This paper reports on research that examines the policy formation practices of education ministers and senior bureaucrats in Canada. The role of external research in informing policy is shown to be relatively minor and confined to larger scale, quantitative studies and performance assessments. These findings lead to the notion that educational decision making is integrally linked to the management of political risk.
The demand for education systems to keep pace with increased public demands has become a legitimation issue for politicians – on whom intense pressure may be brought to bear to demonstrate that government decisions are consistent with populist demand – forcing ministers to set aside other forms of evidence in order to attend to these political exigencies. Tangible mechanisms are offered that could facilitate the changes needed to improve the standing of education research as a significant policy driver.