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Research 28/08/2022

The role of evidence in the improvement of school systems

By Tony McAleavy, Dr Anna Riggall, Ruth Naylor

Efficient use of resources depends upon many factors, but one key variable is the extent to which we design and implement activities which require funding in a way that is informed by relevant evidence.

The application of insights about ‘what works’, derived from robust research, combined with evidence about context and real-time system data have, when taken together, the potential to add substantial value to ‘building back better’ after Covid-19. Evidence is the fuel that drives smart, adaptive, impactful policy.

At its best, the combination of knowing what the most effective investments are and having great system intelligence that tells us how things are translating into action and change, will enable policy and decision-making to be strategic, open to fine tuning and deeply contextualised.

Education Development Trust identifies five key components needed for an effective evidence-driven approach to education reform.  

  • Ensure your data systems provide disaggregated data and insight about student outcomes and learning and resource distribution 
  • Use the available evidence about what works and engage in the drive to build more of the right kind of evidence that is relevant to specific circumstances 
  • Align global insight about what works with local contextual evidence and need 
  • Mediate evidence-based insights for policy professionals and frontline staff 
  • Create collaborative spaces where professionals at all levels can engage with evidence and reflect on practice – these can be linked to specific improvement agendas (for example, girls’ education).

All of these interrelated components already exist in different forms and different places. All are essential for ensuring that approaches to education reform are both effective and evidence-driven.


The role of evidence in the improvement of school systems

Evidence-driven education reform is difficult. It can be hard to access relevant research and, compared to other sectors such as health, there is often a paucity of good quality researchbased evidence that can be used to guide action. And when robust evidence has been generated in one country, there are often questions about how far the insights can be applied in the distinctive context of another country. Evidence comes in different forms. Senior officials need to know relevant research-based insights, but they also need easy access to other forms of evidence, including data about student outcomes disaggregated in terms of factors such as gender, geography, ethnicity, disability and family poverty levels. Policy should be responsive to ‘user voice’ and the perceptions and concerns of students and parents constitute, therefore, an important form of evidence.

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