Turkeys don't vote for Christmas

By Ben Durbin

Thursday 27 November 2014

Few things are certain in life – but there are one or two: turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, teachers don’t vote for Ofsted*, and research organisations will always call for more research.

So it won’t come as a surprise that at last week’s NFER Annual Reception, our main message for an incoming government – of whatever political hue – is that they must put evidence at the heart of education policy.

Our Chief Exec, Carole Willis, argued to a room full of the great, the good and canapé fans alike, that if government doesn’t have a good understanding of where the education system is working – and what isn’t working – how will we know what needs to change? And if we don’t look at how systems are working in other countries, how will we identify new approaches which might raise standards here?

Of course, evidence will never be the sole driver of policy. And evidence very rarely provides a black or white answer. However, it does provide a crucial source of insight into the scale or nature of education challenges, a basis for decision-making that transcends short-term political pressures or individual bias, and a formal approach to ensuring that past lessons are applied to future policy.

In her speech, Carole also argued that evidence has the power not only to transform policy: it’s a great untapped resource for teachers too. Evidence can empower teachers to grasp hold of the professional autonomy now being heralded by all political parties. Whether it be greater autonomy granted to individual schools, new school-based routes into teaching, debate over the role of qualified teacher status, or speeches about teacher workload, there is a renewed focus on teachers being what ultimately makes the difference to children.

Myself and colleagues have discussed the issues and opportunities related to evidence-informed practice in various previous blogs. There are many challenges, including increasing the supply of high-quality, relevant evidence; how this can best be shared with teachers; and ensuring the evidence is embedded into the daily life of a teacher, rather than simply being one more thing to worry about.

NFER is committed to doing all we can to tackle these challenges, which is why yesterday we announced a new role as part of the Coalition for Evidence Based Education (CEBE). CEBE is an alliance that brings together a range of interested parties from teaching, research and policy, to catalyse new initiatives (such as the Education Media Centre) that put evidence at the heart of education.

We’re already busy preparing for an event on 8 December to develop further a number of the ideas that emerged from CEBE events hosted throughout the year by NFER, the London Leadership Strategy and DfE. We’ve convened a fantastic group of people (including Alex QuigleyDavid WestonCaroline Creaby, Stu Mathers, David Gough and Caroline Kenny) who share our passion for evidence in education, and will be working on ways for teachers and researchers to collaborate more effectively; on further enhancing engagement with evidence through ITT and CPD; on embedding evidence into school processes; and on examining the policy levers that could be deployed at a system level.

I’ve no idea what will come out of the day. What I can be sure of is that no turkeys will be in attendance; there will be no voting for or against Christmas; for better or worse, someone is bound to mention the role of Ofsted; and NFER will continue to do all it can to promote better, more intelligent use of evidence to the benefit of learners.

*Coming soon: Insights from the latest round of our Teacher Voice survey on what teachers do vote for.