While thousands of teachers strike this week, the three main parties’ Education ministers will be joined by their European counterparts to speak at the Education Reform Summit in London. The summit, running today and tomorrow in the spirit of ‘ambition’ and ‘inspiration’, will ‘celebrate England’s success in leading the world in education reform’. Members of NUT protesting around the country – and others – may well question the premise that this celebration is based on. It’s hard to argue, for instance, that England is leading in education reform where others follow; some of our structural reforms have trailed Sweden’s, a worrying omen given their recent fall from grace. It’s harder still to argue that England is a leading global player in standards, when in 2013, the country did not make the top 20 in the PISA tables for Reading, Maths, or Science.
So what can we expect at the Summit? With the election less than a year away, and the Westminster machine in full action, we can look forward to a showcase of manifesto policies from Gove, Laws and Hunt. The exclusively positive rhetoric of the Summit blurb suggests we might be in store for a fair amount of back-patting, and a sponsor-fuelled optimistic vision of the role of technology in education. We can also be fairly sure, judging by the last 5 years, of frenetic announcements and recommendations; teachers hoping for a brief respite to allow schools to catch up with policy, as recommended by the RSA, look away now.
In short, it depends – but if you’re a woman in the UK, the odds aren’t in your favour.
Earlier today, Ed Miliband unveiled plans to beef up vocational education by introducing new technical degrees if Labour wins the election in 2015. His aim is to increase the number of people in higher level apprenticeships by at least 100,000 and raise the profile of vocational education among young people aged 16-19.
Miliband isn’t exactly treading in unchartered waters – apprenticeships are already central to skills strategies across the UK’s cities. Employers have steadily warmed to the idea of taking on apprentices as the evidence demonstrates returns in terms of productivity and long-term value for money. For example, trainees in British Telecom’s apprenticeship scheme were found to be 7.5 percent more productive than non-apprenticeship trainees. The company also reported it made a profit of £1300 per apprentice per year.
However, there is reason to be cautious about the current vogue of apprenticeships being seen as a panacea, given their poor returns for those hoping to progress while in work. Read more
On Saturday I spoke at an After the Coalition conference, organised by Mike Finn FRSA from Liverpool Hope University. It was a terrific first attempt at what will hopefully be an annual event. I’m hoping that our Fellows in the North West can support next year’s conference.
After making my old joke about premature evaluation, and how the educational impact of this government is especially difficult to judge, given the assessment changes at GCSE, I also argued that our understanding of the impact of the coalition on education is dependent on our views of where we stood in 2010. If you think that in 2010 our schools were in the grip of a progressive ideology (caused by a lethal mix of wooly teacher training colleges and excessive central prescription) which had devalued knowledge and teacher authority, leading to decades of falling standards and behaviour, epitomised by our plummet down the PISA league tables, then you’ll probably be thinking that the coalition has worked wonders in four years. If you have a more nuanced, evidence-based view of contemporary education history, then you’ll be more balanced about a coalition government that has actually chosen continuity over disruption on most education issues. Alison Wolf’s presentation was very compelling on the continuity point. Overall, Gove’s bark has been more radical, libertarian and antagonistic than his bite.
The lead singer of Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson last week claimed that the Glastonbury Festival was “the most bourgeois thing on the planet. Anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me.” My unsubstantiated guess is that this weekend’s Festival of Education, held at Wellington College, might smash Glastonbury in any game of bourgeois Top Trumps. However, the Festival yesterday hosted the launch of a new campaign that RSA Education is delighted to have helped initiate and excited to be playing a continued role in.
The Fair Education Alliance aims to work towards ending the persistent achievement gap between young people from our poorest communities and their wealthier peers. Our aim is hardly novel; in some ways, it’s been an implicit ambition since 1870’s Education Act, made more explicit through the birth of the comprehensive movement. This is why Gove and others’ flippant dismissals of those with different views about how to close achievement gaps as ‘enemies of promise’ can be so corrosive. In contrast, the Alliance carefully brings together partners who may have very different routemaps to a fairer education system, but are prepared to collaborate to achieve common goals.
Our five Impact Goals, all measurable statements of progress, are as follows:
- Narrow the gap in literacy and numeracy at primary school
- Narrow the gap in GCSE attainment at secondary school
- Ensure young people develop key strengths, including resilience and wellbeing, to support high aspirations
- Narrow the gap in the proportion of young people in education, employment or training one year after compulsory education
- Narrow the gap in university graduation, including from the 25 per cent most selective universities
The Alliance recognises that the “the underlying causes of educational inequality are complex and interconnected, and they need to be addressed across the education system and society. No single organisation has the knowledge, resources or expertise to bring about the changes we need to make our education system fair for everyone.” Today’s silly Times leader column, which gave an outdated, un-evidenced view of Universities’ role in teacher training, and claimed that the best way to improve the performance of white working class pupils was to “motivate them with more vocational training”, exemplifies the kind of rhetoric we do not need. Michael Wilshaw’s speech yesterday, reclaiming the comprehensive agenda with a more nuanced account of recent progress and current predicaments, was far more balanced and helpful. For once, read the speech, not the headlines.
The Education Endowment Foundation amongst others has recognised that most interventions which successfully improve outcomes also widen gaps in outcomes. This serves as a useful precis for the last few decades of schooling in England. Leaving doubts about grade inflation aside, the performance of white working class pupils at GCSE has risen significantly, and now outperforms the average… of twenty years ago. The problem is that overall average performance has risen faster.
The Education and Employers task force’s latest publication, exemplifies this dilemma. Taken in totality, employer engagement in education reproduces social inequalities. Put simply, if all employer engagement, from informal internships to formal programmes in schools to work experience, stopped tomorrow, this would probably narrow gaps in education and labour market outcomes. This, of course, is undesirable, and does disservice to the many initiatives that are designed to work with those who most need them. Yet it chrystallises the issue: If you don’t target resources with precision, a terrible thing happens. The Pupil premium has become a powerful, helpful nudge on school spending and wider strategic planning, supported by the new accountability rules which will make sure, that, to borrow a much maligned phrase, every child matters.
Teach First has achieved a terrific job in initiating the Fair Education Alliance without hubris, pulling in favours and resources, and carefully constructing some early theories of change around each change goal. yesterday’s Telegraph article by CEO Brett Wigodrtz cogently explains the organisation’s rationale for creating this alliance. It’s now up to us, as twenty-five organisations with our own priorities, deadlines and baggage, to work collaboratively, involving thousands of others to maximise our collective impact.
Too often, alliances such as these become a half-hearted bolt-on to each individual organisation’s ethos creating inertia rather than momentum, smugness rather than anger. Agreed actions can feel a million miles away from the task at hand – (“What do we want? Mapping our activities across localities! When do we want it? Soon!”). To quote Whitley RSA Academy’s mission statement (a school which puts huge efforts into closing achievement gaps, with increasing success), we need ‘deeds, not words’.
Words may matter too, however. Effective alliances dare to speak truth to power in a way that individual alliance members (many of whom will be reliant on ‘Power’ for funding) cannot. We should be brave enough collectively to think radically about school admissions and segregation, funding, teacher choice and allocation, and practices such as setting and streaming. We may want to challenge the current, confused orthodoxy around school autonomy, and the extent to which is a route to or a reward for successfully achieving our impact goals. Nick Clegg’s social mobility strategy seems heavy on indicators and light on everything else. I still haven’t met any of these oft-quoted academics who argue that ‘deprivation is destiny’, but as an alliance we should be prepared to question broader government approaches to poverty and regeneration, whilst remaining passionately optimistic about what schools can achieve, regardless of wider contexts.
Key to our success, as one alliance member suggested, may be to “reposition education as a public good”. In other words, am I prepared care a little less about my own children’s performance, and a lot more about the outcomes of their poorer peers? This is challenging terrain. Education has always been couched largely as a private, positional good, and the forces of consumerism and an increasingly unstable economy has reinforced and positively encouraged this attitude. As a society, we generally agree that closing class gaps in health outcomes is desirable (unless you are particularly callous, health is not seen as a positional good). In terms of education outcomes, if we’re honest with ourselves we aren’t so sure how much equality we really want, so continue to hoard advantage whenever possible (and it’s usually possible).
RSA Education has always engaged in issues relating to social justice in education – my predecessor Becky Francis’ review of social justice in education, and report on progression in further education, provide fantastic foundations. Last year’s report on in-year admissions highlighted one cause of injustice, and our Academies work daily to address educational inequality. As a founder member of the alliance, will now make a simple commitment. We won’t engage in education programmes, whether policy research or practical innovations, unless ‘closing the gap’ is built into the design and ambition of these programmes. Our own focus will move increasingly on what we are calling ‘closing the creativity gap’ across all stages of life, always connecting this agenda with attainment and other broad outcomes. That’s for another blog. For the moment, we hope that thousands of RSA Fellows and others participate in the alliance and sign up to our goals. We don’t care how bourgeois you are, and even if you’re an Iron Maiden fan, you’re welcome.
Today’s launch of the ippr’s Condition of Britain report coincided (I’ll assume by accident) with the Centre for Policy Studies launch of The Policy. The fixture clash reminded me of my ex-colleague Temi’s Ogunye’s brilliant article for The Independent, arguing that ‘The left can be too clever for its own good. We need to translate think tank speak into plain English’. Contrast these two reports:
Condition of Britain: “This landmark report argues for a new approach to politics and public action driven by the goals of spreading power, fostering contribution and strengthening shared institutions.”
The Policy: Abolish corporation tax for small companies; abolish capital gains tax for investors in small companies.
Condition of Britain: 28 recommendations
The Policy: 2 recommendations (see above)
This is probably an unfair comparison; the ippr’s report was deliberately wide-ranging and systematic, capturing the concerns of thousands. The CPS idea came from Maurice Saatchi, one of their trustees, underpinned by a small amount of empirical data. So I won’t take this comparison further (especially as I haven’t read either report properly).
Matthew Taylor’s blog gives a deeper analysis of the strengths and flaws in the Condition of Britain approach and Ed Miliband’s response. With a football match to get home to, all I’ll say now is that every party’s commitment to localism (and attitude to local authorities within that commitment) needs severe and forensic stress-testing before anyone should believe any of it. Which precise powers are you prepared to give away, to who, and for how long? What rights of redress or re-centralisation will you retain? Otherwise, as I wrote in my last blog recommending that all Lib Dem ministers resign this summer, ‘whoever is in office, the centralisers are in power’.
Image courtesy of Cherry Red Records
Joe Hallgarten is Director of Education at the RSA. @joehallg
This is a guest blog from Laura Guest, a Year 12 student and a Senior Lead Learner at RSA Academy in Tipton.
On Wednesday 11th June, ten students from the RSA Academy (including myself) attended a conference in the RSA building in London. The conference was with John Ryley, the current head of Sky News, and we learnt about his vision for the future of Sky, TV Broadcasting and journalism as a profession.
For those who would rather spend their weekend dodging thunderstorms than sitting in a sweltering conference hall, what did we learn from speeches by Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt at Policy Exchange’s Education Conference on Saturday about the party’s election manifestos 2015?
Whose backchat is the most fly?
For Michael Gove, the speech was an opportunity to re-state his overarching moral purpose, whilst sedately clobbering those local authorities and other opponents who are still resisting his flagship Academies and Free Schools programme. Applauding the achievements of some of his favourite schools and head teachers, Mr Gove commented that they had managed to replace the competitiveness of street culture – “whose trainers are smartest, whose attitude is hardest, whose backchat is the most fly” – with the competitiveness of academic culture. For those of us still reeling from MC Gove’s rendition of the ‘Wham rap’ (“Hey everybody take a look at me, I’ve got street cred-i-bil-ity/ I may not have a job but I have a good time, with the boys I meet down on the line”), such talk sent chills down the spine. But no fear, there was no repeat performance, ‘vanilla’ or otherwise, to put us off our morning coffee.
Playing to a friendly crowd of mostly compassionate conservatives (plus a few waifs and strays), Michael Gove batted away a pesky question about his relationship with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and the ongoing investigation into religious extremism in Birmingham schools. Was he reconsidering his position? Had his behaviour embarrassed his government? A firm and defiant “No” on both counts – with no hint that a letter of apology would be forthcoming, at the Prime Minister’s insistence, later in the day.
Rejecting the label of ideologue, Gove was keen to stress that his education policy is characterised by a pragmatic, evidence-based approach to education policy, based on the simple test: ‘what’s right is what works’. As chair of one of five Conservative Policy Commissions set up in November last year, he is clearly well placed to know what to expect in the Tory election manifesto 2015. Judging by Saturday’s performance, a good place for the uninitiated to start would be to cast one’s eyes over the relevant pages from the 2010 manifesto, ‘Invitation to Join the Government of Britain’, which pretty neatly summed up the major themes of the speech: (1) Better teachers and tougher discipline; (2) A rigorous curriculum and exam system; (3) Give every parent access to a good school.
Appealing repeatedly to ‘what works’, these were recast as three core principles of high-performing systems: autonomy, accountability and teacher quality, for which there is strong evidence; plus two additional elements that the Education Secretary feels very strongly about: namely, behaviour and curriculum:
Although no explicit mention was made of further plans to expand the number of primary Academies, it is widely assumed that the 2015 manifesto will contain a pledge of this type.
To the credit of his teacher, my six year old son is learning and loving The Odyssey at school (in English, I’m afraid; Apologies, Messrs Gove and Johnson). With all the talk of Trojan horses in Birmingham’s schools, I am wondering whether there’s an education story to go with every Odyssean adventure. I am not sure who the Cyclops could be – there are a few candidates out there. The many tales involving his boat leaking between a rock and a hard place could be any number of education quangos, but Ofsted is currently the front runner. My son’s current favourite story is The Sirens, those alluring sea nymphs whose seductive singing tempt sailors to their deaths. Does this sound like any academy sponsors you know? Odysseus himself is obviously the national curriculum – returning home unrecognisable from when it set out.*
Filed under: Arts and Society, Design and Society, Education Matters, Enterprise, Innovation, Uncategorized
Today is a big day.
Nine months ago on September 1st 2013, we launched our eight RSA Student Design Award briefs for the year and thousands of students across the UK, Europe and Asia began applying their design skills to a range of social, economic and environmental issues such as improving hygiene in low-income areas, managing water in urban areas, addressing changing work patterns, and many more. Over 600 students sent their work into the RSA and our judges began the arduous task of reviewing and scrutinising the work, looking for key insights and clever design thinking. Those 600+ entries became a short-list of around 80 and today, after interviews with all short-listed entrants, I am pleased to present the 18 winning projects and the designers behind them.
Today’s impressive list of emerging designers and innovators – some working in collaborative teams and some working individually – represent the best of what happens when good ideas meet good design (and good briefs too, I think!).
This year’s winners include proposals for new packaging made from beeswax, an alarm clock app to improve well-being amongst 18-25 year olds, an affordable sanitary towel for schoolgirls in low-income areas, and a frugally-designed hygiene pack for use in refugee camps. Read more
Yesterday’s predicted and predictable local election disaster for the Liberal Democrats may be meaningless this time next year. If their core vote forgives some of their soul-selling, and no other party gains its own overall majority, the Lib Dems could arrive in May 2015 with a similar number of MPs and a meal ticket to form another coalition.
It will, however, be a different party from the one which formed a government in 2010. International Development Minister Lynn Featherstone confessed on Question Time yesterday that the Liberal Democrats have lost some of their ‘humanity’ since joining the coalition. Her explanation that the party has become too ‘ministerial’, may only partly explain this (it’s not as if the electorate perceives the Labour opposition as having humanity in spades), but there is little doubt that national power has changed the Liberal Democrat DNA.
One of the unintended yet refreshing aspects of this coalition government has been an unearthing of the power of open policymaking. Whilst the Cabinet Office is trying this through sophisticated, design-led processes, politicians have been getting on with it. Cross-party ministerial teams have been prepared to reveal the tensions, debates and doubts that are an inevitable part of policymaking processes. The disagreements have been substantive, in the best possible way – they have revealed the substance of policy debates, rather than the style of clashing egos – the ‘froth’, as Tony Blair used to dismiss various internecine New Labour squabbles.
When we met with David Laws last week (squeezed between various free school/free school meals rows and rapprochements) to discuss our report into teacher education and research, he was as focused as ever on the job in hand, especially the effective implementation of current policies. However, with policy development more-or-less concluded for this Parliament (with the important but cross-party exception of the Modern Slavery Bill), there is now a strong argument for all Liberal Democrat Ministers to resign from their posts, in an orderly and non-grumpy way, before they depart for Summer holidays. There have already been rumblings of plans for a happy divorce, but I’d suggest that it’s up to the Lib Dems to take the initiative on this. If some kind of mutual non-disclosure agreement is necessary to prevent Jerry Springer-like mudslinging between current and former ministers, then so be it (although with Clegg, Gove and advisers involved, any truce is unlikely to hold for long).
Liberal Democrat Ministers deserve some time out of office to create some clear yellow water between themselves and the administration they have been part of. This is not just about the development of catchy pupil premium-like ideas for the next manifesto. Next time, the concept of coalition does not need to take them by surprise. Liberal Democrats need to rethink how their approach to their next possible coalition needs to be underpinned by a clearer set of principles which return the party to their historical roots and traditions, especially relating to localism.
What was most surprising about Nick Clegg’s ‘free school meals for all’ policy, apart from its shaky evidence base and partially regressive nature, is the lack of commitment it revealed to the principles of school autonomy. Schools could not be trusted to make their own budgetary decisions on this issue. Similarly, less excusable than their unavoidable climbdown on tuition fees (they are the minority party, after all) was their blind rubberstamping of the government’s top-down health reforms – I say blind , given that Nick Clegg allegedly did not even read the proposals before giving them his blessing. One Liberal Democrat 2010 Manifesto proposal which has been barely mentioned since is the idea of a local income tax. Given current concerns about regional disparities in wealth and growth, and the Conservatives’ half-hearted attempts to devolve power to local communities (look and laugh at the front cover of their 2010 Manifesto), this idea is worthy of proper reconsideration.
A period of reflection, on deckchairs, backbenches, and constituency surgery chairs, could enable the Liberal Democrats to use their experience of holding office to think pragmatically about how their commitment to localism should manifesto itself in both manifesto and in future negotiations about the next coalition. Otherwise, to adapt an old phrase, ‘Whoever is in office, the centralisers are always in power’.
Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education @joehallg