Making the case for education

Campaigning for the social sciences

Making the case for educationIn support of the Academy of Social Sciences campaign ‘Making the Case for the Social Sciences’, Routledge and the British Educational Research Association (BERA) have co-published a new booklet highlighting key education research. The booklet shines a light on several educational challenges which have been improved by the influence of key research. To find out more about the campaign we spoke to Professor David James, member of the Council of BERA.

What is your role in relation to the Campaign for Social Sciences?
I led a small advisory group that selected the examples that feature in Making the Case 12, which is on Education.  I worked closely with Madeleine Barrows at the Academy of Social Sciences to arrive at the concise accounts of research in the booklet. I’m a Fellow of the Academy, and my day job at Cardiff University includes looking after the ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership – essentially, educating and training the next generation of leading social scientists.

The aims of the Campaign for Social Sciences is to raise the profile of social science in the public, media and parliament.

Can you explain why you feel it is so important these fields are specifically highlighted and promoted?
There continues to be excellent work by the Economic and Social Research Council and others to raise the profile of social scientific research, but there is still a long way to go.  If we want to live in a society that is both democratic and dynamic, we need to invest in independent social science.  The knowledge and understanding that comes from it can confirm, modify or challenge all sorts of practices and assumptions, or reveal how inequalities are being sustained, or help us pinpoint where there is scope and need for positive change.

What are the main objectives of the Campaign?
The Campaign has several interlocking goals, which include making sure that the voices of social science are heard in all the right places, and promoting the proper use of evidence in policy.  In the case of education, one of the goals is simply to remind anyone concerned with policy and practice that research offers some really useful diagnoses and remedies, and is also a source of new ways of thinking and doing things.  Educational research in the UK is amongst the best in the world, yet relative to the scale and cost of the whole educational enterprise, we don’t actually spend very much on it.  The ‘Making the Case’ booklet contains a small cross-section of the many instances of research that is having an impact.  An irony here is that some excellent research has less impact than it should, something that social science shares with the physical sciences.

What activities is the campaign involved in to promote and influence key organisations and individuals? What impact have you seen from this to date?
The Campaign has organised a series of events centred on the Making the Case booklets (of which ‘Education’ is number 12).  These events bring together key figures in the policy community, including elected politicians, together with key researchers and people from relevant practice communities.

Do you encourage involvement at an individual, local level? What could interested individuals do to contribute to the campaign?  
Yes. People can attend events, acquire and share the booklets, and when they argue for research to have proper consideration in policy development or revision, they can do so knowing that they are part of a movement rather than being on their own as individuals or institutions.  Researchers and practitioners who have made a distinctive contribution to the social sciences can be nominated for Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences.


David James is Professor in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University, and Director of the ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership.  He is a member of the Council of the British Educational Research Association, and Editor of a leading international journal, the British Journal of Sociology of Education.  His research focuses on the relationship between social inequality and educational institutions/processes.

From improving struggling schools to widening participation, dive in to the latest educational research addressed by many of the ‘Making the Case’ studies.