One hundred years of education trials: no significant difference?

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Monday September 23, 2019 - Monday September 23, 2019

14:00 - 18:30

Royal Statistical Society

12 Errol St, London, EC1Y 8LX

The origins of the randomised controlled trial (RCT) span at least as far back in education as in medical research. There were a few examples of random allocation in medicine in the 1920s and 1930s but in 1919, a Columbia University paper records random allocation of pupil groups to evaluate the impact of a teaching intervention. Many more trials have taken place in the last century, including a resurgence since 2002 in the US and more recently in England. Aspects of current education RCTs represent state-of-the-art research practice. However, RCTs in education are nowhere near as influential as in developing clinical practice. Recent research shows that many trials are not finding the size of effects that were expected, with several possible explanations. Are the interventions tested unrealistic in their promise; are the trials themselves too reliant on clinical templates to capture educational impacts; are the governance processes for trials ineffective in isolating the impact of the interventions?

To mark the centenary of the first recorded RCT in education, the RSS Social Statistics Section and the National Foundation of Educational Research (NFER) are bringing together leading figures in the field of education research to address the key challenges faced by education trials today. RCTs should be a gold standard for generating evidence about practice in education as they are in the medical field, with the latter having seen substantial investment in its trial ethics, governance and specific methodology research. This forum invites researchers and practitioners to celebrate the contribution trials have made to understanding what works in education to date, and to consider how they can have more impact in advancing practice and improving outcomes for learners.

Keynote speakers and panellists on the day include:

  • NFER: Carole Willis and Dr Ben Styles
  • Durham University: Professor Carole Torgerson and Professor Steve Higgins
  • Queen’s University Belfast: Professor Paul Connolly
  • University of York: Dr Hugues Lortie-Forgues
  • Education Endowment Foundation: Camilla Nevill and Alex Quigley
  • Nuffield Foundation: Josh Hillman
  • UCL Institute of Education: Professor Jeremy Hodgen

Attendance is free and open to all, but pre-registration is required. This can be done via

Registration alongside tea and coffee will be available from 2.00 pm, and the event will be followed by a drinks reception from 6.30pm.