Teachers turn to think tanks over DfE for schools research

School leaders and teachers are more likely to rely on think tanks for research to help them improve schools, rather than the Department for Education (DfE), a government-commissioned report has found.

The paper, which evaluates the progress in evidence-informed teaching in England, found that school staff seeking research and evidence were more likely to look towards specialist organisations like the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) or the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) than the DfE or its agencies.

Academics have suggested that an independent research evidence advisory body be set up to review the extent to which policy is aligned with evidence.

At a policy level, other policy organisations were judged to have stronger messaging than DfE

The report from academics at Sheffield Hallam University, the UCL Institute of Education and Durham University found that senior school leaders felt other policy organisations like the NFER and EEF were “judged to have stronger messaging than DfE”.

“DfE documents promoting research use for school improvement focused on awareness of research and how to use evidence in school improvement,” the report says.

“Other policy organisations (including EEF and NFER) produced more outputs in this area, according to the content analysis.”

The research found that some teachers and leaders saw government policy as being more aligned with research evidence than it had been in the past, although evidence some others contradicted this assertion.

School leaders still feel the alignment between policy and research needs to be improved, especially in relation to accountability drivers, the research found.

It also says that the need to implement new government policies and meet accountability requirements placed on schools was “high in the minds of school leaders and teachers”, leaving little time for research engagement or use.

Highly research-engaged leaders felt that that if these requirements were “clearly aligned with research evidence” then that would alleviate this problem and “allow them to meet such requirements whilst ensuring practice is evidence-informed”, the report says.

In conclusion, the report calls on the government to align policy changes with “the best research evidence available”, and suggests that this could be achieved by launching an independent research evidence advisory body.

Such a body would consist of “highly research-engaged school leaders and practitioners”, alongside respected researchers and other parties such as EEF to “review and monitor the extent to which research evidence is aligned with educational policy”.

The same or a different group could do the same for Ofsted, the report concludes.

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