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CMRE re-launches as the Centre for Education Economics (CfEE)

With a view to bringing their distinctive perspective on the education policy debate into sharper focus and improving public understanding of the importance of economics in education policy, CMRE re-launches this week under a new name, the Centre for Education Economics (CfEE).

Speaking about the Centre’s re-launch, Founding Director James Croft said:

“Education economics is not a widely understood discipline. In general, although economics and data is increasingly at the heart of policymaking, the most crucial and basic economic ideas rarely make it into the wider education policy discussion at all. There is a pressing need to improve understanding of its role, and to invest in efforts to better communicate the important and often exciting emerging findings from this field. If this can be done, education economics holds great potential as a tool to improve both efficiency and equity in education in England and beyond.”

Expanding on his comments, CfEE’s Research Director, Gabriel Heller Sahlgren said:

“There’s a lot of research in education and an awful lot of it is of very poor quality, creating confusion about what works and what doesn’t in education. While many disciplines contribute to our understanding of education, economic analysis can offer key insights for policy-makers. It has a strongly quantitative approach, and a clear framework for understanding the decisions and actions of all those involved in the provision, regulation, and support of education services, and the interests of pupils, and those that seek to capitalise on their education – further and higher education providers and employers. And most importantly, it brings a relentless focus on trying to establish causal links between policy variables and outcomes.

“The decisions by families and individuals on how much to invest in human capital are the standard types of decisions that economics can fruitfully analyse. They involve trade-offs between current costs and future benefits, inter-related dynamic decisions, and risk. The education system, whether it is set up like a market or not, nevertheless has actors who have goals and constraints and who interact in one form or another  of supply and demand relationship. These features make it well-suited to economic analysis.”

CfEE’s first major report attributes failings of school autonomy reforms to poor design and implementation – in particular in relation to arrangements for accountability and oversight.

In the Centre’s first report published under the new name – Optimising autonomy: a blueprint for education reform – Executive Director, James Croft, author of the report, applies the findings of the best of the economic literature on the subject in a comprehensive review of the education reform agenda to find the failings of autonomy reforms largely attributable to poor design and implementation of arrangements for accountability and oversight.

Sponsored by:



Download a free .pdf copy here.

The report finds that:

  • While the theoretical and international evidence base for autonomy reforms is persuasive, and there is evidence of positive impact in pre-2010 Sponsored Academies, there is no trace of post-conversion improvement in previously ‘Good’ or ‘Satisfactory’/inadequate Converters, and a concerning degree of heterogeneity.
  • Head-teacher responses to the 2015 PISA survey reveal a widespread perception that there is no difference in the degree of autonomy between academies and maintained schools in respect of either resource or curriculum autonomy.
  • Reform efforts towards an autonomous, school-led, and ultimately parent-accountable education system have faltered, giving way to an increasingly interventionist and public accountability-driven approach. 
  • Plans to expand capacity by removing existing constraints on academic and faith selection in particular would undermine existing mechanisms for improvement and exacerbate, rather than alleviate, educational inequities.

In assessing the functioning of the system, the report finds that:

  • Competition is inadequately supported by choice, and success overly determined by league tables and other accountability measures that conflate student and school performance in too narrow a range of subjects.
  • The current ‘comparable outcomes’ framework set by Ofqual, which determines the acceptable distribution of high, pass and fail grades at GCSE based on the performance of previous cohorts, places a cap on overall student attainment.
  • At the institutional level, because of the very high degree of correlation between the overall Ofsted inspection verdict and that for ‘achievement and standards’, this means that success may shift around, but cannot grow significantly, or in any sustained way.  This leaves school improvement vulnerable to short-termism, gaming and worse.
  • These problems are exacerbated by a system of intervention that is vulnerable to rent-seeking and cronyism. The present, essentially network-based, nature of brokering has negative consequences for competition, and more profoundly runs the risk of poor Sponsor fit.

Download a free .pdf copy here.

The report makes a number of recommendations for how autonomy reform may be better supported by:

  • Changing our approach to general certification to place greater emphasis on institutional quality, general education, and competency, supported by a new research informed approach to inspection that rates schools primarily on the basis of evidence-informed practice.
  • The introduction of a national SAT test at 16 for benchmarking purposes.
  • Retention of GCSEs but wider scope for exploration of different subjects and pathways, trial and error.
  • Properly rigorous value-added measures that take account of progress by pupil profile and in school context.
  • An open tendering framework for deciding which Sponsors/MATs, and/or other kinds of providers (including privatised local authority education services), should take-over existing schools – or indeed introduce new provision.
  • Follow through on commitments to implement the new National Funding Formula, to be followed by further differentiation in the Pupil Premium, setting funding for disadvantaged pupils at a level sufficient both to compensate and to attract the right new operators to areas of poor provision. Phasing out the use of additional funding streams and caps to control the growth of sponsor capacity and extension of chains
  • Rationalisation of MAT governance and funding to support the effective functioning of reputational mechanisms in schools.
  • Greater attention to market accountability mechanisms, including the introduction of an actual voucher, opening admissions, simplification of the admissions code via the introduction of lotteries for oversubscription, and investment in the development of the school transportation system.
Speaking about One Education's support for the research, CEO Kieran McDermott said:
"One Education is an organisation committed to finding answers to important questions about the future of education in England. We were pleased to sponsor this research project. The evidence-informed theory of change that has emerged will stimulate debate and further research, which can only help us towards establishing a clear evidence-based direction of travel. In a school system where policy decisions are too often made from an anecdotal perspective, One Education feels that it is important to inform debate with research that offers different perspectives to challenge the status quo of current thinking. We need research to inform the debate and find solutions that really work in practice."

Download a free .pdf copy here.

Notes for editors

1.  CfEE (the Centre for Education Economics) is  an independent think tank working to improve policy and practice in education through impartial economic research. It exists for the study of education reform – to research and disseminate evidence relating to what is impactful for raising achievement, improving equity, and maximising the positive effect of education for society as a whole.  

2. Optimising autonomy: a blueprint for education reform is published on Thursday, 15th June 2017 by the Centre for Education Economics (CfEE). It is authored by CfEE’s Executive Director, James Croft.

3. The report and its launch has been sponsored by One Education.

4. You can download a free .pdf copy here.

5. To request comment and/or an OpEd piece from the author of the report, please contact us.