Skip to main content

25 July 2018

Effective Laws: Assessing Education Policy

Former Schools Minister David Laws gave the King's Education Lecture on 4 July on the role of evidence in education policy making. The event was hosted by the School of Education, Communication & Society.

David Laws delivers the King's Education Lecture 2018
David Laws delivers the King's Education Lecture 2018

David Laws challenged the education research community to improve the "quality, timeliness and relevance" of its outputs in order to better influence the education policy making process.

Giving the King's 2018 Education Lecture, the former Schools Minister drew on his experience as part of the government that introduced key education reforms including free schools and the Pupil Premium, and more recently as Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute think tank.

"I can barely remember any research or policy evaluation landing in my red box," he noted. Reasons for this absence include the focus on policy makers on delivery and the nature of politics and the media, Laws admitting that he once did not agree to a built-in evaluation in case it generated negative media headlines in future.

“We have to be realistic and recognise that the policy making process will never be perfect”. 

Despite this he called for much greater evaluation of education policies. He cited the lack of evaluation integrated into the delivery of Labour's academies policy 2002-10, which on the surface improved attainment levels between 2002-10, but without any more granular analysis of why. "The taxpayer must insist on evaluation" integrated at the start of every new policy. 

Laws also recommended that researchers engage with opposition parties, as they are more likely to be open to new ideas and their policies less set in stone. Invariably their research resource is "pitifully small."

Meg Maguire, Professor of the Sociology of Education at King's responded to the lecture. She agreed that it was essential for all key players to agree that we need a "firm evidence base" although it is "not as simple as just going out and getting the data." She noted that the school system has become "incoherent" with increased incentives for schools to compete, and that academic researchers have a vital role to play in tracking the impact of education reforms.

An audience of teachers, students, and members of the education community attended the lecture and participated in the Q+A . Questions included challenges to the unrecognised role of ideology in both policy making and research and the removal of enjoyment from primary schooling in favour of testing.