Teachers and school leaders: making a difference
through evidence-based practice
A research paper for ACT Government schools
© Australian Capital Territory, Canberra 2007
Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright ACT 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process
without written permission from the ACT Department of Education and Training, ACT Government, PO Box
1584, Tuggeranong ACT 2901.
Produced for the ACT Department of Education and Training by the Measurement, Monitoring and Reporting
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As a term in use in professional fields, ‘evidence-based practice’ is most commonly associated with
medicine. However, Groundwater-Smith suggests that “education can lay claim to a broader and richer
understanding of the term growing out of a tradition of action enquiry and practitioner research”
(Groundwater-Smith 2000:1). She discusses reforms in Australian school education in the 80s and 90s,
particularly the growth of ‘action research’, partnerships with university researchers and the rise of the
In recent years there has been a renewed research focus on the importance of the teacher as “the key to
student success” (ACT Department of Education and Training 2004).
This research has important
implications for evidence-based practice. “We need to ensure that this greatest influence i.e. the teacher, is
optimised to have powerful and sensationally positive effects on the learner” (Hattie 2003: 3).
Many speakers at the 2005 Australian Council for Educational Research Conference (ACER) spoke of the
need to link what we know about the importance of good teaching and assessment practices with the need
to use quantitative and qualitative data more effectively. Control should be in the hands of the professional
educators – but they need to be informed professionals. “The unique and specialised knowledge, skills,
experience and professional capacity of teachers must be valued as fundamental components of any
That is, the way in which evidence is obtained, collated, interpreted and results
strategically utilised, must be interlinked with, and influenced by, the profession” (Bruniges 2005:102).
Professional and accountable teachers
Another significant historical factor is the contemporary information context, i.e. the ready availability of data
and of tools to collect and analyse data. Within an information-based society, it is no longer acceptable for
teachers and leaders to rely on experience, intuition and tacit knowledge alone to make decisions. Parents
and communities expect more.
Earl comments that the exponential rise in the availability of data has been paralleled by a rise in
“Accountability and data are at the heart of contemporary reform efforts
worldwide” (Earl 2005: 6).
She discusses the difference between ‘accounting’ which comprises the
gathering, organising and reporting of information that describes performance and ‘accountability’ which is
the conversation about what the information means, how it fits with everything else and how it is used to
make positive change (Earl 2005:7).
Teachers and school leaders have always been accountable – in the sense of having a professional and
moral responsibility to be open and fair in dealings with students, parents and carers and the wider
community. Tools now available to educators allow this responsibility to be carried out more...