Education Endowment Foundation:EEF blog: Building a rich evidence picture: the importance of using multiple evidence sources

EEF blog: Building a rich evidence picture: the importance of using multiple evidence sources

Author
Kirstin Mulholland
Kirstin Mulholland
Associate for school engagement and evidence use

Kirstin Mulholland, the EEF’s Senior Associate for School Engagement and Evidence Use, introduces a new resource to support understanding of some common types of research, together with information regarding what these can be useful for and potential limitations.

Blog •2 minutes •

The idea of being research-informed’ has firmly taken root in our education system. So many educational organisations and institutions – including schools – talk about following the evidence’. This is a really positive development, but the range of behaviours that this phrase references shows that using evidence’ can mean very different things to different people.

To help those involved in school improvement and professional development to break down what research use can look in their contexts, the Education Endowment Foundation has produced Using Research Evidence: A Concise Guide’. This resource includes information on what research evidence is – and is not – as well as the advantages and potential limitations of different forms, to help readers consider what evidence they are using, and how to apply it in their context.

Using research evidence combining sources

It is important to recognise that not all evidence is equal, and that different types of sources can tell us different things. It is also important to be aware that all sources of information can vary in quality – including academic research. The ways in which research is conducted varies, and all methods have strengths and limitations.

For example, if you are seeking evidence about the impact of a particular approach, then it will be important to consider evidence from studies which aim to test for cause and effect – such as experiments, which compare the outcomes for one group of pupils who were taught using a specific approach, with a comparison group who were not.

Whereas if you are interested in how a particular approach works, then accessing a broader range of evidence may be useful, including practice-orientated approaches, such as case studies.

Because different types of research studies can tell us different things, it is often useful to consider multiple sources of evidence.

We can do this by accessing sources which bring together the findings of multiple research studies into a single document, such as meta-analyses and systematic reviews. The EEF Toolkit is one example of this, and is founded on this principle of collating a rich evidence picture. We can also access several different individual sources to build a clearer picture, and to identify any variations between the findings of individual studies.

Where there is common ground between sources, and multiple pieces of evidence convey similar messages about the potential of particular approaches, then we can be more confident that these may also support pupils in our own settings.

The following poster contains a useful overview of some of the most common types of research, together with information regarding what these can be useful for, as well as some potential limitations.