An influx of talented and well-trained young researchers is crucial if the UK government is to ensure education reforms are backed by data and evidence, an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development review on England has concluded.
The average age of education researchers in England is 50, two-thirds are over 50 and recruitment is poor. The generation gap threatens the Department for Education and Skills' drive to improve education research and development in universities and through dedicated research centres and greater teacher involvement.
The OECD review, released last week, recommends an analysis of recruitment and bringing in young researchers from different disciplines. It also calls for obligatory training in research methodology for PhD students, and stipends for PhDs to spend time abroad or participate in international research projects.
The report on England is the second country review conducted by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation with the aim of identifying common policy issues among member states. The report focuses on research related to schools rather than to universities.
"Our general assessment of England's educational research and development is positive," the report says. "Compared to other countries there is remarkable support, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, of educational R&D and its potential contribution to the improvement of practice and policy within education."
But whether this is enough to move the education system from "good to great" depends on culture changes in the practice of teachers, researchers and policymakers, the report says.
The OECD team interviewed more than 60 education experts and spent a day in Newcastle visiting the university's education department, St Thomas More School and Longbenton Community College.
A common criticism from researchers, policy-makers and users was the lack of capacity to produce high-quality research that was relevant to schools and colleges. "Researchers must accept that the results of the traditional individual university researcher working on a self-defined, small-scale research project is unlikely to influence practice and policy in education," the report says.
Judy Sebba, senior research adviser at the DFES, said her department was pleased with the review but recognised that recruitment was a problem. "Academic salaries are no longer attractive to those who have an established career in education," she said.