The many recent changes to the system of compulsory education in England and Wales have provided ample research opportunities for sociologists of education interested in education policy, especially since several of them have been successful in obtaining research funding from the ESRC. The source of this funding is significant at a time when the difficulty of getting any kind of research funding, on the one hand, and the instrumental, practical, sometimes apparently confirmatory expectations of funding bodies with even a remote ‘applied’ interest in the outcomes of the research, on the other, are both increasing. It creates the legitimate hope and expectation that research funded by a body with a ‘pure’ research mission may be enabled to proceed in relative freedom from those pressures and be relieved from the obligation to produce work whose immediate practicality and relevance are expected to be paramount. In particular, we might look to the ESRC funded projects to be relatively well insulated against the various academic and political pressures that inevitably tend to lead educational researchers to an excessive and premature concentration on the short-term consequences of policies, or their success in the terms laid down by the sponsoring body.