Leading thinktank to focus on education to plug gaps in 'objective evidence'

15th June 2016 at 00:01
David Laws
Centre Forum will be renamed Education Policy Institute with effect from today

One of England’s most influential thinktanks is to dedicate itself to education in a bid to provide better evidence for policy debate.

Centre Forum, whose executive chair is the former schools minister David Laws, will change its name to the Education Policy Institute (EPI) with effect from today.

It will focus on using data-driven research and analysis to understand the effect of education policies.

It has appointed three new trustees: the Labour peer and former Ofsted chair Sally Morgan; Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation and Sir Theodore Agnew, chair of the Inspiration Trust academy chain.

Its chair of trustees is Sir Paul Marshall, chair of the Ark academy chain.  

In a joint article published today on the organisation's website, Mr Laws and the EPI’s executive director Natalie Perera said the organisation would be “independent, impartial and evidence-based” and would aim to “inform the debate about raising standards in education.”

“Identifying and promoting good education policy is crucial,” they write. “But the policy debate is often occupied by contradictory views, which can be based on personal experience and political instinct rather than on robust evidence.

“There is an urgent need for objective, impartial and independent research that can influence and inform the education debate; research that is rigorous and grounded in evidence, and can also directly inform and shape the policy debate and public policy.”

They said the EPI would “hold government and education providers to account for their performance and help identify the key policies which can improve educational outcomes for all.”

But Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) is not happy. “There are over a million words in the English language," he told the TES's sister title Times Higher Education. "So it beggars belief that CentreForum were unable to come up with an original new name rather than pinching three-quarters of ours.

“I hope their research is more original than their naming policy.”

Mr Hillman suggested that the title “institute” was attractive to those wanting to match some of the esteem accorded to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The former special adviser to Conservative universities minister David Willetts in the coalition government continued: “The Lib Dems have sunk without much trace and David Laws is trying to carve himself out a post-Parliament career.

“It is also about trying to get away from their political heritage by piggy-backing on the reputation of other bodies – it might be us, it might be the IFS.”

“It is not as if they don’t know about the existence of Hepi,” said Mr Hillman. Hepi and CentreForum co-hosted a round-table event on private providers in 2014.

Mr Laws said: “We are confident that the names are sufficiently distinct and we have worked hard to make sure there won't be any confusion between Hepi and the Education Policy Institute.

“Hepi has built up a strong reputation and identity in higher education policy. The Education Policy Institute will cover all aspects of education policy, including young people’s mental health, education in the criminal justice system, and the earliest years of a child’s development.”

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