2019: Looking back and looking forward

By Carole Willis, NFER Chief Executive

Friday 20 December 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, this is a good opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months and look ahead to what the New Year may bring for NFER and the wider education community.

Firstly, I would like to take a moment to thank you for your continued support and interest in NFER over the last year, particularly the many schools we work with.

In education, it has been a year of change. A new Secretary of State for Education (Gavin Williamson) was announced in July – meaning we are now onto our fourth Secretary of State in four years - and a new Inspection Framework was introduced in September.

As far as the election was concerned, education struggled to feature as prominently as Brexit and the NHS, as noted in our election blog series. Whilst there were differing views on the future of accountability, all three major parties agreed on the need for more funding for education, including higher teacher pay. So, what will be invested in education by the new Government? The Conservative Party, now with a majority, promised a £3bn National Skills Fund alongside other major spending on schools, skills and training. Our research into T Levels demonstrated that, whilst there is a commitment to deliver amongst providers, funding and awareness amongst parents and employers will be key.

The teacher workforce continues to be a key issue and we published our first Teacher Labour Market report in February, providing information about the growing challenges for the sector. We also explored the role of part-time and flexible working and shared case studies and examples of good practice while highlighting some of the practical challenges. Next year we will take a state of the nation view of the teacher workforce and also explore the role of professional autonomy in retaining teachers in the profession.

In the autumn term we piloted the DfE’s new Reception Baseline Assessment with around 9.000 schools. This was a critical phase of the assessment development and we would like to thank all of the schools that participated. We were delighted with the detail and positivity in the feedback, all of which will contribute to the quality and reliability of the final assessment – which is on track for delivery in 2020.

In September, we jointly hosted a celebration with the Royal Statistical Society to bring together leading figures in the field of education research to celebrate the centenary of the first recorded randomised control trial (RCT) in education. Over 100 education researchers and research users gathered at the Royal Statistical Society to take stock and debate future developments in RCTs.

Mental health and wellbeing of both teachers and young people continued to be front and centre in everyone’s minds over the year. In December, we published the results from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018. As well as highlighting how performance in reading, science and maths has changed over time across the 4 UK nations, we also drew attention to the worrying levels of life satisfaction amongst young people across the whole of the UK, compared to other countries. This is an area where further analysis of the data is needed to help policy makers and others – from across and outside education – consider their response.

We continue to develop new resources for schools, including new Spring assessments available for next year. Our Classroom Assessment Hub continues to expand with free resources developed by our experts. A popular download has been our trainee and early career teachers handbook for primary assessment in England. Schools using NFER Tests have been benefiting from our new and free online analysis tool which launched earlier this academic year. It has been described as “really detailed, very clear and focused”.

This year we have actively engaged with colleagues and stakeholders through a series of roundtables and presentations, not only to share our evidence, but also to explore its implications. Our previous research has highlighted the challenges in getting research evidence used in policy and practice, and during 2020 we will continue to find ways to share our research and insights more widely to inform key decision makers and improve education in the UK and in other countries.

My very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

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