Finding out what works in education

The UK Telegraph’s newspaper interview with Tom Bennett, published today, is worth a read. It follows on from widely publicised recent comments make by Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at OECD, which attempted to debunk various myths about the top-performing school systems … again, these too are worth a read. What both educationalists share in common, it seems to me, is a desire to orientate teachers and policy-makers away from a belief that one size (or even one system) fits all in educating young people, and we should remain open and appropriately sceptical as we attempt to assess the effectiveness of any initiative in education.

Of course, part of this is a drive towards greater and more effective (and impartial) research in schools and amongst young people. The more we can track outcomes, the more certain we can be that individual interventions (or combinations of interventions) actually work in helping young people to learn more and become more ‘educated’. Research undoubtedly has its limitations – by its nature it largely generalises, and not every young person, in his or her specific circumstances, is ‘generalisable’. If our goal is to ensure that every single young person across the world has access to the education strategies and resources that help him or her to become the best he/she can be, with the ultimate aim of being able to contribute as best possible to their local, national and international community, then we have to acknowledge that even detailed, ‘cast-iron guaranteed’ research outcomes will not necessarily work in reality with every individual.

Yet the more we know, the more likely we are to be able to approach our goal. The more (proven) tools that teachers have in their repertoire of ways to nudge their students into learning, the more likely it is that those learners will thrive. Great and experienced teachers have learned over the years how to understand and respond to the particular needs of their pupils; every day in their classrooms, mini-research projects unfold and develop, consciously or otherwise, as they test out how to stretch and support their students in different measures, appropriate to their needs. Educators and educational systems have so much that they can learn from one another; when this learning is planned, considered, tested, weighed and weighted, then it stands to reason that it can be enormously helpful to others. As we mature in our understanding of how children learn and how education systems prosper, then it is to be hoped that we will develop our ability to think critically about education and share our insights on a platform where they in turn are evaluated critically, for the greater good, ultimately, of our young people and their education.

A goal worth working towards indeed.


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