Is research evidence informing government policy in education?
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 10 December 2014
Recently there has been increased interest in the use of evidence from research studies to inform policy making by government. This research evidence can be of many types. It can include empirical findings on things such as educational attainment, and evidence of effectiveness (‘what works’) of different strategies (such as how to teach phonics). It can also include explanations of how things work and how the world can be understood. Research is of course not the only thing that can influence policy, it is just one important useful resource.
But is research being used in this way in practice? The House of Commons Education Select Committee has been asking this question of the Department for Education (DfE). They have asked the DfE to explain the way that research has informed nine different areas of government education policy. The nine topics (and links to the DfE’s answers) can be found at these links:
- Teaching Assistants
- Professional Measurement Metrics
- National College of Teaching and Leadership
- Summer Born Children
- Universal Infant Free School Meals
- Impact of Raising the Participation Age
- Music Education
- School Starting Age
To take one example, the DfE response points out that teaching assistants can make an important contribution if deployed effectively. Systematic reviews (like those undertaken at the EPPI-Centre where I work) provide an overview of what the research evidence states. We have not undertaken reviews on teaching assistants, but the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) have summarised the results of other systematic reviews in their Toolkit. The EEF Toolkit confirms that there is evidence that teaching assistants can be effective, but also suggests that further evidence still is needed.
The Select Committee is also interested in what we all think about the extent to which the DfE has used evidence. They want to know your thoughts on: (i) The strength of the evidence submitted by the DfE on the nine topic areas; and (ii) The DfE’s use of evidence more generally. Find out more at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/dfe-evidence-check-forum/
This ‘Evidence Check’ process is a fascinating way for Parliament (and all of us) to see how research is (or is not) being used to inform government policy. The EPPI-Centre at the Institute of Education has been involved in these issues in a number of ways.
We develop methods for mixed methods systematic reviews of the research evidence – so that an explicit summary of research rather than individual studies or opinion alone can inform policy and practice. We also work with the Coalition for Evidence Based Education to facilitate the use of research evidence in education and have led two European Commission EIPPPEE projects to share learning in evidence use across Europe. We have developed a Research Advisory Service to assist those who want help in understanding how research might be of assistance to them. As we also need to study processes of how research is used (research on research use), we are evaluating initiatives to increase evidence use by teachers in schools for the EEF. We even help edit an academic journal on such issues called Evidence and Policy. And we are not alone in undertaking this developmental work at the Institute: we also contribute to the IOE Research and Development Network that provides research support services to schools.
The Education Select Committee’s Evidence Check consultation closes on the 12th December. We look forward to hearing the Committee’s deliberations.