Working to make government more effective


Guest blog: Evidence check – are the Department for Education’s policies evidence-based?

Who is checking the Department for Education's homework?

Graham Stuart

In March 2013, the Department for Education published a paper by Dr Ben Goldacre which argued that teachers have the opportunity to “become an evidence based profession”, by using evidence to improve outcomes in education in the same way as in medicine.

But how far does the Department itself use evidence to determine the policies that it makes? The House of Commons Education Committee is charged with scrutinising the policy, administration and expenditure of the DfE, and a crucial question for any of the Committee’s inquiries is always ‘What’s the evidence base for the Government’s policy?’ With this in mind the Committee has launched a new kind of exercise called ‘Evidence Check’ to look at this question across a range of topics, building on the work of the Science and Technology Committee in 2009. The DfE was asked to prepare a brief statement on each of the nine policy areas below, explaining in two pages what the Government’s policy was and what evidence was being used to justify the policy. These documents have now been published, and the Committee is inviting comments on them through a series of forums on its website. An additional page is devoted to comments on the way that the Department uses evidence in general, and the discussions across the forums will help the Committee to choose which of these will receive further scrutiny in one-off oral sessions in the New Year. The nine topics are: •Phonics •Teaching Assistants •Professional Measurement Metrics •National College of Teaching and Leadership •Summer Born Children •Universal Infant Free School Meals •Impact of Raising the Participation Age •Music Education •School Starting Age. It’s a different way of working for the Committee. Normally the Department’s written submission to an inquiry arrives at the same time as others are submitting theirs, and there is little scope for commentators to get together to build on each other’s comments and criticisms. Evidence Check turns this around – the Department’s view of the evidence across a range of areas is available, and anyone can contribute to an iterative discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the Department’s statement. The forums will remain open until Friday 12 December. Nick Gibb, the Minister for School Reform, told the ResearchED conference in September that the Government was “working to put evidence right at the heart of our education system” through establishing the Education Endowment Foundation. Through Evidence Check, the Education Committee will be investigating whether evidence is also at the heart of the DfE.
Institute for Government

Related content