6 Lessons from Government Policy Advisers on Influencing Education Policy

When you want to know how to do something, ask people who’ve done it!


What follows are notes from talks recorded at this year’s Festival of Education and ResearchED conferences…

Former Policy Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education Sam Freedman says:

1) Do Your Homework

“Actually, the world of policy making consists of multiple power blocks with networks between them and they all have different status at different times. You need to understand that, if you really want to make a dent…”

What follows in Sam Freedman’s brilliant Festival of Education talk is a bizarre description of our Government that sounds frighteningly like Game of Thrones. The good news is that Sam really gets this stuff and is refreshingly honest about the realities of what we’ve got.

Join the Politics in Education eCourse Community and we’ll map this out together.

(just so happens I’m a Geologist by ‘degree’ so have practice mapping out complicated, hidden and massive time-warped structures)

2) Make It Easy

“Ministers, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have insane diaries. They have very little time to engage with ideas or to think much about coming up with change themselves. They’re usually making decisions based on information they are given, which is mediated by others…”

This got me feeling sorry for our poor ministers and grateful the eCourse community is about influencing them without becoming one! So if you ever do get the attention of the right person, rule #1 is to do all the leg work for them. Makes sense, right?

3) Do It In Public

“It’s hard to overstate how obsessed Westminster is with twitter. I know that sounds ridiculous but every single person in Westminster has a twitter account even if they’re not actively tweeting. And they look at it all the time…”

So much for being time poor? In Tim’s talk (below) he tries to reassure us that ‘loud’ or ‘un-serious’ people on twitter don’t actually influence government.

Chief Analyst/Scientific Adviser to the Department of Education Tim Leunig says:

4) Know the difference between ‘Political Issues’ and ‘Evidence Issues’

At ResearchED Tim Leunig gave the example of “whether students study history till age 16 or not” as an issue ministers would not be interested in evidence about, because there’s no obvious evidence base anyone can use; which makes this a political issue.

Bring to mind the education issue you care about most…

Do you believe it’s seen as a ‘Political Issue’ or ‘Evidence Issue’ by policy makers? Or something in-between such as an ‘Evidence Informed-‘ or ‘Evidence Creating Issue’?

5) Respond in an orderly, evidenced based and respectful fashion to Government Consultations

In particular, it’s super important to always state clearly:

  • who you are
  • why your insight is worth listening to and
  • specific evidence or examples to support your point of view

Recently I’ve had a go at responding to a Government Consultation for the first time and found the experience, um, interesting.

6) Reflect on and develop your own methods of persuasion

Honestly, have you ever huffed and puffed because policy makers are clearly idiots?
Well, my hands up. Here’s a powerful quote from Tim on this point:

“So I say to those of you that believe a move to grammar schools would be the wrong outcome, you need to think not just about changing governments view, but about changing the view ‘out there’ – Politicians do not by and large do things that nobody wants to happen”

This part of Tim’s talk got me reflecting deeply on the work I’ve done to reveal my perspective and personal understanding to others in a way that’s accepted by them.

How hard have you worked towards this end?
Could you become better at this too?

I’ll be focusing way more on this from now on and would love to hear from you if you’re developing the political influence you have over a part of education you care about.