Is this the dawning of the Age of Evidence?

By Karen Wespieser

Friday 6 February 2015

Changes are always a bit easier to see if you haven’t been close to a situation. Like the relative who suddenly looks older, the friend who has lost weight, or the toddler who is suddenly a teenager.

And so it was for me attending yesterday’s Westminster Education Forum seminar on using academic research and pupil data in education. I have been away from the evidence-informed education debate for a couple of years – working at the BBC, starting a family – and it was a pleasant surprise on my return to find that the discussion has moved so far forward.

One simple fact illustrated this perfectly – of the 160 delegates at the seminar, a third were from schools. I used to go to these type of events back in 2009 and 2010, and there would be one, maybe two teachers there. But at this event, on a snowy mid-term morning, over 50 members of the audience (and two of the speakers) were teachers.

Evidence-informed education is an idea that seems to have come of age. Opening the seminar, Baroness Estelle Morris identified using research and data in education as ‘an idea whose time has come’, comparable to the introduction of ICT in education in the 80s and the school improvement movement of the 90s.

One development widely cited by the symposium speakers, and topical to the timing of the event, is the proposed College of Teaching. It is broadly anticipated that, among other objectives, a College of Teaching has the potential to drive forward a strong evidence-informed agenda. This was mentioned by the symposium speakers including policymakers, researchers, and teachers. It was even welcomed by a speaker representing the unions.

Many of the barriers discussed were familiar: relevance and access for teachers; limitations of CPD in some schools; the risk-averse culture created in a highly accountable system. But there was – more than I have ever heard before – convergence on areas for optimism.

For those that have been plugging away at this debate for the past decade, it may still look like there is a long way to go. But take it from this returner, a huge shift has taken place and the time is ripe for policymakers, teachers, researchers and all those in-between to make the final push for the reform of a lifetime in our teaching system.