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Why Evidence-Based School Leadership is a Moral Duty

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  • Why Evidence-Based School Leadership is a Moral Duty

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Why do you place so much importance on evidence-based school leadership?

For me, evidence-based school leadership is a moral duty. Without it, there is a danger that schools will either introduce, or continue to use, programmes/interventions that don’t work.

On the other hand, there is the risk that interventions that do work are mistakenly withdrawn from use, or never tried in the first place.

As such, using evidence is a matter of social justice. In addition, it’s very difficult for school leaders to claim they are part of a profession, if they are not using the best available research evidence as part of their day to day work.

How well understood is the idea of ‘evidence-based practice’, in your opinion?

There are many, many misconceptions associated with it. For example, there is a view that evidence-based practice ignores the practitioner’s professional experience.

However, this misconception directly contradicts well established definitions which emphasise the role of practitioner expertise. Another misconception is that evidence-based practice is the same as research-based practice.

Again, this is clearly not the case, as the former involves drawing upon evidence from a range of sources – scientific research, stakeholder views, school/organisational data and practitioner experience.

Do you think that, when it comes to education research, a little knowledge can sometimes be worse than none at all?

There is a danger that teachers and school leaders are constantly looking for the ‘silver bullets’ and interventions/strategies that will solve their current problem.

However, making effective use of research and evidence requires much more than reading the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit and then ‘making it happen’.

Teachers and school leaders need to ask themselves questions such as: Does this ‘intervention’ solve a problem we have? Is our school similar enough in ways that matter to other schools in which the intervention appears to have worked elsewhere? How much improvement will we get? What might get in the way of the intervention so that good effects are negligible? How much will it cost?

Do you have any advice for teachers who wish their SLT would take a more evidence-based approach?

Some schools and SLTs will be more supportive of an evidence-based approach than others – so such teachers will need to have a good understanding of their school and setting.

That said, I would encourage a teacher to focus on his or her own practice and try to influence work done in his or her department.

Meanwhile, my advice to school leaders would be that if you want teachers to engage with evidence then you need to: provide them with the time to do it and support to help them develop capabilities in the use of research; be willing to accept that you may need to change your mind, as research and evidence-use may lead to some uncomfortable conclusions, which challenge long-standing ways of doing things; and finally, recognise that research and evidence-use is not a quick fix.

Is it ever really possible to remove all personal prejudice from decision making, as a school leader?

The decisions made school leaders will invariably be informed by their personal and professional values, and that is a good thing. I think what we can do is try and help school leaders think about their own thinking and help them become aware of their cognitive biases.

Evidence-based practice won’t eliminate those biases, but its use can help school leaders engage in a deeper examination of claims and underpinning assumptions, and will hopefully lead to more disciplined decision-making.

And finally… if you could consign one much-loved edu-myth to Room 101… which would it be?

Ironically, for someone who is passionate about the values of evidence-informed practice the edu-myth that I would consign to Room 101 would be John Hattie’s claim that an effect size of 0.4 standard deviations represents a year’s worth of learning.


Dr Gary Jones is a blogger, author, consultant and author of Evidence Based Practice : A Handbook for Teachers and School Leaders. Follow him on Twitter at @DrGaryJones.

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