14, November, 2013

“Filling an “evidence free space” – the case for the education media centre”

By Estelle Morris, former Education secretary & EMC Patron

Estelle Morris

Estelle Morris

 

Whatever views people may have about the direction of education policy, there is broad agreement that almost every part of the education system has changed over the last three decades. Whether it is the curriculum, assessment, early years, tuition fees, vocational education, use of data, teaching quality, league tables or Ofsted – the pace of change has been fast.

 

The place of education in the life of the nation has also changed. This is the first generation of teachers who have been asked to raise standards for every child. Expectations are higher, our tolerance of failure less and teachers are the most accountable of professions. Even the ownership of schools has changed as new state school providers have join the state sector. The number of people studying at University has increased and the education industry is now seen as a thriving export business.

 

Education used to be no-one’s political priority; now it is everyone’s. Not surprisingly, the public’s thirst for information about education – as parents, employers and students – has also grown. However, the public are not just passive observers; with some of the reforms in the public sector shifting power and influence to the users of the service, people are very much encouraged to be active citizens exercising greater choice and more involvement than ever before.

 

It is not only the public who are being given more power to make decisions. Education policy emphasises local responsibility with each school having greater freedoms about what to teach, how to teach and who can teach.

 

It is clear the public, policy makers and practitioners need to be better informed about education than ever before. The information they need is certainly available. Education is rich in data; there is a bank of local, national and international information which can identify good practice and governments trawl over the international evidence using it to justify their policy decisions.  In addition, millions of pounds are spent each year on education research and reports are published week in and week out.

 

Yet this evidence doesn’t inform the public debate in the way it should. Unlike other disciplines there is no effective link between research and policy and practice. There is no single place where research can be accessed and it is rarely presented in a language that non experts can understand. The result is too often education policy making and teaching take place in an evidence free space.

 

We would all benefit from a better understanding of what the evidence really tells us and we know that most people look to the media as sources of information. By supporting journalists in the search for that evidence we could transform the public education debate – and that is why the Education Media Centre is needed.

 

It will provide authoritative and clear insights into education research and give journalists access to and analysis of both national and international research evidence. This in turn will improve the policy development, practice and public understanding of education.  It will build a bridge between research, policy and practice and make it easy for journalists and the public to access trusted research evidence.

 

It won’t remove disagreement or dissent nor will opinions be less strongly held – thankfully! However, if all this is against a background of more evidence and greater understanding the quality of education debate and decisions could be transformed; and a better media and public understanding of research will make its own contribution to an improved education system and higher standards.

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