The case for research

The research culture in the Further Education (FE) and skills sector lags behind that seen in other professions. It’s time to come together to develop an evidence-informed profession, says Andrew Morris, chair of the Coalition for Evidence-Based education (CEBE) and an honorary associate professor at UCL Institute of Education.

The struggle with Covid-19 has thrown into sharp relief our reliance on expertise and expert knowledge. Whatever our personal acquaintance with science has been, and whatever our beliefs about the nature of it are, we’re (almost) all hungry for its counsel. The pandemic has also revealed how widely the art of science applies in today’s world: from virology and epidemiology to online learning and building design. Given such scope, it’s worth reminding ourselves what it is that characterises the sciences – what distinguishes them from rumour, misconception and manipulation.

A critical feature is the sceptical stance. We are all prone to preferring evidence that reinforces our prior beliefs and striking attitudes that conform with those of our peers. Scientific scepticism calls on us to overpower these by doubting stories about the way things are until they have been tested. The manner of testing varies hugely, of course, from the hairdresser, for whom trial-and-error is not an option, to the archaeologist who must speculate about what the evidence reveals. But the need to suspend impulsive judgement and hold out for evidence is common.

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