Where's the expertise? Funding body questions lack of skilled education researchers

16th September 2013 at 13:39
One of the UK’s biggest funders of education research is struggling to find enough academics with the necessary expertise to carry out its studies, it has emerged.
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has been turning to economists to carry out some of its work with schools because it has found it “a stretch” to find education researchers with quantitative skills.
The news came as a former advisor to education secretary, Michael Gove, warned there was also “a real capacity problem” for education research that was useful to policy-makers.
In effort to build the research capacity that it needs, the EEF – which funds studies on potential ways of breaking the link between educational achievement and family income – is offering to help academics from university education departments acquire the right skills.
“Building the capacity up for more high quality quantitative research is something we want to see,” the charity’s chief executive, Kevan Collins, told TES.
“At times we are struggling to find enough of it. Before the summer holidays we ran a conference for people from educational research departments who wanted to find out about more about quantitative research.”
He said that academics’ skills tended to match the research that was funded, which in education had often focused on qualitative work.
But with its multi-million pound budget and an emphasis on quantitative studies the EEF is changing the balance and putting new demands that the system is not yet managing to meet.
Sam Freedman, a former special advisor to Mr Gove, told the researchED conference last week in government he had struggled to find enough UK research on key education policy questions
“There is a real capacity problem about the sort of evidence that is of real value to policy makers,” he said. “We are really missing centres that are focused on education policy as opposed to education practice.
“We don’t have, for example, an equivalent to the Kings Fund in health, who are a think-tank who are pretty well respected across the board.”
Mr Freedman said there was a lack of money in UK education research but the EEF demonstrated that this was “only half the problem”.
“We don’t have the people to do the work even if we have the money,” he said. “There is a real vicious circle that we need to turn into a virtuous one.”
The EEF has been given a £125m government grant and with the addition of investment income and its own fundraising expects to fund £200m of studies by 2026.
So far 56 pieces of EEF research are underway, with one in 12 schools in England involved.They range from seeing whether weekly music lessons improve academic achievement  to whether extra “Saturday schools” for pupils who fall behind can raise results
The studies will include qualitative research to explain why something happened but also require researchers to have quantitative skills.
The majority are full randomised control trials – where the results from a school using the innovation in question are compared against a control group of schools that are not.
“It is a stretch to find capacity in the system for that at the moment,” said Dr Collins. “We sometimes work with economists to do the quantitative work but we want to work with more people in education. We would like to see more capacity in education research departments.”


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