IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


IOE Impact meet-up: Professor Russell Viner, Department for Education Chief Scientific Advisor

This session aimed to enable a better understanding of the role played by Chief Scientific Advisors in the UK government, and to promote researchers’ effective engagement with the DfE.


  • How the Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) delivers independent and impartial scientific advice to ministers and policymakers across the Department for Education (DfE) portfolio.
  • Examples of how the CSA ensures that scientific advice is robust and of high quality.
  • DfE’s science strategy and the role academic colleagues can play to support it.
  • The benefits of policy engagement through Areas of Research Interest (ARIs). 

What we learned

The role of the CSA

  • Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs) are fundamental in delivering scientific leadership and mirror the role of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Dame Angela McLean DBE within government departments. 
  • Key functions are to give impartial advice, providing challenge and leadership to Ministers and senior civil servants; support and develop cultures of scientific thinking in government; use their networks to ensure decision-making is informed by evidence; build relationships between government and scientists.
  • The CSA’s work at DfE extends across all social and natural sciences to cover a range of areas: learning, skills, vulnerable children and young people, school estate sustainability net zero, health and wellbeing, attendance, technology and AI, and science strategy and systems.
  • Examples of recent work included (but were not limited to): ensuring evidence-based decision-making when debating mobile phone usage by children and young people, or when informing government’s response to the issue of RAAC in school buildings. 
  • Ultimately, scientists advise, and policymakers decide.

DfE's science strategy

The Areas of Research Interest (ARIs)

  • The DfE ARI aims to improve how the department aligns scientific and research evidence from academia with policy development and decision-making; engage with researchers; access stronger policy evidence bases at better value for money and share research commissions.
  • DfE’s ARI is structured around DfE’s departmental delivery priorities. These priorities are divided in five areas: skills, schools, early years and family support, vulnerable children and artificial intelligence (AI) and technology.
  • Updated DfE ARIs have been published in January 2024. The previous updates were published in 2018.
  • Researchers are encouraged to register their expertise and submit evidence of research which aligns with the areas of interest. Please send correspondence and further questions to ARI.Reply@education.gov.uk.

Some questions the audience raised

“What Is the best way for researchers to build mutually beneficial relationships with policymakers?” – RV: If there are areas of research you’ve done that match up with our ARIs when we publish them in January, we would be keen to hear about this. When the ARIs are published there will be documentation on the Department’s website and a box for people to send that through. And also keep a look out as the Department often publishes consultations”

“Are early career researchers welcome to get involved in the same way?” – RV: We are open to contacts with early career researchers who wish to spend some time in the Department in policy attachments as part of their PhD or postdoc process, lasting between 3 to 6 months. They have to be negotiated and thought through quite carefully and there is a limited number we could take. The department does not offer funding for these, but the ESRC offers policy fellowships at a range of different levels; POST also advertises fellowships.

“Is there a way that the research community could get involved in developing ARIs?” – RV: It’s a narrow balance between responding to outside suggestions and responding to ministerial interests. We are hoping this will be a living document, honed and changed by engagement with the academic community. We plan to start a series of engagement events when the new ARIs are published. But essentially the areas do have to reflect ministerial priorities. 

“What is the best format to submit research in to policymakers?” – RV: When the research is relatively dispassionate, uses robust methodology of whatever nature to generate findings and it is presented in a particular way. It’s never about shying away from what you found, but finding a finer way of saying it, as policy researchers are there to inform policymakers’ thinking, not to tell policymakers what to do. 

- Tatiana Souteiro Dias, IOE Research Development Manager, 2023


Briefing notes: IOE Impact meet-ups

IOE Impact meet-ups are jointly organised by the IOE Research Development Team and the IOE Research Engagement and Impact Committee, and have benefited nearly 700 researchers and professionals so far since its launch in 2020. Part of the IOE Research Strategy 2022-27, this event series aims to bring together experts, senior academics, doctoral students and early career researchers to focus on making authentic impact a key consideration in research projects from their inception.