This is the sixth 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 onepart twopart threepart four and part five. 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.

  1. Responses to these criticisms and the emergence of The Dynamic Approach

Although not all responses to the criticisms above have been helpful – Sammons et al. responded to Hamilton’s criticisms by making the queer assertion that their findings were deliberately oversimplified so as to to be ‘accessible to non-researchers’ (1998) – in other areas the field has addressed areas of weakness and more consensus now exists concerning which methods are appropriate for the field.

The model that has managed to most successfully address such criticisms, which will now be considered, is probably the dynamic model of educational effectiveness as set out by Creemers and Kyriakides in their book Improving Quality in Education: Dynamic Approaches to School Improvement (2012). The model claims to be both evidence based and theory driven, and has been ‘systematically tested’ for its validity. The complex nature of educational effectiveness is embraced rather than ignored, with a multi-level understanding of the influences on student outcomes. Moreover, Structural Equation Modelling techniques have established five dimensions through which each of the four levels can be referenced, defined and measured (in terms of the quality, focus, stage, frequency, and differentiation).

The model also addresses earlier concerns that EER lacks ‘rich, thick’ descriptions and is preoccupied with quantitative data, by incorporating ‘qualitative characteristics of factors’ enabling the model to ‘provide more precise feedback’ for improvement (Creemers & Kyriakides, 2012, p. 24). So rational decision making lies at the heart of the model, and the practitioners role in self-evaluating the factors associated with their students’ outcomes is a key part of dynamic approach to school improvement. As such, EER is used to ‘identify needs/priorities for improvement’, but those decisions are taken at the school level, giving the approach a more ‘bottom up’ application as opposed to the top-down approach which earlier improvement efforts lent themselves towards.

  1. Emerging Themes; Research Questions Arising

As well as addressing many of the historical and more recent criticisms, then, the dynamic model of school improvement seems to coalesce with the contemporary educational landscape described at the beginning of this review.

This leads to questions as to whether a dynamic approach to school improvement (DASI), focussed at the classroom level (that is to say, teachers’ practice), could enhance students outcomes in a widespread and sustainable manner. Could teachers who are interested in accessing research evidence for their own improvement purposes utilise the knowledge base of EER and improve their own practice using the self-evaluation and action-plan approach established in the DASI? Perhaps most importantly, however: is their evidence that the DASI will improve student outcomes?

These themes are suggested by Reynolds et al. as future directions for the field of EER, with a ‘further concentration on teaching and teachers…their attitudes and values…the ‘levers’ for changing their practices and behaviours’ (p. 218) identified as a particular need for the field to focus upon. The authors also correctly assess EERs role as a ‘bolt-on not bloodstream for the practitioner communities’ and point to the neglect of practitioners ‘core concern with teaching’. Although the DASI does look at the ‘whole school’ rather than individual classrooms, it also appreciates and allows for variation between classrooms and the relationship between classroom level and school level factors, which may help to increase the uptake of the approach from practitioners.

What has become clear out of this review is that educational effectiveness research is at the same time beautifully simply and incredibly complex. At its heart, the field simply aims to work out what makes a good school and use this knowledge to help more schools improve. However, as noted there are deep-rooted and technical difficulties with this initial project, and the application to ‘school improvement’ only further complicates things.

I have suggested that we should be optimistic due to signs in the contemporary educational landscape which indicate a sector that has become receptive to educational research and its role in improving practice and student outcomes.

What is now needed, then, is experimental work to test the more mature and least problematic approaches to using EER to improve schools. The DASI has emerged as an approach that takes seriously the criticisms the discipline has faced, and has taken positive action to either adapt, develop, or mitigate the concerns. As such, the research question that arises out of this review is as follows:

Can the Dynamic Approach to School Improvement (DASI) improve outcomes for students?

By outcomes, here, I mean the social and affective outcomes valued by practitioners, alongside the more traditional ‘academic’ outcomes.

Such an approach, if successful, may answer the question of how research evidence can be used to improve our schools, by harnessing the desire of practitioners to help their students achieve the best possible outcomes. For this reason, difficulties notwithstanding, both educational researchers and practitioners should be compelled to pursue the best possible approach for securing this goal.



  1. References

Bardon, I., (1980), Review of Fifteen Thousand Hours. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol 50(3), Jul, 1980. pp. 555-558

Brown, S. & Riddel, S. (1995) School effectiveness research: the policymakers’ tool

for school improvement? European Educational Research Journal pp. 6-15.

Coe, R., (1999) Manifesto for Evidence Based Practice, available online: [accessed Feb 2015]

Creemers, B., Kyriakides, L. (2012) Improving Quality in Education, Dynamic Approaches to School Improvement. London: Routledge

Central Advisory Council for Education (England). (1967), Children and their primary schools [Plowden Report]. London: HMSO

Goldstein, H., (1995) Multilevel Models in Educational and Social Research. A Revised Edition. London: Edward Arnold

EEF, (2014). Annual Report 2013/14, available online at [accessed February 2014]

Edmonds, R. (1979). Effective schools for the urban poor. Educational Leadership, 37, 15–27.

Goldstein, H., & Woodhouse, G. (2000) School Effectiveness Research and Educational Policy. Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 26, No. 3/4, pp. 353-363

Hamilton, D. (1996) Peddling feel good fictions, Forum, 38, pp. 54-56.

HM Government, (2013), What Works: evidence centres for social policy, available online at [accessed Feb 2015]

ICSEI, (2011). Constitution of the “International Congress for School Effectiveness and School Improvement” (ICSEI), Available online at [accessed Feb 2015]

Lauder, H., Jamieson I., & Wikeley, F. (1998) Models of effective schools: limits and

capabilities, in: R. Slee, G. Weiner and S. Tomlinson (Eds) School Effectiveness for Whom?London: Falmer

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Morgan, N. Laws, D., (2014). At long last, teachers are set to become high-status professionals. Available online: [accessed Feb 2015]

Mortimore, P., Sammons, P., Stoll, L., Lewis, D., Ecob, R. (1988) School Matters: the junior years. Somerset, UK, Open Books

Moss, P., Phillips, D., Erickson, F., Floden, R., Lather, P., & Schneider, B. (2009). Learning from our differences: A dialogue across perspectives on quality in educational research. Educational Researcher, 38 (7), 501-517

Muijs, d., (2006). New Directions for School Effectiveness Research: Towards School Effectiveness without Schools. Journal of Educational Change. Vol. 7. pp. 141-160

Reynolds, D., Sammons, P., De Fraine, B., Van Damme, J., Townsend, T., Teddlie, C., Stringfield S., (2014) Educational effectiveness research (EER): a state-of-the-art review. School Effectiveness and School Improvement. Vol. 25, Iss. 2 pp. 197-230

Rutter, M., Maughan, B., Mortimore, P., & Ouston, J. (with Smith, A.). (1979). Fifteen thousand hours: Secondary schools and their effects on children. London: Open Books

Strong, M., Gargani, J., & Hacifazlioglu, O., (2011). Do we know a successful teacher when we see one? Experiments in the identification of effective teachers. Journal of teacher education. 62

Teddlie, C., & Reynolds, D. (2000). The international handbook of school effectiveness research. London: Falmer Press.

Townsend, T. (ed) (2001) The background to this set of Papers on Two Decades go School Effectiveness Research, Special Issue Critique Response to Twenty Years of SER. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 3-5.

Wiliam, D., (2014) Why education will never be a research-based profession. Presentation at ResearchEd, London: UK. Slides available online at [accessed Feb 2015]; and video available online at [accessed Feb 2015]



  1. That’s seems like a nice overview, Jon, although it’s not an area I know much about – certainly not enough to offer an opinion on whether you’ve accurately captured the development of, and issues around, EER but it certainly sounds convincing. Both David Reynolds and Daniel Muijs work in my faculty and I keep thinking there are several people at Southampton that would be excellent contributors to ResearchEd, Wellington etc. in the same way Dylan Wiliam and Rob Coe are. I think Daniel was going to do a session last year at ResearchEd and had to pull out at the last minute – that was a real shame.
    Trivial though it is, you may find your feedback on this assignment picks up some little errors in presentation. I know from personal experience (and marking a lot of M-Level PGCE assignments) that shifting up the marking rubric on the quality of research and ideas is a process that is difficult to accelerate, but getting near immaculate presentation is a relatively easy win if you find a few people to proof for you. Also, on a style note, you might want to ask whether describing people by their full name and academic position is to your tutor’s taste, or not – some will consider that a fault in academic style and prefer you to stick to pure Harvard referencing when introducing ‘the players’. Apologies if you weren’t after that sort of feedback but I thought it might just be helpful.
    I think you are about to start a new job; if so, very best wishes for that.

    1. Hi Dodiscimus. Thanks so much for your helpful feedback. I really respect your writing and so am very grateful for you taking the time to look through this work and help out. Agreed that full name and institution isn’t great academic form – the trouble with flicking between writing for magazines and academia! And the proofing errors are clumsy. I agree that Reynolds and Muijs would be excellent additions to the ResearchEd crowd. Part of what I am arguing throughout my MEd is that Education Faculties have, by and large, failed to engage with the profession (and that teachers have, in turn, failed to engage with academic research). This, of course, is nothing new. What is new is the growing movement of ‘bottom up’ approaches in which both teachers and academics break bread and do good work. I hugely respect both Reynolds and Muijs and know that they are exceptions in that they frequently engage with teachers; it would be great to grow that relationship!

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