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Blog post Part of special issue: What are we educating for?

The complexity of the relations between policy, research and practice in primary education

Marlon Moncrieffe, President Elect at British Educational Research Association

I would like to believe that our national policymakers for primary school education seek out the relationship between policy, research and practice. I’d like to think that to achieve this they are steering research towards problem-solving and towards combining knowledge about what works. I see that strengthening policy for the development of the primary school teaching profession should be intended to support research-informed practice. The Chartered College of Teacher continued professional development programmes and evidence-led research opportunities given through the British Educational Research Association and its ‘close to practice’ concept are good examples of championing engagement with robust evidence to inform education practice.

Nonetheless, educational research is difficult to transfer to practice because its findings may vary with context, or they may be interpreted differently, or they may contradict policy directions (Scutt, 2023). The possibility of linking research to policy and practice must give attention to the complexity of power dynamics between policymakers, researchers and practitioners, and the extent to which they pursue different agendas.

‘The possibility of linking research to policy and practice must give attention to the complexity of power dynamics between policymakers, researchers and practitioners, and the extent to which they pursue different agendas.’

The formality of educational policy for primary education to a greater extent is being communicated by agencies working within or invited formally to work with the Department for Education (DfE). For example, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) received a grant of £137 million to put it on a long-term footing and continue its work for at least another decade as an ‘independent evidence broker’ evaluating and spreading best practice across English schools, nurseries and colleges. I think it is fair to ask the question: How truly independent can the commissioned be from the hand that feeds its mouth? Maybe some of this available government funding could have been offered in transforming and advancing primary education where the government was directly challenged by multiple voices across society. For example, during and after the Black Lives Matters anti-racism protests of 2020, robust evidence-based research was presented by multiple expert academics, and independent organisations in parliamentary debates. Data and evidence were given by teachers and parents illuminating what they saw as inadequacies and inequalities of the primary school national history curriculum. However, this in-depth evidence-led research was rebuffed by the government.

There have been multiple Secretaries of State for Education since July 2022: Donelan, Cleverly, Malthouse and now Keegan. I do not think any of them had or has offered to the teaching profession an articulated sense in knowing the critical relationship between policy, practice, and research in primary education. Instead, we are continuously served by ‘no change’ caretaking of the original neoconservative educational policy doctrine set out by Michael Gove in 2010. This has been reified by various coalition government and conservative government policies including the static ‘Our Island Story’ Anglocentric framing of the current primary national history curriculum policy (DfE, 2013). The aims and contents of this educational policy instructs teachers to teach the children of our multiethnic and multicultural society to learn about the history of nation and nation building through a dominant and exemplified account of white British history (Moncrieffe, 2023, 2020). Despite the evidence-led research for primary school history curriculum knowledge transformations in teaching and learning, there has been a backlash of gaslighting and trashing of the argument by some government ministers. In doing so, they have ducked the possibility of educational policy reforms that could give instruction and guidance for a more critical teaching and learning about primary school British history through multi-ethnic and multi-cultural experiences. The relations between policy, research and practice in primary education is framed by epistemological contentions. Still, my view is that the dominance of uncritical mono-ethnic exemplified accounts of white British history in primary school education is not what we should be educating children for.


Department for Education [DfE]. (2013). History programmes of study: Key stages 1 and 2. National curriculum in England (pp. 1–5). 

Moncrieffe, M. L. (2023). Examining challenges and possibilities in the objective of a decolonized education. Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Education.

Moncrieffe, M. L. (2020). Decolonising the history curriculum: Euro-centrism and primary schooling. Palgrave Pivot.

Scutt, C. (2023). Teachers’ engagement with research in England. Education: The State of the Discipline, Research Intelligence, 154, 22–23.