As a committed Labour supporter, Alex Ferguson’s announcement to retire could have been better timed. It took the heat and light out of a Queen’s speech that was even duller than her annual Christmas message. If Ed Miliband did give the front bench the hairdryer treatment, it was lost in the photos, eulogies and trophy infographics of one of Britain’s greatest post war leaders (or is that brand-builder?)
We shouldn’t judge a government by the content of its Queen’s speech. Halfway through an administration, the big policy changes have already been pushed through, and the inevitable suite of unintended outcomes have not yet revealed themselves. It may be that “we don’t need much legislation”. New laws don’t grow economies, although like most of us I can’t quite work out what might.
But a dearth of real parliamentary business offers a potential opportunity. Margaret Hodge pointed out recently that too many MPs don’t have enough to do. This year’s legislative programme may lead to even more slack time.
How might MPs fill this time? There probably isn’t any room for more MPs at Number 10, whatever school they went to. As more policies become scrutiny-ready, Select Committee members should get even busier. The unlucky ones will be swallowed by the dull machinations of party business. Others may find more interests to register this time next year (one of the greatest ideas to come from Mark Thomas’ People’s Manifesto was that MPs, like F1 drivers, should be forced to wear the logo of any organisation which pays them). The natural and ethical way to fill your time will be to serve your real employers, your local constituents. A few MPs such as Stella Creasy and Robert Halfon are taking this beyond the standard reactive surgery and letter-passing approach to become genuine community entrepreneurs in their patch. Matthew Taylor once proposed that MPs should be given specific government projects to oversee, to improve their understanding of implementation, and feel the heat of accountability.
However, there could also be scope for under-occupied MPs to use some of the time to transcend the short term needs of their constituents, and the myopic demands of parliamentary non-business. They could do what politicians of all sides find most difficult, partly because we voters make it so difficult for them – to think about the longer term challenges we face, outside of traditional party or departmental divisions, and develop philosophies and policy ideas that will probably have too much depth to be manifesto-ready.
So for those MPs who are twiddling thumbs rather than fiddling expenses, here’s an offer of work. RSA education is currently developing a new research programme to redefine adolescence. How can society relish rather than fear the teenage years, harnessing its ‘hidden wealth’? How might attitudes, funding and policy towards adolescence make the same step change that we saw in the Early Years during the last 15 years? We are looking for a small number of MPs from all parties to help develop this programme. The salary is less than minimal, the coffee isn’t great, and the chances of promotion and prizes are zero, let alone of winning cups with big ears.
Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education @joehallg
UKIP is in fact a four letter word, but we need to learn to say it without discomfort. Two recent posts by colleagues; Adam Lent on UKIP’s inconsistent approach to freedom and Anthony Painter on UKIP’s success being a symptom of democratic stress, got me thinking about another way to understand their recent breakthrough, if indeed that’s what it was.
I wonder if their sudden appeal relates to the way they might be tapping into certain kinds of ‘moral’ foundations that are largely ignored by the (other) mainstream parties.
Many have argued that the three main parties are too close together in spirit and policy, and that huge swathes of the population do not see themselves adequately reflected in this group. On this account, UKIP is not just for people who believe immigration is insufficiently controlled, or who strongly dislike Europe, but more generally for those who do not identify with Westminster, or who have been ‘left behind by the relentless mark of globalisation and glib liberalism’.
On policy, UKIP’s ideas are nascent and hard to pin down, but perhaps their lack of credible policies is because they are not really a party of ideas at all. Instead, I wonder if their sudden appeal relates to the way they may be tapping into what some social psychologists view as ‘moral foundations’, which appear to be largely ignored by the (other) mainstream parties. To be clear, I am not saying they are more or less moral than anybody else, but rather that they are tapping into certain kinds of moral sentiments that a significant number of people feel and seek expression for.
Six Moral Foundations
Moral Foundations Theory has recently been popularised by Jonathan Haidt, who spoke at the RSA last year, and kindly stayed afterwards to speak to Social Brain about his work in more detail. While I hugely recommend Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, I also recommend the more sophisticated critiques which suggest that the gap between science and morality cannot be bridged with quite as much conviction as Haidt seems to suggest.
The book includes a detailed account of the evolutionary, psychological and anthropological case for social intuitionism, which is a particular account of cognition and morality. Crudely, it says that certain adaptive pressures in evolution gave rise to quick automatic associations that are largely emotional in nature, leading us to make evaluative judgments extremely quickly, which forms the true basis of our morality. On this account, reason only emerges after the fact, to rationalise the moral position we have already intuited.
For now, a quick overview (unashamedly via Wikipedia) of Haidt’s palette of moral foundations is below.
- Care/harm for others, protecting them from harm.
- Fairness/cheating, Justice, treating others in proportion to their actions (He has also referred to this dimension as Proportionality.)
- Liberty/oppression, characterizes judgments in terms of whether subjects are tyrannized.
- Loyalty/betrayal to your group, family, nation. (He has also referred to this dimension as Ingroup.)
- Authority/subversion for tradition and legitimate authority. (He has also connected this foundation to a notion of Respect.)
- Sanctity/degradation, avoiding disgusting things, foods, actions. (He has also referred to this as Purity.)
The claim is that we all have these moral foundations to a greater or lesser extent, but the degree to which they matter to us varies hugely depending on our political outlook; while our political outlook is shaped by these moral foundations much more than we typically realise.
Haidt’s earlier and more controversial statement of this argument “What Makes People Vote Republican?” offers evidence to show many vote against their economic self-interest because they are motivated mostly by the extent to which candidates speak to the values above, and those on the right tend to speak to all of the moral foundations, while those on the left usually only offer a very concentrated form of the first and a little of the second and third.
One way of thinking of UKIP’s appeal
***Disclaimer: What I’m about to say should not be read as an endorsement of any position, nor a justification for why it is held***
If you tune in to the tone and language of what UKIP say, rather than analyse the claims rationally, you begin to see the breadth of their appeal- they are touching lots of these moral foundations, in ways that the other parties may not be.
- When they ask for their country back from the EU they are tapping into ‘the legitimate authority foundation’.
- When they speak passionately about limiting immigration they are tapping into ‘the loyalty foundation’.
- When they opposed gay marriage they were trying to tap into ‘the purity foundation’.
- When they speak about red tape from Brussels they are tapping into ‘the liberty/tyranny foundation’.
- When they speak about human rights law getting in the way of dealing with criminals they are tapping into ‘the justice foundation’.
- They actually say very little about ‘the care foundation’, which is why people on the left, who see the world mostly through the care foundation, tend to think of UKIP as barmy, extreme, or callous.
None of the above serves to justify UKIP’s positions, but I hope it serves to indicate why people may well vote for them in spite of their policies, not because of them. Moreover, it may also indicate why it will take much more than a simple shift of policy on immigration or Europe to erode their appeal.
Here is an interesting Guardian piece on a transnational YouGov-Cambridge study. The research compared attitudes towards responsibilities of the state versus those of individuals in the UK, US, France and Germany.
To summarise, when it comes to the role of the state on issues like ‘a decent minimum income for all’ or ‘helping poor children get ahead’, British views are significantly more continental than atlantic. With the exception of company pay – on inequity of salaries, Britons are more liberal than Germans and French, if not as liberal as Americans – the results put the US on the individualist side, and UK, Germany and France broadly on the statist side; which highlights once again that the conversation on public services in the US is a very different one to this side of the pond.
What is just as interesting as the results, however, is the way the study is structured. It takes a classic two-dimensional approach: state versus individuals.
What about views on the responsibility of, and for, communities?
They are a pillar of social power just as much as the other two dimensions. And given fiscal pressures on both sides of the Atlantic, an increasing amount of challenges will need to be dealt with via this ‘third dimension’ (e.g., as my colleague Matthew Parsfield pointed out recently, in Mental Health, or as our CEO Matthew Taylor has argued, in Care).
But as so often, communities get left out of the equation – what statisticians would call an omitted variable. Arguably, without taking this third dimension into account, there is a lack of depth in the insights generated.
My hunch is that we would see a picture emerge that is more complex and informative than the binary US/Europe divide. But perhaps there is already some comparative data out there, maybe even longitudinal – might a reader point me in the right direction?
The RSA is well positioned to work across all three dimensions internationally, as we have strong Fellowships in all four countries (altogether we have Fellowships in 101 countries, the US being the largest one with almost 800 Fellows), as well as Fellow- and staff-led projects in the US and Germany. I will elaborate on these in my next blog posts.
Also, I am looking forward to the upcoming RSA Lecture with Tim Smit, CEO and Founder of the Eden Project, who asks the very question: ‘Where does responsibility for community lie’?
Whilst obviously significant for all of us, today’s budget feels like a bit of pre-2014 Spending Review foreplay. So, provoked by Peter Bazalgette’s inaugural lecture as Chair of Arts Council England here at RSA this morning, the fantastic questions from our new Chair Vikki Heywood, and the launch of a new RSA-ACE project called Towards Plan A: a new political economy for arts and culture, here is an attempt at the real thing: a zero-based budgeting exercise for the arts.
Zero-based budgeting is often threatened across public services and departments, but in reality rarely happens – there are too many powerful, vested interests in maintaining some sense of status quo. It, (or usually the Treasury in some form), essentially asks the question ‘what would happen if this programme/initiative/whole area of public spending was no longer funded? Rather than tweaking spending decisions, zero-based budgeting gives the chance for more radical solutions to fiscal challenges.
Whether you are lover and hater of public spending on the arts (and please let’s not call it ’investment’ – it’s spending, stupid), try this scenario.
Imagine that the Government decides to withdraw all national funding for the arts (apart maybe, from a tiny amount of art education in schools), and also bans local government from supporting the arts. What do you think would be the consequences of such a decision, in the short and long term?
Your predictions will, of course, only be predictions. But they may still help you to understand what ‘market failure’ in the arts might really look like, and build a clearer picture of the purpose of state subsidy for the arts.
I tried this with a friend, and we came to a simple conclusion… which, in a crude attempt to get some comments on my blog, I will promise to reveal once I’ve got five predictions from other people.
You can have this for free – a paper I wrote on ‘art as evidence for public policy making’, titled Speaking Doubt to Power.
Is there anything Ofsted won’t do? Fresh from Michael Wilshaw’s ‘Damascene Moment’, changing his mind to pitch for Ofsted sticking around to support school improvement (aided by their new regional directors), David Laws claimed last week that Ofsted would make sure that the Pupil Premium was well spent.
Last week’s TES leader questioned Ofsted’s mission creep. Accountable to the Queen, Ofsted has a clear role: “to inspect and regulate services which care for children and young people, and those providing education and skills for learners of all ages.” The Chief Inspector’s comments should be limited to telling the world what inspection evidence, and inspection evidence alone, tells us about the English education system, and priorities for improvement. Conflicts of interests around inspecting your own school improvement programme are not insurmountable, but are probably an unnecessary risk, given the emerging market amongst teaching schools, academy chains and other schools and providers to deliver school improvement services.
This mission creep goes against the original instincts of our Chief Inspector. As a brilliant school leader, his philosophy was about focusing headship on the key role of improving the quality of teaching and learning. All other activities, if not necessarily a distraction, should be subservient to this goal. This steer, and a much more focused inspection framework, rightfully reminded those headteachers who were tempted towards excessive innovation, social entrepreneurship and peripheral issues that they should to some extent ‘stick to their knitting’.
Ofsted has enough to get right, right now. Raising the quality of its existing inspectors, strengthening their scrutiny of the FE sector, and sensitively changing its inspection framework to incorporate new priorities should be enough for any body. All public bodies occasionally feel the seduction of extending their remit. Unless it’s a clear takeover of someone else’s powers, this strategic slipperiness is often problematic. Ofsted should resist.
Building on an earlier blog about four foundations for a self-improving school system, I am currently thinking through what the idea of self-regulation might mean in a school system context. It is too early to claim any breakthrough, conceptually or recommendations-wise, but I am fairly sure that a truly self-improving system will need to develop the power to self-regulate, and therefore to write Ofsted, if not totally out of the script, into the margins of footnotes and stage directions. A decade ago, Matthew Taylor and I wrote that ‘Ofsted’s long term aim should be to render itself unnecessary.’ I remember Chris Woodhead laughing off this idea, and perhaps it is fantastical. However, the principle of “inspection in inverse proportion to success” as currently applied to outstanding schools should hold true for the system. Our school system is improving, whilst Ofsted’s role may simultaneously be growing. This makes no sense.
When I was a primary school history coordinator (in those heady, deluded days before literacy and numeracy targets swept most other priorities away, and QCA schemes of work did the rest), I had the delightful job of planning a whole-school history scheme of work. One of the many attainment targets for history was for children to be able to ‘distinguish facts from opinions’ by the time they got to secondary school. Given their collective seniority and expertise, I am hopeful that the Education Select Committee has the same ability, even if some of their witnesses struggle with this distinction.
When asked this week by the Select Committee about the Academies Commission’s critique of some aspects of policy, former schools minister Nick Gibb claimed that the RSA had a ‘particular view’ and didn’t come from ‘neutral ground’. This contrasts to others who wondered aloud (via twitter) whether a commission led by an academy provider such as the RSA would ever be anything other than positive about academies.
These claims insult the independence of the commissioners themselves, and the process they led. The RSA’s Action and Research Centre, with the remit to act and think, show and tell, innovate and recommend, will constantly need to navigate healthy tensions between our practice and our research. In combining thought leadership and social innovation, we aim to create a virtuous circle between research and practice. The Commission’s findings will inform how we develop our family of academies model, Working directly with these academies gives us insight to which areas of policy need exploring, and provides us with both inspiration for and reality checks on ideas for practical innovations. And the practical innovations we lead with larger numbers of teachers and schools, for instance through our Opening Minds framework and our area based curriculum, also help determine our priorities for future RSA programmes of work.
At the same time, recent exchanges have caused me to reflect on that slippery word ‘evidence’. When committees or commissions ‘take evidence’, they are really collecting stories, some of which will be facts, others opinions. As Dylan William and others remind us all, evidence is not the plural of anecdotes. Stephen Gorard has distinguished between the legal use of evidence, which aims to push a single viewpoint, and the academic use, which, to quote Chomsky, aims to ‘tell the truth and expose lies’. In thinking about education, only the latter will do, alongside a recognition that most evidence is far less conclusive that we’d like (and the more rigorous the evidence, the less conclusive it will probably be, as Education Endowment Foundation-funded projects are likely to find out in the next few years).
After such a deep, rigorous progress, it’s a shame that admissions ‘gossip’ (as opposed to the carefully considered recommendations about admissions in the report) dominated media headlines. We hope that the RSA’s current project on in-year admissions, which will involve surveys and data collection, may help shed light on wider questions about the impact of academisation on admissions.
Those who still have influence over the future direction of academies have welcomed the commission’s findings and want to engage in serious discussions about next steps, Whatever people’s views on the Commission, lack of balance is not the issue. Whatever Nick Gibb said, the Commission was entirely neutral in its deliberations. Mind you, given Nick Gibb’s dislike of RSA Opening Minds, he would have said that, wouldn’t he?
Fresh from a family skiing holiday in Colorado, our Secretary of State for Education will hopefully, like the rest of us, have new year resolutions on his mind that have nothing to do with work. Better parallel turns? Less red meat and wine? An escape from Notting Hill?
Judging by his topping of a recent Conservative Party members’ poll as the most popular Cabinet minister, and the contrasting views of teachers in a recent poll on morale, his education resolution might just be to ‘stay resolute’. Gove is seen as a success; by party members; by some repetitive columnists who fawn on and feed off half-truths about our education system; and also by those who rightly praise his conviction and passion for the job.
In comparison to others around the cabinet table, Gove has certainly brought the Prime Minister very few problems. However, the Coalition’s education policies have thus far been judged only by a series of inputs – number of new academies, amount of pupil premium funding, number of times teaching union leaders have been irritated. The big rise in primary test scores for 2012, and good set of recent international test results are more legacies of the previous government’s reforms than the results of any new policies.
Like all policies and politicians, public attitudes to Gove have been shaped by premature evaluation. However, three years in and as the Coalition publishes its Mid-Term Review, 2013 should be the year we can finally begin to judge the effectiveness of a radical series of reforms. Never mind school structures, what has all this change meant for young people? Never mind the ebacc, is the achievement gap between our poorest children and the rest closing? Never mind morale, is the quality of teachers and teaching improving? And never mind tuition fees, how will the system work for those underachieving 16 year olds who will now be legally obliged to ‘stay on’ from September?
Rather than make early predictions, or add to the ever-increasing volume of money or time-heavy recommendations that pass through the Department’s in tray, here are eight New Year’s resolutions for Gove, and all who sail in him, that might help him to steer our education system to greater long term successes.
- Do some systems thinking.
- Slow down on academisation.
- Create an accountability system to ensure that every child matters, to every school, and that lower attaining pupils matter even more.
- Release and justify your inner control freak.
- Show your hand on the future educational role of local authorities.
- Double-check your evidence.
- Interrogate and treasure our youth services.
- Stick around to finish what you’ve started.
My own work-related new year resolution is to blog more often. So, rather than explain these now, I’ll aim to expand on most of them during January.
Having a ‘dual diagnosis’ means that someone who has mental health problems also has problems with one or more drugs, including alcohol. In my years as a substance misuse practitioner I would frequently work with individuals where underlying and undiagnosed mental health issues would have a significant impact on problematic drug and alcohol use.
The continuing issue in my experience was that mental health services would frequently be unprepared or seemingly unable to work with individuals that presented with substance misuse issues. This would create a huge gulf in service delivery with many being unable to access appropriate support to meet their needs. The relationship between dual diagnosis: substance misuse and dealing with mental health issues a research report published in 2009 aimed at addressing some of the finer issues relating to ‘dual diagnosis’, and although there has been an improvement in the relationship between drug and mental health services, red tape and referral processes can still often prove to be a block to treatment.
In February 2011 the government released a paper entitled No health without mental health. The paper outlines the government’s strategy and action plan for improving mental health and well-being stating;
“This Government recognises that our mental health is central to our quality of life, central to our economic success and interdependent with our success in improving education, training and employment outcomes and tackling some of the persistent problems that scar our society, from homelessness, violence and abuse, to drug use and crime.”
Unfortunately the paper does not detail the specific issues relating to ‘dual diagnosis’ and how this strategy can shape and improve service delivery for individuals accessing drug and alcohol treatment.
In 2011 I was involved in an eight week pilot, which enabled those accessing services and exhibiting potential mental health problems the opportunity to be seen and assessed in the treatment centre by a clinical psychiatrist. This allowed for immediate referrals to be made to GP’s and mental health services for treatment, the initial results were positive and fundamental to the successful completion of treatment for many individuals over that period.
So how does this relate to a ‘Recovery Agenda’? The ineffective treatment of mental health problems relating to people accessing drug treatment services could jeopardise the potential for meaningful recovery. If the ideal vision is for treatment is to be but a small part of the recovery journey, then surely a more integrated service focused on ‘dual diagnosis’ will be required in the future. The tagline for the above mentioned government paper is ‘Delivering better mental health outcomes for people of all ages’ maybe that should include ‘all backgrounds’ to achieve real success in improving mental health for all.
“Birds of a feather flock together” as the old saying goes. But can being surrounded by people who are very similar to each other be damaging?
I am prompted to ask this question by a number of otherwise unconnected observations that have recently occurred to me.
Yesterday I chaired an event at the RSA with the excellent Ian Leslie, talking about his book Born Liars. Leslie argued that self-deception is part and parcel of human nature. As he said, there is a phrase to describe people who have an accurate picture of how attractive, funny and charismatic they appear to others and that phrase is “clinically depressed”. Unless we kid ourselves that things will get better, there is very little chance that they will.
A member of the audience raised the question that Barbara Ehrenreich raised in her RSA lecture, namely, isn’t there something unseemly about promoting self-deception? Ehrenreich’s examples include the careers advisor who takes money to tell you that being made redundant is the best thing that ever happened to you.
There is a phrase to describe people who have an accurate picture of how attractive, funny and charismatic they appear to others and that phrase is “clinically depressed”
Leslie was not willing to go this far, but he did say that people who are prone to extreme self-deception are not well served if they are surrounded by other people with a similar degree of self-deception. This can lead to a delusional state in which people become quite removed from reality.
I have also been re-reading the seminal article by Thomas Pettigrew on “Intergroup Contact Theory”. One of his most interesting observations is that “in all samples, Europeans with outgroup friends scored significantly lower on five prejudice measures” That is to say, white Europeans that have BME friends are significantly less prejudiced that those who do not.
I was prompted to connect these two observation by the news that the Telegraph have published documents detailing plotting around the change of Prime Minister from Blair to Brown.
I do not have much to say about the details of the plotting but I do think it’s noteworthy that senior politicians tend to be surrounded by quite tight knit cabals of advisors. Apparently, Thatcher used to ask of new appointments, “Is he one of us?”
The advantages of having a closely connected group of quite similar advisors are obvious; loyalty, shared vision, team work, but there are disadvantages too. Teams made up of very similar individuals can become delusional, can adopt a bunker mentality and can fail to adapt to changes in circumstance. It takes a brave leader to bring in potentially disruptive individuals but sometimes it is the right thing to do.
The UK is on course to have the most expensive public universities in the world once increased fees kick in in 2012. It is therefore unsurprising that there has been such uproar over the suggestion that British students might be allowed to apply for extra university places providing they are able to pay unsubsidised rates. David Willetts – the universities minister behind this faltering suggestion – has made it clear these university places would be ‘off-quota’ (meaning additional to the places that are administered through UCAS) and as such he suggests they would leave normal places free for disadvantaged students.
There are a number of problems with this analysis. There is no evidence that any of the places left ‘free’ by some students opting out of the quota system would be taken by young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. In fact, is it not more likely that these places will be taken by the people they are normally taken by, i.e. middle class, white young people from relatively affluent backgrounds? But the greatest objection is that Willetts’ proposal implied richer students will have two shots at university – one through the quota system, one through the off-quota system. Many of us instinctively react against the idea that people should be able to use their wealth to directly access university places not available for others with less money.
The proposals have now been watered down following a public and political outcry. However, our concern about inequality in education should not diminish. The reality is that there is already a two tier system in education. Social class – not ability – remains the strongest predicator of educational achievement in the UK. Recent statistics have highlighted that British children’s educational attainment remains overwhelmingly linked to parental occupation, income, and qualifications. Perhaps this government will not let rich parents buy their children places at university after all. But these same parents are already able to use their wealth and status to give their children advantages such as private education and tuition, interview training, work experience and CV-enhancing extracurricular activities that undoubtedly make their children more likely to reach university than their less affluent (but just as able) counterparts.
To ensure that all young people have a truly equal chance in reaching university, we must start engaging with the barriers disadvantaged young people face a long time before they begin looking at a UCAS form.
For more information on the RSA’s work in this area click here