ResearchED: Governance of research in schools, the return of Auntie Maud

I heard some school based research studies yesterday, and some research & development groups from teaching schools emerging too. This is great news.

On reflection, it seems to me that the community around ResearchED 2013 overlooked one significant issue: Ethical conduct.

Hold in your mind the idea for an RCT community that Ben espoused, a trial over 100s of schools, comparing the efficacy of two science schemes.

Now let me tell you about my Auntie Maud. She is bonkers and awkward – hard to justify in public and honestly I’d rather have my toenails pulled out than go and see her. Ethics is the Auntie Maud of the Research process.

Every school seriously entertaining a Research culture amongst their staff MUST take hold of Auntie Maud and understand her.

Schools have a duty of care to act as a reasonable parent. As I understand it, that makes the effective design of an RCT a challenge. It’s tough to square the withholding of an innovation from a group, if your educated intuition (John Thomsett) tells you it will improve learning for all children.

Schools need to understand and recognise the ethics process applied by the education research community. The British Education Research Association has guidance on this.

My conclusion is this:

The establishment of a research spirit in a school necessitates the establishment of a new strand of Governance. The school must establish a research policy and a research committee to validate and approve all research studies in the school. I suggest this committee should comprise parents, staff and experienced research academics.

This must:

Administrate processes for gaining and storing informed consent
Administrate processes for the right of the subject to withdraw from the study.
Evaluate the research design to ensure the policy on the detriment arising from participation is observed and applied.

Back to Ben’s RCT – imagine the trial across 200 schools, the trial is set. Informed consent gained from all those willing – except about 6 children in each school who refuse consent.

How will the time table accommodate them?
How will the school flex to accommodate the child who exercises their right to withdraw half way through their final GCSE year?
Are the children the subjects of the research?
Is the school the subject?
Who has a right to withdraw?
Is the increased knowledge gained from this process worth the cost of administrating it?
What level of compensation can a parent expect for having a child in the group who missed out and is behind where they could be?
Who would be liable?

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