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 Capacity building resources

Educational Research and policy: epistemological perspectives

David Bridges

David is Chair of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (2005-8) and founding convenor of both the BERA and EERA Philosophy of Education SIGs. He is Professorial Fellow at the University of East Anglia and Chair of the Von Hügel Institute at St Edmund's College Cambridge.

Compiled by David Bridges with contributions from Jim Conroy, Bob Davis, John Elliott, Penny Enslin, Morwenna Griffiths, Gale McLeod, Lorraine Foreman Peck, Dominik Lukes, Jane Murray, Alis Oancea, Richard Pring, Lesley Saunders, Paul Smeyers, Richard Smith and Michael Watts and support from the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain


Aim of this resource
'What works'
Systematic reviews (web resources)
Generic issues
Large scale population studies
Case study
Stories and narratives
Action research
Philosophical enquiry
Re-imagining educational research

How to reference this page

Aims of this resource

This set of resources is a response from a group of philosophers of education to an invitation from TLRP to contribute from work in theory of knowledge to current debate about what is or ought to be the relationship between educational research and educational policy.  The central question was: what sort of research can and should inform such policy? 

These questions arise, of course, in a particular context in which policy makers and educational researchers are increasingly vocal in their demands that educational policy and practice should be informed by high quality research.  In some renderings in the United States and the UK this has been translated into the language of ‘evidence – based’ policy and practice and in both countries this in turn has led to ‘systematic reviews’ of educational research aimed at sifting what is regarded as research which can reliably inform us ‘what works’ from that which is less deserving of attention. (See systematic reviews: web resources) In the United States following the re-authorisation in 2001 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (‘No Child Left Behind’) only such research as compares with the medical double blind randomised controlled trials has been seen in government circles to be deserving of attention in terms of policy formation. (See the What Works Clearing House at ) Considerably less restrictively the ‘systematic reviews’ favoured by UK government and carried out under the auspices of the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information Coordinating Centre (EPPI Centre: ) at the London Institute of Education have nevertheless ‘systematically’ excluded whole swathes of educational research from its consideration.  These exclusions were especially significant in terms of research which indicated what policy should be or which provided fundamental critique of current policy as distinct from how a particular determined policy might be implemented or delivered, but they also put beyond the frame of consideration, for example, much research based on individual case studies or narratives and locally conducted practitioner research. These issues are discussed more fully in a contribution from Pring and Oancea which appears as ‘What works’ in the menu.

So we set out to ask, first what in general we might say about the sort of knowledge which might be needed to inform educational policy (‘generic issues’) Can we derive useful insight from small scale case studies and personal narratives as well as large population studies, from practitioner research as well as academic institutional research, from philosophical enquiry and literary imagination as well as from empirical evidence? If so, how, more specifically do these forms of enquiry relate to and inform policy?

The material provided here are reduced versions of substantially longer papers which will be published as a special issue of the Journal of Philosophy of Education in 2008 edited by David Bridges, Paul Smeyers and Richard Smith and subsequently published by Blackwell as a book under the title ‘Evidence based educational policy’:What evidence? What basis? Whose policy?

Click on the Contents list or embedded links above to access the resources on the themes mentioned.


How to reference this page: Bridges, D., Conroy, J., Davis, R., Elliott, J., Enslin, P., Griffiths, M., McLeod, G., Foreman Peck, L., Lukes, D., Murray, .J, Oancea, A., Pring, R., Saunders, L., Smeyers, P., Smith, R. and Watts, M. (2007) Ethics and educational research: epistemological perspectives. London: TLRP. Online at (accessed )

Creative Commons License TLRP Resources for Research in Education by Teaching and Learning Research Programme is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License




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