The NFER blog

Evidence for excellence in education


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Choose a not-for-profit research organisation for a lower effect size?

By Ben Styles

As the head of NFER’s Education Trials Unit, I was interested to read Professor Stephen Gorard’s recent book on Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) in education.

It’s an interesting book but there are aspects that I would like to challenge. Take the passage that reads: ‘One of the main problems with [the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)] lies in finding the capacity among traditional researchers in university departments of education to conduct and even appreciate such work… Instead, the funds have been taken up by the growing sector of not-for-profit organisations… IES (and EEF in the UK) need the capacity that these organisations offer in order to conduct evaluations, and the organisations themselves need the external funding maintained in order to pay the salary of staff employed to do the evaluations. This might make the organisations more likely to provide what they feel the funder wants…’ Continue reading


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RCTs in schools: making the case for ‘fair tests’

By guest blogger Ben Styles, Research Director

When we were at school we learned the concept of a ‘fair test’; the notion that if we wanted to discern the effect of something, we need to keep everything constant apart from the thing we are testing. Historically, for much of the research into effectiveness of classroom interventions, this simple idea has not been adhered to.  Groups of students who received the intervention have been compared to others who cannot be regarded as equivalent, or in some cases there has been no comparison group at all. Continue reading