About Randomised Controlled Trials

What are RCTs?
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are widely used as a medical sciences research tool and seen as the ‘gold standard’ for evaluating the effect of medical treatments. However RCTs are increasingly being used in the education sector to demonstrate the impact of an intervention on pupil outcomes.

They are highly regarded by many organisations involved in education research, including the Department for Education (DfE), the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Nuffield Foundation.

How do RCTs work?
A trial is carried out on two (or more) groups where participants are randomly assigned to either an ‘intervention’ (i.e. the intervention group) or ‘controlled condition’ (i.e. the control group). Each group is tested at the end of a trial and the results from the groups are compared to see if the intervention has made a difference – in other words, has the intervention achieved its desired outcome? If the randomised groups are large enough, you can be confident that differences observed are due to the intervention and not some other factor.

Who uses RCTs?
RCTs are a popular choice among research organisations, programme developers, and governments due to their rigorous methodology and ability to demonstrate causal impact. 


Who can take part in RCTs?
Those participating in education trials tend to include pupils/students, teachers, families and young children. Whole schools, classes, or individual pupils can be randomised, depending on the intervention being trialled.

What are the benefits of RCTs?

  • They offer a robust methodology that allows for causal conclusions of impact.They are considered one of the best ways of showing if an intervention is achieving its aims and intended impact.
  • They help inform school purchasing decisions.
  • They assess how an intervention is delivered to provide clear guidance for roll-out.