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Evidence-Based Practice in Educational Research: A Critical Realist Critique of Systematic Review

Sue Clegg
British Journal of Sociology of Education
Vol. 26, No. 3 (Jul., 2005), pp. 415-428
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30036076
Page Count: 14
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Evidence-Based Practice in Educational Research: A Critical Realist Critique of Systematic Review
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Abstract

The paper argues that a critical realist perspective can contribute to a critique of evidence-based practice, while at the same time not abandoning the idea of evidence altogether. The paper is structured around a number of related themes: the sociopolitics of 'evidence-based'; epistemological roots and a critical realist critique; the debate in action based on the recent systematic review of personal development planning; and theory to practice gaps. The advocacy of evidence-based practice is currently being used to undermine professional autonomy and to valorise the 'gold-standard' of randomised controlled trials. However, the paper proposes that evidence can properly be claimed for critique and emancipatory projects, and that its current discursive location at the core of New Labour thinking is not the only one available. Moreover, thinking from a critical realist perspective liberates the space for theoretically informed work, whereby arguments about method, and in particular randomised controlled trials, do not become a proxy for the open examination of ontological and epistemological assumptions. One of the underlying themes in critical realism is that of critique and emancipation, and evidence properly understood aligned to clear theoretical argumentation is part of this project. Existing models of systematic review fall far short of this aspiration and are of little help to practitioners. As researchers and practitioners we have every reason to maintain a critical stance towards the way evidence is being deployed in debates about policy and practice.

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