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CfEE Research Strategy

The education system, whether it is set up like a market or not, has actors who have goals and constraints and who interact in one form or another of supply and demand relationship. Understanding the incentives and constraints of all the different players, and how these relate to their interactions is essential in policy design.

Education economics is not a widely understood discipline, but it is increasingly, for good reason, the discourse of policymaking. There is therefore a great need to improve public understanding of its role, and to invest in efforts to better communicate the important and often exciting emerging findings from this field.

Our Research Strategy sets a clear narrative for what CfEE does, how it does it; our research areas, our research methodlogies and our research outputs. This theory – our theory of change – is summarised in the diagram below, and why we do it can be found here.









Research areas

Following a review of the current research and think tank ‘market’, four key research areas have been identified. These encompass areas that fit at least one of the following criteria:

  • Under researched – an area that is policy relevant but is not currently cited in an evidence base, and/or the evidence base is not robust
  • Strategic – an area that would enable CfEE to use its methods and outputs to maximise a high impact outcome
  • Methodological relevance – an area where education economics can make a specific contribution above or beyond other research methods.

In each of these areas we will endeavour to look at evidence through the lens of education economics, internationalism and unexplored angles.

Accountability: Typically in Europe and the US, education does not function as a straightforward marketplace, and the extent to which it should be reformed in this direction has been disputed, so there has been interest in other forms of accountability to replace pure market discipline. The ways accountability features interact with the market-like conditions upon which our arrangements in such country contexts are based is an ongoing area of exploration for us.

School choice: The school reforms of the last three decades aimed to activate parental choice by increasing access to information about school performance. As a result, parents now have more information about schools than ever before through more data in the league tables and qualitative information in Ofsted reports. Yet parents’ ability to choose on the basis of this information remains restricted by schools’ admissions policies and a pro-active education culture. These issues raise important concerns about equitable access to good quality schools, and about whether the full benefit of parental choice, in respect of its potential to improve pupil outcomes, is being realised.

Certification: Assessment, qualifications, and certification are a central tenet of our education system. Of particular concern is how certification for young people not on an academic pathway, and those already in the labour market, can meaningfully credentialise their knowledge, skills and experience.

Systems: With the introduction of academy schools and multi academy trusts, and the parallel demise of the local education authority, education systems in England have been undergoing the most radical system level reform since the end of the 1960s. The system is developing at speed but needs rigorous and robust evidence to show which approaches are working best.

Research methodologies

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 the relevant actors. Most importantly, it brings a relentless focus on trying to establish causal links between policy variables and outcomes.

Whilst education economics is, unashamedly, our primary methodological approach we also recognise that other disciplines bring insights to education also. In recent years, economists have started to combine effectively with psychologists and neuroscientists in the study of the development of cognitive and non-cognitive abilities and traits, with geneticists in studying the origins of traits and abilities, and also with behavioural scientists in trying to understand motivations and the best way to design incentives. Accordingly, CfEE seeks to draw on insights from robust studies arising from other disciplinary contexts as well.


CfEE researchers monitor global research output in the economics of education, producing monthly and annual research digests to disseminate this literature. The Centre publishes in-depth policy studies, which frame and inform shorter reports and comment pieces on day-to-day education policy matters. Working with research and event partners and sponsors across Westminster and central London, CfEE stages a variety of events to engage the public in the policy debate and inform its research.

Why CfEE undertakes this work

Simply doing something is not enough in a think tank market dominated by ideology. As a non-partisan organisation, we need to make clear why we are undertaking these activities. The diagram below shows the raison d'être for CfEE. Combined, with the theory of change these diagrams summarise what CfEE believes in, what we do as a result and gives us a vision for how we should go about doing it.