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Where have all the boffins gone?

In 1997, Labour entered government proclaiming an end to educational ideology and promising a commitment to "what works". Policy would be based on the evidence provided by research and leading academics would be brought in to deliver it.

Over the next few years professors were in demand. Michael Barber, the man behind the literacy strategy and targets, went from the London institute of education to Downing Street via the Department for Education and Skills.

David Hargreaves, from Cambridge, became chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and after the 2001 election David Hopkins, from Nottingham, took Professor Barber's old job in the DfES standards and effectiveness unit.

David Reynolds, Tim Brighouse and other academic luminaries became formal and informal advisers. But while Professor Barber prospered, others found policy-making not to their taste.

An academic who has worked closely with the DfES argues that too few university-based researchers are willing to engage with the Government, preferring to meet the highest academic standards than to complete work on a time-scale that will be useful to policy-makers.Think-tanks, he argues, help fill that gap.

In recent times, Downing Street and the DfES have placed increasing importance on dialogue with the teaching profession.

The workforce agreement has increased the influence of union leaders such as Chris Keates, of the NASUWT, and John Dunford, of the Secondary Heads Association, within the DfES.

Meanwhile, so-called "superheads" such as Sir Dexter Hutt, David Triggs and Dame Mo Brennan - have been welcomed to a Downing Street eager to find secrets of their success that fit with the Government's agenda and can be shared.

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