Free Thinking? Part 6

Firstly, there is the danger that an epistemic community might lead to the creation of an inward- looking institution whose close-mindedness self-confirms and fuels their own “innovations”, as a lack of non-partisan objectivity limits the production of critical research. Secondly, and possibly worse than this, it also risks the influence of vested interests influencing research – even without the direct influence of money. To this degree, it was noted by one education commentator as unusual that the Rising Tide report, despite advocating the competitive benefits of the market, specifically called on only one social enterprise that should be expanded to help groups.(41) That enterprise was the New Schools Network, founded by Rachel Wolf (who authored previous reports for PX, see above), and home of several employees who had previously worked for PX (Natalie Evans, Fred Burgess), not to mention Diana Berry, NSN Director of Development, and Trustee of PX.(42)Wolf held a research post for Boris Johnson working on his mayoral campaign. This swiftly lead Wolf to a post with Michael Gove writing education policy whilst he was still in the shadow cabinet. (Meet Education’s Power Couple – not part of the original paper shared here.)VII. ConclusionThe influence of PX in both directing and legitimising the Conservative policy of educational choice through free schools is strong, although without further information about the relationship between these two policy players, it is difficult to speculate as to its exact nature.Nonetheless, with the Rising Tide report, PX extend their 13 year record of producing high-profile “empirical” publications advertising the potential and benefits of free schools, even as the Department of Education demands that it is too early for such results, and elsewhere in the world, similar models garner increasing scrutiny and criticism.(43) Meanwhile, although the quality of their research does receive some analysis and critique (granted mainly just in the margins of the educational cybersphere), the origins do not. Instead, PX remains underneath the radar, as one of a group of think tanks whose lack of funding transparency and intellectual openness cannot help but compromise the “complet[e] independen[ce]” that they claim to have.PX might be guilty of astro-turfing, whereby corporate funding is hidden under the guise of being from independent grassroots sources.”

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