The House of Commons Education Select Committee has launched an ‘evidence check’, a web forum open to everyone with an interest in education policy in England. The Committee is inviting individuals and organisations to scrutinise and comment on the Department for Education’s use of evidence.
This is an issue we drew attention to as requiring urgent attention in our Vision for science and mathematics education. Policy-making should be informed by high-quality evidence.
The assessment of practical science (which the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has taken up) is a case in point. Ofqual’s original decision to separate the grading of practical science from the A-level examination grade was prompted by concerns over teacher ‘malpractice’. However, Ofqual has stubbornly refused to consider alternative forms of assessment, despite repeated calls from the science community (including various statements from SCORE). Unfortunately, however, robust evidence for these alternatives is lacking, making it difficult to identify a suitable one. This example highlights some of the challenges faced where sufficient evidence is simply not available and is needed to ensure that changes are made that are properly informed. As a nation, we need to get better at anticipating and acting on research needs.
If we want education policy to be evidence-led, we must ensure that we have a sufficient community of adequately funded researchers and a coherent strategy for educational research. But we also need the connections between policy-makers, the education research community, practitioners and the wider public to be much stronger than they are currently. Government departments and their agencies need to ensure they are comprehensively informed by evidence, understanding that this may come from diverse sources. They must also demonstrate how they have considered this and drawn their conclusions as they develop new policy.
So as the Chair of our Education Committee said in her response to the Committee’s call, this evidence check is welcome (first cheer).
Quite how the success of this venture will be judged is unclear, but the forum has received over 300 responses at the time of writing, which probably comfortably exceeds the numbers that many Select Committee inquiries might normally expect to attract.
This choice of inquiry – and its openness – is genuinely refreshing (second cheer!). If you want to contribute to the forum, you have till noon tomorrow. So act fast!