This paper considers the role of independent research in helping an education and training system ‘know itself’, illustrating this through the experience of the Centre for Educational Sociology (CES) of which David Raffe was a member and director. It highlights the tensions in the research-policy relationship arising from the different ‘normative worlds’ of researchers and policy makers, and their priorities at each stage of the policy cycle. It shows how such tensions have been evident in the research-policy relationship in Scotland pre- and post-devolution and points out the importance of the plural provision of research support and funding. The paper argues the need for system-wide, longitudinal data to enable a country to ༘know’ its education and training system and analyse the impact of government policies and wider societal change. It points out that Scotland no longer collects such data and so cannot interrogate and understand its education and training system. The failure of policy makers to learn from the experience of their own country’s past is noted; the paper concludes by reaffirming the need for research to challenge policy and policy-makers, especially in a system such as Scotland with a tendency to complacency.