47 Think Tanks Every Teacher Should Know

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46 Think Tanks Every Teacher Should Know (v5) by @TeacherToolkit


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Who are the think tanks that influence education policy and what influence do they have on education pedagogy?

This new and updated diagram includes more think tank organisations, and if they have a particular left, centre or right-leaning bias.

What is the purpose of a Think Tank?

This is an updated version of past publications, dating back to 2016. I started to create these graphics as my social media use began to immerse itself between education and politics. This was first started when I was curious to know why Policy Exchange was always being quoted in our educational newspapers more than any other think tank.

Today, I find myself writing about this more frequently in my doctoral studies which focuses on how social media influences education policy in England. During this process, I have been keen to learn how think tanks influence education policy and if their impact is high or low, and also where they reside on the political spectrum.

47 Think Tanks Every Teacher Should Know (v5) by @TeacherToolkit

Where the graphic includes a green or a red X indicates funding transparency. 

One critical point to make at this stage is that the graphic is purely subjective and is not peer-reviewed other than posting here to spark a *debate. I am confident that the political attribution is largely correct, although the definition of ‘influence’ is broadly my own and up for contention.

The politics

“Think tanks are a relatively new political and policy development and they are still relatively poorly understood” write Civil Service World. They estimate that there are around 150 independent think tanks and that this number can be replicated when including University-based organisations. Note, think tanks have many academic publishing freedoms and can work across disciplines. I’ve offered some definitions below:

  • Autonomous = Significant independence from any one interest group or donor
  • Quasi-independent = Autonomous from the government but controlled by an interested group
  • Government affiliated = A part of the formal structure of government
  • Quasi-governmental = Funded exclusively by government grants and contracts
  • University-affiliated = A policy research centre at a university
  • Political party-affiliated = Formally affiliated with a political party
  • Corporate (for profit) = An organisation, affiliated with a corporation.

It is estimated that there are 71 per cent who are independent, 16 per cent University-affiliated, 9 per cent government-affiliated and 4 per cent who are corporate, Jakovleski (2016).

The funding

Think tanks call themselves ‘thinkers’ because of their primary purpose, to influence policy. Yet, if we wish to use think tanks as a reliable source of research, which then influences the lives of 8 million children across England, then it is important – as cited by ‘Who Funds You?‘ – to understand funding transparency and their connections to any political campaigns or research focus. Put simply, any organisations labelled in the D and E brackets are what I would call, Dark Think Tanks. Those who do not declare who funds their research and/or the number of donations.

UK think tanks and campaigns rated for funding transparency

One significant challenge that almost all think tanks face is measuring and demonstrating their effectiveness and influence. I hope this provides teachers with a useful overview of how education is influenced by those in positions of power…

  1. There are hundreds of others listed here.
  2. Visit Who Funds You and their ranking methodology
  3. Additional metrics could include transparency, ‘traditional vs progressive’, scale of resources, degree of ‘evidence-informed’, and ‘years established’
  4. Please say where you think your org. should be placed differently (and why)
  5. There is likely to be some errors and there is no intention to harm any charitable statuses.

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