Expert plugs data-driven schools
A leading education expert says too many teachers are “allowed to make it up” as they go.
Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the UK's Education Endowment Foundation, says teachers frequently use tools without any scientific evidence behind them.
He compared it to historic medical practices.
“Until the 18th and early 19th centuries, doctors would just invent their own practices, before the [medical community] understood you could use science and randomised control trials to test drugs and measure which approach to solving a problem had the best effect,” Sir Kevan has told Fairfax.
He is in Australia to speak to members of the Gonski 2.0 review panel, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham and state ministers.
“About a third of schools in England are involved in testing teaching approaches out in a systematic and scientific way,” Sir Kevan said.
“We're now saying we've got evidence and there are ways of learning that are most effective.”
Sir Kevan said the British practices, which have been running for over five years, have provided evidence on how resources like technology and teaching aids can be used more effectively.
“We spend [billions of pounds] on technology and teaching aids in schools, but we're finding that unless it's done with evidence and in a thoughtful way, you're increasing investment in education without achieving outcomes,” he said.
“The problem at the moment is that anyone can invent a resource and walk into a school and sell it without having to prove that it actually works. You can't do that with something like cosmetics, you have to prove they meet health and safety standards.”
The UK has a needs-based education funding model similar to the Gonski model, and Sir Kevan says that British schools are “reporting that they're spending money more wisely”.
The EEF has been running trials in Australian schools in partnership with Evidence for Learning, looking at different ways of teaching maths and phonics.
Sir Kevan said the “medical approach to teaching” has already created “a bit of a quiet revolution”.
“Education in universities has been in the world of sociology rather than in the harder sciences, but now we're realising it's much more about the science of the brain and we can measure children's dispositions and responses more effectively,” he said.
“It's a shift from education being a guru telling teachers what to do, to saying this is a professional, profound act that we can have insight into if we have the discipline to collect data.
“For ordinary teachers, it's deeply empowering to be part of building that evidence.”