicit and eclectic evidencegathering involved in the accumulation of the tacit knowledge of which Polanyi (1969) speaks.

They will be following a path of reasoning that encourages the seeking, marshalling and dissemination of evidence of a particular kind, different from these others, and it is the character and distinctiveness of this particular kind of evidence that I shall principally examine in this comparative overview.

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