Not basic

Filling the pail

Project Follow Through was set up in the late 1960s and represents the largest educational experiment that has ever been conducted. It followed a ‘horse race’ design. Different groups of researchers developed programmes for early years education and these were then trialled with disadvantaged children. The concept was one of ‘planned variation’ and the aim was to find which programmes were the most effective.

Due to its size, the study was necessarily messy. So it does not suit an experimental purist and the results can, if you wish, be explained away. However, it did have one key element in its favour, what we might call ‘active controls’. In other words, different researchers were all motivated to demonstrate that their programme worked and they had resources available to give it their best shot. By contrast, much experimental work in education involves comparing a project that researchers are excited about with a…

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