Avoiding bias in randomised controlled trials in educational research

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Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are often seen as the 'gold standard' of evaluative research. However, whilst randomisation will ensure comparable groups, trials are still vulnerable to a range of biases that can undermine their internal validity. In this paper we describe a number of common threats to the internal validity of RCTs and methods of countering them. We highlight a number of examples from randomised trials in education and health care where Problems of execution and analysis of the RCT has undermined their internal validity. However, awareness of these potential biases can lead to careful planning to avoid or reduce their occurrence. If good quality randomised trials are to inform policy and practice in education then rigorous trials need to be designed that are the least susceptible to threats to their validity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-45
Number of pages10
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2003


  • randomised controlled trials
  • research bias
  • effectiveness
  • quantitative research

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