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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Steve Higgins

Higgins, S. (2016). Meta-synthesis and comparative meta-analysis of education research findings: some risks and benefits. Review of Education 4(1): 31-53.

Author(s) from Durham


Meta-analysis, or quantitative synthesis, is the statistical combination of research findings. It can identify whether an intervention or approach, on balance, is effective or not, and can explain variation in findings by identifying patterns associated with larger or smaller effects across studies. It is now more widely applied in medicine and psychology, even though the term was first used in education, and the underpinning statistical ideas date back 70 years or so. This review traces the development of meta-analysis in education and the history of meta-meta-analysis or ‘meta-synthesis’ in more detail, where the temptation is not just to draw conclusions about similar studies, but to aggregate findings across meta-analyses to understand the relative benefits of different approaches on educational outcomes. A final section presents the rationale for the Sutton Trust–Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which aims to present accurate and accessible findings from research studies which are sufficiently applicable to inform professional decision-making and action in schools, as an example of a ‘meta-synthesis’ for education.