Constituting the education policy research field: would you like a policy with that?

Year: 2015

Author: Gerrard, Jessica, Rawolle, Shaun

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Education research, we are told, is in the midst of a restorative revisioning, where the older categories and concerns of equity and justice are overlayed and reconfigured to a tighter utilitarian focus on what works, relevancy and impact (Blackmore, 2014; Yates, 2005). The role of education research in informing educators’ work and government directions has become uncertain with the entry of a range of commercial interests and think tanks guided by profit and market position in equal measures (Hogan, Sellar & Lingard, 2015). It may be that conflict and acrimony have now become the default setting for the relationship between education research and policy (Whitty 2006)
In this paper, we enter the ongoing debates and discussion on the relationship of educational research and policy from a slightly different entry point. In what follows, we critically reflect on the formation and function of an ‘educational policy research field’. In doing so, we aim to open the discussion surrounding the relationship of the academy to policy (Ball, 1997). In particular, we suggest that the growth of educational policy studies must be considered in light of the power dynamics and relations between the policy and research fields. We contend that the emergence and growth of a dedicated policy research field along with the concurrent decline of the traditional disciplines of education (politics, history, sociology, philosophy) have important effects.
Drawing on a database of writing about the links between education research and policy, the paper presents a schematic account of the history of the education policy research field. This begins with a discussion of the central relationship between policy, practice and education research, and counterpoints this with the changing role of the state and government. We then turn to a close examination of the reform events of the 1980s, coinciding with the formation of many of the major education policy journals. We then offer a critical account of the close imbrication of education policy research and political power, taking gender policy as a point for analysis. Finally, we reflect on the difficulties education policy research faces in its position between a neo-liberal doxa and a romanticised welfare state policy reform moment of the 1970s and 1980s.
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