'How to' Run Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs): An Introduction

National Foundation for Educational Research

04 April 2014

One of a series of Research in Schools ‘How to’ Guides, designed to help practitioners run research projects in education. To support schools in engaging with and running research, we have made our popular ‘How to’ Guides available to download free of charge.

Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) are seen as the gold standard for demonstrating the impact of an intervention or teaching practice on outcomes. RCTs are often misunderstood and this guide explains in simple language what an RCT involves and what the benefits and limitations of running RCTs are.

An RCT can be used to evaluate an intervention but they are not always suitable: consider your sample size, your randomisation process, any risks of contamination and ethical issues. The guide is designed to introduce you to RCTs to both help you understand how large-scale professional RCTs are run and is an ideal introduction for those asked to participate in one. A useful terminology section translates complex phrases into everyday language.

RCTs are highly regarded by many organisations involved in education research including the Department of Education (DfE) and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

As with any research methodology, RCTs have their place and are not suitable for all research and evaluation - the guide explains why. Written by NFER researchers, it will ensure your methods of research are based on professional guidance.

This guide was published in 2014 and was correct at the time of publication. Users are encouraged to check for the latest advice on data protection with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation. For further information please visit the ICO website.