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Meta-synthesis and comparative meta-analysis of education research findings : some risks and benefits.

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


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.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This is the accepted version of the following article: Higgins, S. (2016), Meta-synthesis and comparative meta-analysis of education research findings: some risks and benefits. Review of Education, 4(1): 31-53, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
Date accepted:11 January 2016
Date deposited:02 February 2016
Date of first online publication:04 April 2016
Date first made open access:04 October 2017

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