Thursday, October 01, 2009

Personal beliefs or evidence-based practice?

When I come into contact with practising teachers and teaching assistants on the Sounds-Write literacy training courses, I am constantly coming up against people who think that their personal opinion, based on nothing but their practice and beliefs, has the same validity as research in the field of teaching reading and spelling.
According to Caroline Cox*, there are four principal grounds on which teachers justify their practices. They are: 'tradition (how it has always been done); prejudice (how I like it done); dogma (this is the 'right' way to do it and ideology (as required by the current orthodoxy).'
Unless and until the teacher training institutions educate student teachers in the importance of evidence-based practice, many teachers will continue to base many of our educational practices on mere whimsy.
*Quoted by David Hargreaves in his well known 1996 TTA lecture 'Teaching as a research-based profession: possibilities and prospects'.


  1. The Hargreaves talk is available on the web:

  2. I'm just entering the field, and drawing the same conclusions.What can be done?

  3. Hi Séan,
    The answer is to make sure that if you want to know about something, you need to test it to see if it works.
    The government can't be bothered to do this; neither can the universities (It's not as 'sexy' as postmodernism, etc).
    The problem here is that no-one is doing the kind of completely transparent collecting of evidence that Sounds-Write is. We use the same properly normed and standardised test (The Young's Parallel Spelling Test) for all the children from schools teaching Sounds-Write from YR through KS1. And we publish our results every year. If you go to and then click on
    soundswrite_report_on_data_collection_2008.pdf, you can read last year's report to see why we do what we do and what our results show.
    We will soon be publishing on our website figures on the 1607 pupils on whom we have data and who have been taught using S-W throughout KS1.

  4. The link has gone -this one should work :-)

  5. Thanks for the update, Anon.
    Actually, you've prompted me to re-read Hargreaves's piece. It sits quite nicely alongside Ben Goldacre's recent paper on evidence-based practice