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Evidence-based or evidence-informed practice in education is about teachers using the findings of rigorous research studies into what is effective in the classroom to design optimal learning conditions, in order to boost pupils’ learning. It is of particular interest to teachers and school leaders because it potentially provides a fast-track route to the classroom methodologies that can genuinely help pupils to learn most effectively.

Geoff Petty’s work

The importance of evidence in teaching and learning is central to Geoff Petty’s wonderful book Evidence-based Teaching: a practical approach (Nelson Thornes, 2009). In this book Petty, one of the UK’s most respected education authors, helps to demystify the concept of evidence in education and presents hundreds of practical classroom approaches – all of which have a very strong evidence-base to support their effectiveness. Furthermore, based on his exhaustive review of published studies, Petty identifies seven principles common to high quality learning and achievement:

·         Learners must see the value of learning

·         Learners must believe they can do it

·         Learners need challenging goals

·         Learners need feedback and dialogue about their progress towards goals

·         Information needs to be structured carefully, so learners can understand its meaning

·         Learners need time to assimilate new learning and need to see it in different contexts

·         Learners need to learn new skills as well as content knowledge.


 Evidence can be elusive

The highly complex world of schools, with all the potential influencing factors and difficulty of setting up genuine control groups, can make it difficult even for education researchers to find the clear evidence upon which to base many key teaching and learning decisions. For this reason there has been an increasing trend over the last few years to use what has been termed a ‘triangulation approach’ to discover the most effective teaching methods. This involves studying the wealth of quantitative (e.g. exam results) and qualitative data (e.g. staff/learner questionnaires) that are generated in schools in order to draw conclusions about specific teaching and learning approaches.

Using evidence in your own classroom

Although most teachers will not have engaged in the high-level research that ends up being published in educational journals, they are as a group acutely aware of the need to be discerning in the strategies they use in their classrooms. As such, they do not just try out any teaching and learning strategy in the hope that it might work. Instead, they carefully plan their lessons to incorporate the techniques that they believe will get the best results, based on experience of what has worked in the past in their own or other teachers’ classrooms.

Reflective questions to consider

Think about the data you gather in your role as a teacher or leader at your school and answer the following questions:

1.      What quantitative (number) data and what qualitative (non-numerical) data do you have at your disposal?

2.      What do the data you have collected in the last year suggest about the classroom techniques you should concentrate on next term?

3.      How could you improve the quality of the evidence-base for teaching and learning decisions at your school?

The evidence for coaching

At Vision for Learning, we have seen mounting evidence over the last couple of decades to suggest that coaching is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to improve teaching, learning and leadership in schools. We have in turn championed the use of coaching in schools, most significantly through Coachmark: the National Quality Mark for Coaching in Schools (see for more information). This website provides case studies of the many positive impacts of coaching in schools, especially its role in transforming the quality of teaching.

For a copy of Geoff Petty’s book please click here.