This is the second post in a series, which together make up a literature review submitted for my MEd in Educational Research at the University of Cambridge. You can read also read part one, part three, part four, part five and part six. I hope that this is of interest to anyone considering undertaking an MEd, or for those who wish to dig a little into the academic literature around educational effectiveness Research and School Improvement. I would be most grateful to anyone who can provide any critique to what is written. References can be found at the end of part six.
The two fields under discussion in this review, educational effectiveness and school improvement, have a long and complex history. It is, in fact, difficult to pin down precisely what constitutes EER, other than as a ‘conglomerate of research in different areas: research on teacher behaviour, curriculum, grouping procedures, school organisation and educational policy,’ (Creemers & Kyriakides, 2012, p.3). To add further complication, key aims, terminology and methodologies within the field have changed over time, although the core belief (that schools have a measurable effect on student outcomes) and foundational questions (‘What makes a good school?’; and ‘How can we make more schools good?’ (Reynolds et al., 2014)) have remained consistent.
The core belief of the field provides a hypothesis by which any research under consideration can be empirically tested against. Moreover, the foundational questions link any empirical findings to school improvement, which is what gives such an endeavour its true utility. The aim of my own ultimate contribution to the field is to test the more mature models of EER within a UK context with the hope of demonstrating whether or not such an approach might help schools improve. The current political landscape in the UK (and particularly in England) is of great relevance here; there is large and growing momentum for teaching to become ‘evidence-based’.
Consequently, this review will begin with a brief commentary on the contemporary educational landscape from a practitioner perspective. As will be further explored in §4, the blurring of lines between educational researcher and policy maker has in the past brought into question the independence of what should be an impartial intellectual enterprise (Goldstein & Woodhouse, 2000) and we should be wary of preceding effectiveness claims with either rhetoric or ideology (Muijs, 2006, p.156). However, the emergence and proliferation of ‘research-leads’ (practitioners hoping to drive improvement within their schools by engaging with academic research), along with a soft touch approach from policy-makers (requiring school-level decisions to be informed by research, without mandating which research) sets, I believe, optimal conditions for EER to take hold in schools and impact on student outcomes.
With the contemporary backdrop set, then, I will undertake a brief chronological review of EER which will address some of the philosophical, theoretical, methodological and practical issues that the field has faced. Each of these difficulties have helped shape the field, and have resulted in the emergence of a theory-driven and evidence-based approach to school improvement that takes into account the multi-levelled and dynamic nature of education. It is this dynamic approach, I will argue, that provides the best vehicle for research evidence to inform decisions made by practitioners working in schools.