Research Agenda

What kind of questions could be answered by teachers' experiments?

The kinds of research questions we are looking for must:

  • Relate to a genuine, practical and important issue for practitioners.
  • Involve a plausible choice between two or more feasible approaches. This rules out, for example, surveys of the relationship between schools' funding and their students' performance - interesting though this might be. Unless we are in a position to offer substantial funding to some schools (and not to others) we cannot investigate this experimentally. And the problem with this kind of survey is that it will not tell us which factor causes which, or whether we can actually alter one variable to affect the other.
  • Preferably allow random allocation to treatments. In other words, the participants would agree to take part in a trial and to be allocated at random to one of these approaches (ie they don't choose). Otherwise it is extremely difficult to know whether the different groups are in fact comparable. We need to be sure that any differences in outcome are caused by the different 'treatments', rather than a result of differences that already existed at the beginning.

Suggested Research Questions:

These have been compiled from various sources; some of the ideas are further developed than others. If you have any other suggestions or comments, please send them to Robert Coe.

  • Target Setting. This is a policy that has been imposed by government: schools are having to set targets. But there is still some choice about how to do it. What are the most effective ways?
  • Peer Tutoring. There is plenty of evidence that children learn more when they have to teach something to a younger child, but it may take a lot of effort to be made to work. How can this best be done? What is the effect on social relationships and behaviour?
  • Feedback. Some research suggests that giving teachers feedback can improve students' academic performance. This is one of the principles behind all the CEM monitoring systems – that good feedback helps you to work better – but we do not really know how to optimise its effect. What kind of feedback is best?
  • Mentoring. Many schools have mentoring programmes, but do they work? Should they focus only on certain students? What are the academic and social benefits (if any)? What are the costs?
  • Extra-Curricular Provision. Providing opportunities for sport, music, outdoor pursuits, etc is expensive in terms of time and effort, but is generally thought to offer huge benefits. Can these costs and benefits be quantified? Who benefits most?
  • Giving Information to Parents. How far can schools influence parents' involvement by giving different kinds of information?
  • Subject Combination Guidance. What are the effects of giving students different kinds of advice about options at GCSE / A Level?
  • Time of Day. Do children learn best in the morning or afternoon? Does it depend on which children? Or what they are learning?
  • Homework. How much? What kind? What subjects? For what age?
  • Background Music. Can students learn better with music in the background? Is some music better than others?
  • Seating Patterns. What are the effects of different policies regarding pupils' seating arrangements (eg alternate boy/girl)?
  • Single Sex Teaching. What are the effects of separating boys and girls? Overall, do they learn better? What about social outcomes? Do some benefit more than others?
  • Teaching students specific learning strategies. Can students be taught how to learn?
  • Giving teachers highly prescriptive/specific advice. Do teachers change their teaching methods in response to such requirements? Do they then teach better than they would given a free choice?
  • Using IT to teach (eg) history. There is plenty of encourragement to use IT in teaching, but is it really useful?
  • Separating vs integrating children with behavioural difficulties. Who benefits from each approach?
  • 'Good practice'. All kinds of approaches are currently advocated as being desirable (eg writing lesson objectives on the board). But are they?




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