Fran Abrams, Co-Chief Executive of the Education Media Centre, talks to us about the organisation and its upcoming seminar on the switch to evidence-based education.
What is the EMC and why was it set up?
The Education Media Centre is a charity run by journalists. It was set up four years ago, and its founding patron is the former Education Secretary, Estelle Morris. She believes – as we all do – that changes in education policy and practice have too often been made without reference to what works. So we work with journalists to help “make evidence make news”. We know the national education correspondents well and when there’s a breaking news story on education, we work with them to make sure they have access to the best evidence.
To find out more about EMC you can go to our website – there’s a short film on there about our work.
On 15 September you will be delivering a seminar on the switch to evidence-based education in BESA offices. How old would you say is this trend towards evidence-based policy in the UK?
I wouldn’t say the trend is very old at all – in fact it’s in its infancy: just four years ago, the former Education Secretary Michael Gove referred to academics as “The Blob”.
But we’re hopeful about the current incumbent, Justine Greening. She’s announced that there’ll be “research schools” in each area acting as focal points for evidence-based practice to improve social mobility, and the new Chartered College of Teaching is ensuring teachers have access to the best evidence about what works.
How difficult are you finding it to communicate about research? Has the public really “had enough of experts”, as Michael Gove infamously said last year?
It’s not difficult – in our fast-moving internet world I think the public appetite for factual evidence is greater than ever. People want to know their news is coming from sources they can trust.
But when you’re working with the media you have to know how journalists work in order to get your message across. If you’re reacting to a big news story about education, for instance, it’s no good speaking up the next day after the press has moved on to the next issue.
How do you think we can fight against the current “fake news” global trend? How much do you think it affects the education sector?
I don’t think “fake news” is really anything new – there’s always been propaganda and misinformation. Apparently, the Roman Emperor Octavian spread false rumours about his rival Mark Antony, saying he was Cleopatra’s puppet and a drunkard to boot. And if you look around, you’ll find examples from just about every era since then.
Education is as susceptible to misrepresentation and sensationalism as any other walk of public life. But in my experience, the education correspondents with whom we work are committed and responsible and they genuinely want to do their job well. I guess what I’d draw from that is that if you want to get your message across, you should work with someone you trust.