Institute of Education


Q&A with Professor Lorraine Dearden

Lorraine is Professor of Economics and Social Statistics in the IOE's Social Research Institute.

What does your role involve?
All my work involves using data and quantitative techniques to understand, evaluate and inform public policy making. I have a wide range of public policy interests including Higher Education access and financing; returns to education; evaluating school effectiveness; intergenerational mobility; understanding the causes and consequences of child adversity and vulnerability; and evaluating policies that try to help improve child outcomes.

I am part of the leadership team of the Administrative Data Research Centre - England and increasingly my work involves using linked government administrative data to look at important public policy issues in the areas of economics, education and health.

What's the most important thing you've learned from your students about the subject you teach?
I teach and supervise postgraduate students from a large range of disciplines and from a wide range of countries. This has taught me the importance of not being ethnocentric when looking at public policy initiatives and programmes, and to look beyond your discipline when approaching a research topic.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the work I have done which has influenced policy making.

I wrote a paper in 1996 advocating a conditional cash transfer (CCT) paid directly to poor students to encourage them to stay in school based on a similar successful scheme in Australia (which I evaluated in the same paper). After initial resistance, there was a pilot of such a scheme in 1999 - the Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMA). Our evaluation of this pilot showed that it was effective in reducing school drop-out rates, particularly for boys and as a result the EMA was rolled out nationally in 2004. All subsequent evaluations suggested it had a positive impact on reducing school drop-out rates and was a cost effective policy in the long run. Despite this evidence, it was axed in 2011!

My work with a number of colleagues on Higher Education (HE) funding issues over the last 20 years has influenced HE funding design in England through working closely with ministers, government departments and university bodies such as Universities UK and actively engaging in looking at the implications of different options that were being considered at the time.

However with every new reform, last-minute political deals have often compromised the clarity and fairness of the eventual HE funding systems that have come into force so there is always more work to do to try and get a fair and well designed system in place.

We are certainly not there yet in England, so my work continues. This is an issue that is current worldwide with increasing numbers of students wanting to undertake HE but generally limited government resources to fund this expansion.

My basic lesson from all my work is not to give up, keep an open mind and to use ever improving large scale micro level data to see how public policy making can be made better."

What would it surprise people to know about you?
I am a big cricket fan. I use to play both indoor and outdoor cricket when I lived in Australia. All four of my sons play cricket in London and I help run the colts' cricket at their club. I am also an improving, though still quite mediocre, Bridge player.

What other piece of research outside of your own subject area interests you?
I am very interested in clinical epidemiology and I am increasingly involved in work that involves close collaborations with clinical epidemiologists which I think will help improve health, education and economic policy making.

As an economist, I don't think focusing on purely education and/or economic outcomes tells you the whole story of the impact of economic/education policy making. Equally, with a lot of clinical based practices, the important outcomes in judging the effectiveness of a clinical intervention are not only health outcomes, but for example, whether people can actively re-engage in education and/or the labour market after a serious illness.