Politics in Education: Who’s in the Game?

This is part 2 of my free eCourse based on the Politics in Education Summit on stakeholder perspectives about politics in education covering the teaching profession, those with special education needs, businesses and academics.

The Teaching Profession by Chris McShane 

Chris McShane didn’t wait for a platform for teachers, instead, he co-created the Headteachers’ Roundtable through Twitter. This is an extract from the 2015 Manifesto: The thinktank grew out of frustration regarding educational policy and the Opposition response to it. Its origins and subsequent growth are down to the power of Twitter as a tool for connecting people to try and bring about change where they feel it is needed.

An opening joke from Chris McSchane:

“It’s been quite an interesting debate already this morning and it reminds me of the Irish joke about the German tourist who turned up in Galway looking to get to Scarborough and asked a local how they would get there. The local thought for a minute and he said, “Well if you want to get there I wouldn’t start from here”. And that kind of IS the education debate.”

The pace of policy change:

“I just made a little list, and it’s by no means an exhaustive list, of some of the things throughout my headship career that we have been involved in. We have had…

*floor targets* *national strategies* *national challenge* *14-19 diplomas* *eBacc* *primary curriculum redesign* *early years resign* *secondary curriculum revision* *three full Ofsted revisions* *innumerate revisions to those* *changes to teacher recruitment* *academisation* *free schools* *pupil premiums* *connections in* *connections out* *GCSE revision* *Woolf report* *changes to vocational education* *phonics* *new GCSEs gradings* *British values* *prevent* *citizenship* *community cohesion* *shift away from the criteria referencing GCSE to non-reference* *Progress 8*

…Just some of the things that have been part of policy in education in a little over seven years.”

Who is Chris McShane?

15 min video:  Chris talking to Governors uploaded January 2015. Look out for mentions of CBI (we’ll hear from them below) and the College of Teaching (represented in the next part)…

Official Summary of Chris McShane’s Politics in Education Presentation, Representing the teaching profession and school leadership.

Chris courageously stepped up to speak when Ros McMullen had to pull out. He began with concern around public services being used as a tool by career politicians creating a pace of policy change that confuses the profession, leading to anger and certainly fears. Narrowing the curriculum is necessary to meet EBacc targets, though he called for the teaching profession to act as a safeguard. Parents don’t feel informed or part of the discussion and are no longer sure what to do for the best. An image problem has created a teacher recruitment problem, leading to a problem for students; our major stakeholders. Core budgets are not being protected and political interference, instead of support, has become normal. Despite these challenges, Chris described the richness of ‘life without levels’ debates and expressed hope we’ll not rush to answers, but take time to consider where we are, what we’re doing and what we want to achieve.

Special Education Needs by Brian Lamb

Considered the godfather of sustainable political policy change for Special Education Needs (SEN), Brian Lamb is not a Politician, but a Policy Influencer none the less. In this video from 2013, Brian introduces himself (2 min):

Some advice for us Brian?

“In 2005, if we said, ‘Oh, we’re going to take ten years doing this‘, we wouldn’t have got any political traction. It may have taken ten years, but we didn’t say that at the start.

What do we need to implement this policy?

  • We need to know what the media’s saying; am I going to be eviscerated when I go out with this?
  • What does my minister actually want? Ed Balls had visions of what he wanted. Michael Gove had visions about what he wanted out of the system. I’m sure the current minister does as well.
  • What’s the clear message I can go and tell the country about these reforms and what I’m going to be doing about them?
  • What’s my narrative, and does it feel right and reasonable?”

Who is Brian Lamb?

Debs put it this way in the Special Needs Jungle blog: If any of you have had chance to meet Brian, you will know how inspirational and passionate he is about the value of parental engagement. One parent came up to me after listening to him and said “wow, he really does get it, doesn’t it?” followed by; “Let’s hope everyone took notes in there!”

An opening quote from Brian Lamb:

“I actually want to start with a quote from Sir Keith Joseph that I don’t often quote, but I was reminded of it this morning in terms of, he said when he became Secretary of State for Education that he’d spent 30 years trying to get his hands on the levers of powers and having got his hands on them he realised they weren’t connected to anything! …he would find now, I think, if he came back that they actually were far more connected to various levers (than they thought), they just weren’t the ones people always thought they were.”

Setting the scene on SEN Education in 2005

“Parental confidence in the system was low, but there was a powerful SEN lobby with support on both sides of the House… I do think without state intervention we would still very much be in that position.”

Insights on Government time-frames

“I spent a lot of time managing research. I still work in a research institution, I’m not against research and policy formed evidence around research. The trouble is the research culture is one where scientific thinking and methodology look for a proven empirical fact. It’ll be theoretically and potentially abstract, it often has caveats and is nuanced in terms of what research does and will often be conducted over long time periods. As a lobbyist my problem in using all of that with government has been that policy makers and people advising politicians have short to medium-term timeframes. Often, we have to get something done, we have to get it done now “500 free schools!” we want that by the end of a term -I’m sure there is lots of thought that’s gone behind that, but necessarily you’ve got to drive a short-term agenda.”

Evidence vs Narrative

“The research questions and the political reform question often don’t always match and so you need to try and find a way that you can bring the two together. A trap around this is just to assume that as soon as you’ve got the evidence, look at Finland and the presentation about Finland, it’s fascinating, there was a narrative around Finland that didn’t actually match with the evidence at the time. The narrative won. It’s still winning. I know Finland’s not like that because Steven Ford does work in Finland on their SEN children, because they’re falling behind with those as well, but what was the narrative?”

Politics in Education? 

“When my report was published it was called the Ed Balls Report. I went to the new coalition government when they came in and said, “Well, I expect you’re not very happy with a lot of this,” and they went, “No, dear boy, we’re absolutely delighted with the report, rubbishing it before the election was just politics”. And I think that’s the difference, we don’t want the politics that’s simply the political advantage partisan politics, but actually, underneath, they bought the consensus.”

Official Summary of Brian Lamb’s Politics in Education Presentation, The challenges of creating consensus for reform.

Brian won our attention with the startling fact that until the 1970’s, SEN children weren’t considered educatable. He introduced Warnock’s Government led inquiry which changed that, although it went wrong; Select Committee inquiries, an Ofsted review and various think tank reports led to a green paper supporting SEN aspiration and only 3 of Brian’s 51 recommendations were about legislation, the others were about culture. Related to that, he shared the home truth that political traction would not have happened if he’d said at the start the work would take 10 years. To change policy over successive Governments, Brian advised, we need to know what media is saying, what the education minister wants and have a clear, reasonable narrative about our reforms. Once moving, successive Governments went slowly on SEN reforms -deliberately- to keep parental and lobby groups on board, while maintaining cross party consensus. Of course, the sector didn’t like everything the Government did, though an impressive amount of agreement made it possible.

Businesses by Neil Carberry

Neil and his team at the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) campaign for its members on labour market & skills issues, including; employment law, employee relations, equality & diversity, pay, pensions, education, skills & in-work learning, immigration, health & safety and human rights.

Opening Statements from Neil Carberry

“Does the education system serve business and industry?” is such a weary title. I’m going to talk about something, hopefully, that’s a bit more consensual. How do we build a system that gives young people a great path into a great adult life? Because, actually, the corollary of that is that our members at the CBI’s needs are met, because they’re finding these young people. And that’s why education matters to the CBI.

…by definition, as businesses, we should be engaged with the education system, not taking some sort of client-esque view of a system that exists to meet our needs and then whinging without recompense when it doesn’t deliver, or indeed failing to acknowledge when it does.”

Politics in education?

“Let’s be clear, you can’t take politics out of education, nor would you want to. We are a democracy. Having said that, what we can aspire to is greater long-termism in political thinking about education, about the system that we want to build.”

Who is Neil Carberry?

“As a vice chair of governors at a primary academy, one of the ones incidentally that isn’t supposed to work because we’re completely freestanding, we have found the support that we get from our peer primary schools around us five to ten times better than anything we ever got from the local authority. And the professional links that that is building is really helping us engage in our local community.” Here’s a short video on Neil’s views about Student Assessment from m2014 (2 min):

Quick points from Neil:

  • We know it’s important that head teachers are the primary movers in running their schools
  • We know we need an accountability system that doesn’t instil fear in schools, but instead instils confidence
  • We need quality vocational education and I truly welcome the commitment on both sides of the House to delivering that
  • We should talk about the community, about parents, about the third sector, about businesses; schools that are successful must be community hubs, not places we send our young people to to do education
  • Teachers have a critical role to play in that, but we can’t expect them to do everything, they can’t deliver everything that we want a school to deliver; more robust partnerships are essential to deliver choices for young people

“…so you can expect the CBI to continue to be noisy on these issues into the future.”

Official Summary of Nail Carberry’s Politics in Education Presentation, How do we build a system that gives young people a great path into a great adult life?

Neil began by dismissing his title to ask this, instead: How do we build a system that gives young people a great path into a great adult life? He expressed the importance of businesses no longer engaging in any guilt free whinge about education before shattering two myths; (1) businesses do not have a dim view of young people and, in fact, young people are the most impressive employees according to CBI members and (2) businesses do not want automatons which, he proposed, is a political argument against businesses that dare to speak on education. Neil calls us to aspire to long term political thinking on education and accountability that doesn’t instil fear in schools, but confidence. He suggested strategy via things like accreditation, rather than tactics such as reforming exams as a better way forward. In the future, Neil hopes for individualised learning plans for every secondary student and to see schools transformed into community hubs.

Academics by Andrew Pollard

From Andrew Pollard’s WikipediaAs a former school teacher, Pollard’s research interests include teaching-learning processes and learner perspectives, as well as the development of evidence-based classroom practice. He is responsible for a popular series of textbooks and support materials on reflective teaching within primary and secondary schooling. He has worked extensively on the effects of national and institutional policies on learning. 

Hear Andrews take on the idea of coherence (a term introduced to the summit by Tim Oates) and creatively playing the cards dealt, to get work done (6 min):

Insights on the National Curriculum expert panel:

“My account of some of the things that happen, for instance, around the recent reform of the National Curriculum, is different than Tim Oates has offered you. I, as Tim said, was a member of the expert panel and he didn’t mention that two of that panel, two of the four, actually resigned in the middle of it, and why did they do that?

Well, the reason was that the evidence which we had been accumulating, and gathering from a consultation process, the procession of subject experts and practitioner who’d come from the department, was in our view being ignored.”

Going into more depth on Social Science:

“The principles underlying this were first to recognise that there are different sorts of evidence and there are different legitimate forms of social scientific knowledge…

…I suppose really in a sense the people behind this reckoned that social science could not produce categoric facts. It could produce insights. It could produce all sorts of forms of understanding. And indeed it could produce forms of knowledge which one would expect should be taken seriously. And different forms of research would produce evidence which you’d take seriously to different degrees and in different ways, but it recognises the complexity of teaching, learning and the social world generally.

And it is relatively modest about the claims it makes, and that’s why it uses the term “evidence informed” rather than evidence based, because it recognises that the role of research is to produce knowledge which can be considered by practitioners and policy makers.”

…and in relation to the primary education, which is my particular field, I would still say that the evidence is perfectly clear, that a broad curriculum is associated with better results, and we are left with a narrow curriculum. All the drivers are forcing it to be narrow and, in terms of children’s learning, you need to have flexibility to respond to their needs and we have a very linear curriculum.”

Research on Education Research:

“I want to share with you some thoughts about researchers as stakeholders, and in particular how they can make a contribution to the education system and the use of evidence within it…” In his presentation, Andrew shared findings of the ‘Strategic Forum for Research in Education‘ (SFRE) he co-chaired from 2008-2010 to explore how countries in the UK can improve the creation, mediation and application of evidence about education.

Politics in Education?

“Now, developmental work and practitioner enquiry are absolutely vital for the improvement of particular contexts and they cannot be replaced by other forms of research. Similarly, there are some sorts of research, randomised controls you might say, which have a unique quality for answering particular sorts of questions. And so we have a wide repertoire of different research approaches which have different strengths and weaknesses, and the argument that we advanced is that you need all of them because they have these different strengths and you use them for different purposes. And a wise government would consider whether it has adequate provision across its system, in each of its sectors, to nurture and support research of all these different types.  That really doesn’t exist, I’m afraid at the moment. And you can see that’s the recommendation, that government should think about provision; do a little audit and see what enables and constrains the development of these different types of research.”

Official Summary of Andrew Pollard’s Politics in Education Presentation, What might a research informed education system look like?

Andrew launched with this question; how effectively do different elements of research process deliver a product? The education researchers he described recognise the complexity of teaching, learning and the social world while also holding true that social research can produce important insights, forms of understanding and knowledge we ought to take seriously. We have an underperforming school system, not because of any lack of goodwill or expertise, but because we lack knowledge mobilisation. The haphazard nature of research means few look ahead strategically. Andrew’s work showcases the strengths of many sorts of research, including practitioner enquiry. A wise Government, he suggests, would consider whether it has adequate provision across the system to nurture all types of research. In all, he hopes to inspire more open-mindedness to evidence from policy makers and influencers moving forward.

Perhaps by now, you’re getting a sense of how colourful this discussion is! Disagreements between the titans; each dedicated to the bettering of education, each pushing their block towards the centre. Interesting, isn’t it?

This content makes me question the hell out of my own assumptions, over and over. Do you see hope in the content of this session. If so, where?

In part 3 of this free eCourse, we’ll explore where the power is shifting.

If you would like to go deeper into this, the full original transcripts and power-point slides are available. To request more information on these, just ask from this contact page.

  • Ed Podesta

    I’m interested in the way that politics’ presentational requirements affect the outcome of the debates. Yesterday’s material seemed to contain themes which have developed further today. These themes suggest that the requirement to present a predecessor’s policies as ruinous, and your own as the only thing capable of saving the situation means that consultation becomes an exercise in presentation, rather than something capable of altering policy. Really interesting stuff, which sent me on a quest to find out more about the creation of the current national curriculum, and the circumstances surrounding Andrew Pollard’s resignation – I ended up reading this: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ioep/clre/2015/00000013/00000002/art00005?crawler=true which is really interesting in the way it describes the marginalisation of those who wish to question the direction of policy in recent years.

  • Leah K Stewart

    That’s a really great paper you found Ed on exactly this topic, and from another perspective! I’m glad it’s reference in these comments. Thanks. For me personally, the notion of ‘experts in a room will sort it out and we’ll follow’ feels strained and misses lots of opportunity for connections and discussions between interested people. I hope it will happen less in the future, for the sake of the selected expert’s pride at least. Tim Oates is clearly dedicated to research and evidence, but we saw from Brian Lamb’s section how little that can matter when people decide it doesn’t matter.

  • Kamil Trzebiatowski

    Isn’t it interesting that 2 out of 4 members of the panel, in Andrew Pollard’s words, resigned. This reminds me a little of Prof Neil Mercer’s feelings about being invited as an advisor by the government only to have all of his (and of his colleagues’) ideas ignored. (the seminar by Prof Mercer is at, if interested: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/education-language-and-social-brain ).

    I also found A.Pollard’s comments on research very refreshing. In fact, I am planning from now on to use “evidence informed”! The -based term implies that there is this “evidence” which is seen as incontrovertible, and we all know very well that this is simply not the case. Evidence can be too often found for what you want it to find, and it’d be almost always easy to find a context which would support your claim. Also, the term itself “evidence-based” doesn’t even suggest which evidence, claiming that the theory/”evidence” is a fact, not up for discussion. I remember hearing Oliver Quinlan at a TeachMeet in Swiss Cottage in London two or so years ago reminding others that there is such a thing as “bad research”. Informed by evidence, however, does make a much fairer claim.

  • Leah K Stewart

    Thank you for that video Kamil – very relevant to this, not only for his comments on being ‘consulted’ but the rest of the presentation too -I’ve seen the 1st half and will check in with the rest this evening! There seems to be an issue where people are asked to ‘consult’ on projects, not because the person who has power to decide *wants* that other person in (because they’ve followed their work, respect their work and value their ideas) but because they *need* that person in so the project has *status* – which puts up barriers for the social / collective learning Mercer was talking about. No one learns, and they might as well have not been asked. I saw something similar in recruitment where certain companies wanted certain people because they came from another company, and therefore made their company ‘look good’ by being there – but those people, once in, were seldom valued for who they were and tended to move on for a ‘better opportunity’ soon after. Occasionally, the hirer would ask us for a person, by name, and we’d look them up and think ‘really?’ because they’re not in the big company they tend to want people from, but this time they want that person (specifically) because they’ve seen and followed their work and know they need that person’s input. That makes for a completely different and much more positive collaborative (and working) experience. So I wonder if this curriculum review could have been done that way? Perhaps not. Perhaps we can’t force collaboration for the purpose of status?

  • Howard Phillips

    The most surprising thing was from Neil Carberry, saying that the CBI is generally happy with the kids they hire. So much for the usual stuff that comes out (from where?) about how useless the students are. I suspect politically motivated newspaper people.

  • Leah K Stewart

    Yes – and I believed him too! He was talking about the young people hired by companies represented by the CBI, so speaking ‘on behalf of business’ – the reality I’ve seen is that the attitude of each company depends so much on what managers there have personally (and most recently) experienced with the young people they hire. Part of that is how they choose to hire and train – I’ve seen companies swear off hiring graduates because they’re ‘useless’ when, in fact, what I saw was a company not prepared to work with graduates, which is OK! – I only wish we’d own what’s happening (“We don’t hire graduates, because we’re set up to hire experienced professionals only”) rather than blame it on incompetence of an entire group.

    It was interesting that, only a few days after this Summit, Tim Oates (was reported) to criticise the CBI for having the opposite attitude to young people to what Tim heard Neil say at the Summit? This totally confused me and I have no idea how much of it is the press peddling the usual stuff, or Tim refusing to hear what is being said… no idea. Janet from the Local Schools Network picked up on it too with her article here: http://bit.ly/1Rw41Uy

  • Christalla Jamil

    My thoughts so far…(4.9.16)

    It seems the government ignored Andrew’s recommendations in favour of its own prejudice. Should we put evidence ahead of dogma when it comes to education? Did the curriculum become prey to political ideology? Is the professional opinion always ignored?

    The more I read the more questions I come up with and fear that we, the leaders in education, do not have a strong enough voice. But then this is why I joined the Head’s Roundtable (on Twitter) and at the last meeting in Sheffield contributed to trying to rewrite our own white paper by taking part in a sequence of activities whereby our individual vice could be heard.

    I found solace referring to Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk on the subject of creativity in education. In it, he argued that, to truly thrive, children should be allowed to follow their passions; that they should be allowed to excel in school in subjects that might well be non-academic if they are the kind of things that really fire them up. This kept me sane whilst engrossed in your Day2 Leah.

    This year I am introducing research lesson study to my teachers with links to my SIP. I will now steal Andrew Pollard’s term of “evidence informed” from now on. Love it and agree with his findings.

    I am really finding this course stretching because it is so interesting to see the outcome of politics on a variety of debates and how accepting change, relevance and proof can be if those in power do not see the reality.

  • Leah K Stewart

    Congratulations Christalla on joining the Head Roundtable and taking action after Sheffield. I love hearing about things like this!​ I’m a fan of the TED Talk. It surprised me to find, when first began looking at education, how vehemently Ken Robinson and that Talk are attacked online. Some voices point out that he’s pointing out problems and not giving solutions. I used to try to express in comments that he’s done a service by encouraging people to be critical of education (we want people to be critical thinkers, no?) and that’s his role, so he does not also need to also think for everyone and come up with solutions. Then I got wiser and decided to focus instead on finding people like you to talk with :) P.S. ‘evidence informed’ yes… also try ‘policy informed’ ;-)