Educational research

Young people need the best possible education if they are to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Yet as the world changes, so too does the nature of education itself. Governments across the world spend billions on education, making crucial decisions about how to deploy resources. Getting it right matters. That is why education policy and practice should be informed by the best available research evidence.

Why educational research is important

Education in the UK would benefit from a strong foundation on evidence, and the principle for basing education policy on research needs to be re-established. The Royal Society believes that educational research provides the underpinning evidence to improve education, but there are sizeable gaps in knowledge and understanding.

This requires collaboration between science and mathematics education researchers, scientists, teaching professionals, policy makers and the public.

In collaboration with the British Academy, the Royal Society has continued its work to better understand educational research in the UK with the aim of improving this vital component of our education system for young people up to school or college leaving age.

The Landscape of Educational Research in the UK

Following the publication of the 2018 Harnessing report, the Academies commissioned research from the University of Oxford’s Department of Education to map out the landscape of educational research in the UK.  A summary of the findings is published here, together with the full report.

The full report (PDF) identifies and quantifies the production of educational research within the UK over a ten-year period (2010-2020). It maps key research outputs, funding patterns, main topics, approaches and dissemination across this ten-year period. This includes data on the largest funders of educational research, annual mean grant funding income and the most common topics of research. 

Our summary ‘The Landscape of Educational Research in the UK’ highlights the report’s key qualitative insights on the strategic direction of the discipline, its wider profile and sustainability.

Investing in a 21st-century educational research system

Drawing on both ‘Harnessing’ and the ‘Landscape’ report, the Academies have produced a briefing which outlines some priorities for policymakers.

The Academies are calling on the UK government to raise levels of investment in educational research in proportion with other sectors, create a more coordinated, forward-thinking system, and support research in underdeveloped and emerging areas.

These recommendations are intended to improve the ecosystem of educational research so that our education system is always learning and can best support individual citizens’ needs and economic growth. They include:

  1. Government should increase funding for educational research, bringing it into line with other important public service research funding.
  2. Research funders should include more long-term research funding opportunities and support for underrepresented and emerging research themes to provide deeper insight into important questions and into the effectiveness of policy changes.
  3. Government should pilot a model of advocacy and coordination to strengthen the educational research infrastructure. This would offer strategic advice to government and help to translate evidence into practice.

Harnessing educational research

In collaboration with the British Academy, our report Harnessing educational research assesses the state of educational research in the UK and sets out an ambitious vision for the future.

Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers identified mismatches between supply and demand, leading to a lack of sustained research effort.

Recommendations are for governments, UKRI, higher education institutions and education organisations such as learned societies, regulators, and professional bodies to help remove barriers and improve outcomes from formal (4-18) education.

They include:

  1. Connecting supply and demand
  2. Understanding the geography of the research ecosystem
  3. Improving collaboration
  4. Securing the supply of expert researchers
  5. Ensuring quality related funding
  6. Supporting use of research to inform teaching
  7. Recognising the needs of policymakers
  8. Making more use of evidence synthesis

Improving collaboration in the ecosystem event

To take forward this recommendation, the Royal Society and the British Academy hosted an Educational Research Forum, which brought together educational researchers, policy makers and teaching practitioners to talk about shared challenges and opportunities in educational research.