Politics in Education: Where is the Power? Where is it Shifting?

This is part 3 of my free eCourse based on the Politics in Education Summit on the powers in education politics and where they are shifting, featuring contributions from representatives of government, a new professional body for teachers, unions and school governors.

The Government and Education Charities by John Dunford

John was the government’s National Pupil Premium Champion from 2013 to 2015, an independent role in which he worked with schools, trusts, teaching schools and local authorities on the effective use of the pupil premium. John answers questions on this role in 2015 (1 min):

Setting the scene: 

“Now I want to take you first of all back to 1992 and the creation of Ofsted as an independent, quasi-independent inspectorate outside the Department of Education…

…What had happened before that, up to 1992, is that the inspectorate had been based within the Department of Education. Professionally independent, but within the Department. So that the senior Chief Inspector was a Grade 2 civil servant, just below the Permanent Secretary, but who had independent access to the Secretary of State whenever the Senior Chief Inspector wanted it and, critically, whenever there were any policy discussions taking place in the Department of Education, the DES as it then was.

The Chief Inspectors would be engaged in the senior level of policy making. Staff inspectors would be engaged with the middle civil servants in policy making.  So the professional voice of the inspectorate, based on the evidence that they had found in their surveys right across the country was being fed into the policy making process at the time that policy was being devised in the Department and I think that the most significant negative about the creation of Ofsted in 1992 was the loss of that professional voice within policy making in the DFE.”

What can be done?

“It seems to me this could be replaced with a Chief Educational Officer (heading up an Evidence Centre) parallel to the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Veterinary Officer and so on in other Departments.”

Domestic Examples from other Sectors:

“Within other government departments in this country you have this kind of thing. The Department of Health, for example, there are several different kinds of Chief Officers; Chief Nursing Officer, a Chief Dental Officer and so on, as well the Chief Medical Officer. They’ve got NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) as well. The government is legally, statutory obliged, to have regard to NICE recommendations which is, again, a real step that we could take in education.”

Some Grass-Roots Context:

“When, for example, I’m watching the television news and there’s a flu epidemic. Who comes on the television, on the news to reassure the country about the effect of a flu epidemic? It’s not the Secretary of State for Health, it’s the Chief Medical Officer. Who came on the television to reassure the country during the foot and mouth epidemic? It was the Chief Veterinary Office from Defra, not the Secretary of State from Defra. When there’s a big issue around in education, who comes on the television? The Secretary of State, because we don’t have an equivalent high status professional within the Department who, because they speak independently, because they have such a strong professional background, can be a real voice, a really powerful voice within the education debate within and outside the profession in education.”

International Examples of Education Evidence Centres:

  • NETHERLANDS  …each ministry has a ‘knowledge chamber’
  • SINGAPORE …teachers move into the Department as researchers then back into teaching
  • SWITZERLAND …’coordination centre’ for research in education
  • DENMARK …’clearinghouse’ for education research
  • NEW ZEALAND …the best evidence synthesis programmes
  • AUSTRALIA …Productivity Commission

“There’s a lot of these evidence centres of all sorts and different kinds, but with some fundamental lessons for us to learn. These bodies tend to be professionally independent, sometimes situated within government, sometimes outside government, but always able to influence the policy making process.”

Some Grass-Roots Movements:

“The Education Endowment Foundation, funded with an endowment, situated within the independent Sutton Trust, is indeed a good model, and the toolkit they’ve produced and the other materials that they produced, have been absolutely invaluable to schools. Then the new kid on the block is researchED and what they are doing in terms of professional generated research. Very interesting report in 2014 from NFER about evidence use in schools. You see, the more autonomous you have a school system, and there aren’t many school systems that are as autonomous as they are in England, the more autonomous the school system, the more important it is to have really strong evidence being fed out to the profession so that those autonomous schools can recognise that evidence and draw up their polices.”

Official Summary of John Dunford’s Politics in Education Presentation, Does education need an evidence centre to inform policy and practice? 

John claimed the most significant negative about the creation of Ofsted in 1992 was the consequential loss of professional voice from within the Department of Education, though he believes this could be rectified by the creation of a Chief Education Officer position within an Evidence Centre, of which there are many international examples, even our own Heath department incudes several Chief Officers and NICE. John praised grass root movements in this direction such as ResearchED and the Education Endowment Foundation. To speak without fear or favour this Evidence Centre must be independent of both Government and the teaching profession with these aims; (1) to better understand the impact on education policies on young people, (2) mobilise knowledge and (3) develop abilities in communicating findings to a wide range of audiences. After over 25 years of being told what to do, since 1988, it’s now time for the profession to stop looking up and start looking out at the evidence, and use that. John called for a public debate on these ideas.

The (Growing) Professional Voice by Angela McFarlane

Angela is spearheading the campaign to establish a Chartered College of Teaching to be “the professional home of teaching, independent of government”. She evolved her role as a teacher to include education research on digital technologies. In this video you can Angela discusses technology and education shortly before the Politics in Education Summit (6 min):

Opening Thoughts:

“Thank you very much, John, and I have to completely agree with you, this is a personal view, on the need for an evidence centre. I also absolutely agree that it should be a sister organisation to a College of Teaching, because I think that relationship would be an incredibly important one.”

A new professional body for teachers:

“It’s noticeable that, unlike several hundred other professions, there is not an active chartered professional body for teachers and teaching. The College of Teachers was originally founded to fulfil that purpose and for some time it did. The current organisation does hold a Royal Charter for the professional development of teachers and it’s not particularly effective in that role. So, two years ago its members voted to work with the coalition to pass the Charter to a new organisation that would take on that new and revived role …The existing College of Teachers will cease to exist on the day it hands its Charter across to the College of Teaching. We hope that will happen next June.”

Opening Statements:

“At the moment we are still lobbying under the Claim Your College banner, because the College of Teaching itself, although it does exist as a legal entity now, is very much in its infancy…

…the most recent debate around the need for such and organisation dates back to February 2012 and it was not initiated by government, actually, the debate was ongoing before government got involved. The recommendation from the Education Select Committee was very helpful but, of course, it was actually derived from the evidence they were hearing from people giving their testimony. So government has been very supportive, verbally. As of today we do not have a single penny of government money. We hope that may change but, just so you know, the reports in the press about £12 million sitting in the bank, not true.”

Is this new?

“We’ve not had a professional body of this kind in, really, active in living memory in teaching. It will be autonomous by virtue of its royal charter. It will be voluntary unlike the General Teaching Council, for example, this will not be a mandated body. It will not be a government agency. It will have to have a sufficiently compelling proposition to gain membership and build trust through that membership into the wider profession. The good thing is we don’t have to convince everybody in order to get started. We believe there is a critical mass now coming together to begin this organisation.”

On Introducing Chartered Status:

“Now, some people are cynical, they say, “Well, ‘chartered’ is just a name, it won’t mean anything,” but actually over time, when people begin to realise that being a Chartered Teacher means something, it’s not a label that’s conferred and taken away the next time there’s a change in political framework. It is something that’s enduring and lasts over time. And moreover, that those in the profession recognise that their colleagues who’ve achieved that status really are the great teachers and those they admire and the ones they aspire to emulate, then we get to a very different position within the profession, and I think it gives the profession a confidence from which to speak truth to power.”

Do teachers want it? 

“The truth is we don’t know yet. We will know as soon we start to engage fully with a membership offer.”

What’s your role Angela?

“I am on the board until the Charter is transferred, simply to assist with that process.”

“…because it will be founded a Royal Charter, it cannot be simply disbanded because it no longer fits the current policy agenda. The whole purpose of a Royal Charter is it founds a professional organisation in perpetuity. So, it’s not going to go away the next time a Secretary of State decides that perhaps it’s not something that they’re particularly happy with or in tune with.”

How long will this take?

“The Charter and byelaws are the beginning, that’s what we are thrashing through at the moment, but the regulations are what really make the heart of an organisation. That’s where you decide who can be a member, what they have to do to achieve Chartered Status, how the College will relate with other professional bodies, Chartered and otherwise, and all the important stuff is there. That stuff requires the open consultation kicking off next week. It will continue for at least 12 months. The model allows up to four years incubation before full Chartered Membership is launched. We hope to do it rather quicker than that, but it’s better to get it right than quick.”

Official Summary of Angela McFarlane’s Politics in Education Presentation, Will the College of Teaching re-professionalise the profession?

Angela agreed, from a personal perspective, on the need for an Evidence Centre which could be a valuable sister organisation to the College of Teaching. The College itself is envisaged as an enabling organisation for practitioners to have an active dialogue between each other and stakeholders. Unlike several hundred professions, there is not an active Chartered body for teaching and there’s no other professional body of this kind in education; autonomous by virtue of its Royal Charter and voluntary. With there being no agreed pathway into teaching and unstructured professional development thereafter, it’s important teachers come together to hammer out some nationally agreed standards of development, accredited by Chartered Professional status. This new Chartered body, if it works, will be run by members for members and ultimately, for the benefit of learners. This aligns the vision with other professional communities that exist to ensure the best outcomes for those they serve, such as the Royal Colleges of Medicine, Chartered Institutes of Engineers and Chartered Accountancy Bodies.

NOTE: the presentation took place November 2015, for the latest on this project visit the Chartered College of Teaching website on chartered.college

The Unions by John Bangs

Across 20 years service to the NUT (National Union of Teachers) John Bangs was responsible for research projects including work on school self evaluation, pupil behaviour, curriculum and assessment and the professional lives of teachers. Extracts from this Guardian article, July 2010: With his sober grey suit and rather earnest manner, it is hard to imagine Bangs as a leftie activist and art teacher, but that is exactly what he was before he started working at the NUT.

His appointment ruffled feathers because prior to being given the job, he was a bit of a rebel. He had been a member of the Socialist Teachers’ Alliance. He had also, briefly, been suspended from the NUT after taking part in an unofficial strike over the 1988 Education Act, which took away teachers’ rights to negotiate on pay and conditions.

Listen to John’s main message on education in this short video (30 sec):

OECD (Org for Economic Co-op & Development):  

“You’ll divide opinion on the OECD. Some people think like Pasi Sahlberg -although I think that he’s been misrepresented- that it is the Great Education Reform Movement or GERM and it’s the pit of the devil, or you think that its education and skills department has a research engine which is to die for and is actually producing policy, obscured, I have to say, by unfortunate ranking system for countries, but it produces policy implications which have a massive impact on education policy in individual countries.”

Politics in Education?

“The first thing is, there’s been a discourse this morning about how do we take the politics out of education. It’s about as likely as the idea of complete consensus in education. Neither is likely, neither is possible, and neither should happen. What I do think is absolutely vital, and Finland’s come up, the important point about Finland is that politics is not taken out, but there are cornerstones and principles which every party agrees to. It’s consistently amazed me that no party in this country has actually said, “We can agree on principles,” and made that initiative during an election campaign and argued for a cross party approach to agreeing principles and within that having arguments about what you want out of an education system.”

Introducing Education International:

“…apart from one or two people here, you’ll know nothing about this, but it is the biggest global union federation that exists and is the body which represents teacher organisations and unions across the world. It represents over 32 million teachers and in the last five years it has reached equal status with global bodies such as UNESCO and OECD. That’s important to understand, because it has a powerful research and policy hub drawing on experience of 400 affiliate organisations and has a strong education profile.”

What makes an effective education system?

“The second point I’d make, and this is really from all the work that I’ve done over the last five years, is that devolution and decentralisation are absolutely not the issue. In fact, the idea of sprinkling magic fairy dust on the titles of schools and calling them academies and free schools is utterly, utterly irrelevant. The big issue is; do you have a coherent public education system and do you have an effective approach to teacher policy? A systemic approach to teacher policy? All the evidence from the OECD is that a systemic approach to teacher policy is the spine of an effective education system.”

Official Summary of John Bangs’ Politics in Education Presentation, The role of unions in influencing Education Policy and Practice:

John joined the debate by introducing Education International, the biggest global union federation that exists, representing over 32 million teachers from around the world with a powerful research hub drawing on the experience of its several hundred affiliate organisations. Moving onto OECD, John advised that a systematic approach to teacher policy is the spine of an effective education system and added that embedded reform will not happen without this and engagement from teacher unions. Within the unions ‘professional development’ is discussed the most, alongside working conditions, equality issues and the curriculum. In John’s experience, it’s a sign of decay when the profession starts believing every action the Government takes is against them. This puts the profession on the back foot; there’s a need to step forward.

School Governors by Emma Knights

Emma Knights is Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association (NGA), a charity for guidance, research, advice and training for school governors. Hear her speak about his (4 min):

Ways of holding public services to account:

“I’ll start just by reminding you what the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CFPS) has identified as the six ways of holding public services to account –

  • Regulation (inspections & audits)
  • Choice in the Market (maintaining options)
  • Management (performance monitoring)
  • Governance (scrutiny by non-executives)
  • Democracy (elections & votes)
  • Media (public narrative)

I also absolutely know that governance is not just about safeguarding public expenditure, and I would hope we can all take it as red in this room that it is about ensuring that our children get a good education. In terms of governance (of a national education system) these are six of the ways in which we do it.”

Politics in Education?

“Governors talk about what is strategic. Governance is strategic, head teachers are employed to deliver the strategy. They manage, they ensure the operations, and that should be the way in which we think about central government. Quite often when I look at what they are saying, what they’re doing, I think, “Come on, government, is this truly strategic or have you not stepped over that operational line?”

Who is Emma Knights?

Extracts from this Schools Week article, Oct 2015: Born in Peterborough and the eldest of four children, her family moved to Bermuda when she was five for her father to take up his first headship. Growing up in Bermuda “was absolutely fantastic, particularly in hindsight”. The island – on its own in the middle of the Atlantic – is “very very small. It’s a little bubble, but then often we grow up in little bubbles”.

The family moved to Liverpool next when she was almost 16 – as they didn’t do A-levels in Bermuda. Before going up to University College, Oxford, to do biochemistry, she spent the rest of the year working in a research lab for Shell UK – “and by the end of that year I knew I didn’t want to be a biochemist”.

At Oxford she “got enormously involved in college and university life” and was voted the first female junior common room president of her college. The thread linking all Knights’ jobs is tackling disadvantage. “That’s why I take a little of the current rhetoric about ‘moral purpose’ in the education sector with a pinch of salt. It is second nature in the third sector. We don’t really feel the need to keep saying it, as it is so obvious that is why people are involved in the work.”

Nuanced Change: 

“We all do bring quite a lot of baggage with us and I think the important thing is, is that we declare that baggage. That you know on behalf of who we are speaking and why. As a membership organisation we deal with that all of the time. It’s absolutely, in the third sector, part of a day job; working out why the loudest voices are saying what they’re saying and make sure that we’re listening to those quieter voices as well.

Let me give you a really practical example where NGA, a few years ago, decided that it was good practice for chairs of governing bodies not to serve more than six years at any one school. Now I can give you all the background to that, but we came to that view on what we were seeing in schools, also evidence from other sectors. Now if we asked, simply asked, our more active, loyal members what they thought, they would have been cross. Indeed some of them tell me, quite frequently, that they don’t like this policy, because they are the ones quite often who have been chairing at a single school for a very long time. Meanwhile we get lots of calls, increasing number of calls, from new governors coming onto governing bodies who are deeply frustrated because they have no influence. The chair and the head teacher are carving things up between them. We have to listen to those people too, so it is a much more sophisticated, nuanced way of achieving change.”

Official Summary of Emma Knights’ Politics in Education Presentation, Governance of a National Education System.

Representing Governors, Emma chose to explore how we might apply the principles of good governance to the school system as a whole. Governance is not only about safeguarding public expenditure, it’s about ensuring young people get a good education. Regulation, inspection and auditing are important and it is right that Government set frameworks and standards for the whole system. Management process and performance monitoring within education seem behind the times of other sectors; Emma’s message to education is that it’s not all about ‘sticks’ it should be about ‘carrots’ too. Thinking about system scrutiny by non-executives, such as governors, Emma would like to see a bigger debate on balances between local and central powers, while acknowledging that we are all opinion informed. To support productive debate, she recommended we declare our biases.

This was my favourite section of the actual Summit. “There’s hope!” I thought. There are good people trying to understand what’s happening and shape it. They need more good people on their side. Why not me and you? What are your thoughts, now?

In part 4 of this free eCourse, we hear two incredible presentations on the ‘Purpose of Education’ and the ‘Purpose of Politics’ plus some words from an actual politician.

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

  • Naureen

    I’ve been really enjoying the course. When I attended on the day I was enthralled to be there. Now reading these summaries is a great way to relive the day and take everything in at a slower pace. Thank you.

    For me Sir John Dunford’s “Let’s stop looking up and look outwards” and Emma’s principles of good governance and why we need to declare and be aware of the baggage we bring were two important take aways for me.

  • Leah K Stewart

    Great to hear that Naureen and thanks for sharing your take aways, they stood out for me too. I’m particularly enjoying discovering and capturing snippets of the speakers’ backgrounds, which sometimes really do help reveal why they care about what they care about; it humanises them to me, helping me to admire their work more.

  • Kamil Trzebiatowski

    There IS hope as long as we have people like John Dunford around! It was interesting to hear/read his thoughts on Chief Education Officer within the Education Centre. It does sound indeed like that impact on policies was greater. Yet again, I am pleased to hear that he wants knowledge to mobilised and look outwards rather than upwards. In fact decentralisation or centralisation is indeed not the issue (Mr Bangs), I agree with that. Do we have a cohesive policy, indeed! These two are certainly connected in my mind since the marketisation of the school system (academies) tend to mean to things: the competition between schools is so fierce that it’s begun to be seen that there is no time for research and serious CPD for teachers. One of the most important prerequisites for teachers to do a good job! By the way, the schools which are LA-run, like my own, had to succumb to the competition and impose the same fierce rules on their teachers, for the fear of BECOMING academies and play the same game. All of this means that schools collaborate with each other far less, and are not learning from each other the way they used to. It’s all about who has 85% A-C*s now.

    In other words, the creation of academies has led to the rise of a system that values top-down approach to teachers (not allowing them the time to think and do action research or any kind of research for that matter). Research would be looking out. We’re not looking out, however, we’re just looking to the boss, who talks (many do, in my experience) about “consistency”, which I believe many take as “compliance”. As a teacher, I don’t necessarily need to agree with everything that’s asked of me, but I do want to know “why”. For instance, if a school follows a “pen policy” for marking (red for peer marking, green for teacher marking, purple for work improvement) and insists on scrutinising teachers’ WRITTEN marking every 3 weeks or so (with much less focus on oral feedback), I, as a teacher, would like to know which evidence informed (Bill Lucas!) their decision. Teachers need to be told this. Teachers need a reference – this is what the SLT has read and this is why they’ve agreed this. Otherwise it feels like simply exercise in power over teachers and a bit of dictatorship – obviously powered by the forces of the market. Otherwise, there’s a discrepancy between what classroom teachers tell their students in their lessons (“Where is your evidence?”) and the way SLTs treat the very same teachers. In my opinion, this is a prime example of hypocrisy.

    The more research knowledgeable teachers we have, the more ResearchEd type of organisations we have, the more teachers can challenge these attitudes. We need more leaders of the sort that Simon Sinek (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en) talks about. Inspiring and there for their teachers. Unfortunately, what we do have is overwhelming marketing forces, which have already led to the rise of racism in schools (racism is less measurable and less important – it doesn’t come in A-C*s) over the last couple of years. Rowena Arshad of the University of Edinburgh talks about this extensively. Like Bill Lucas has said, this is the purpose of education as well. The current system works against upholding the drive of schools to create “good people” amongst children and teenagers, instead just valuing numbers and targets. Luckily, with the rise of the grassroot movements such as ResearchEd and TeachMeets, teachers’ agency is growing and will, eventually, lead to change. So I think there is hope there. :)

  • Leah K Stewart

    That is a great TED talk. Yes. As a high school student (2000-2006) I saw the contradictions you point out in my teachers and university professors. I won’t be the only student who saw it. By the end of formal education, once I’d shaken off the self-doubt, I assumed the issue was so obvious ‘someone’ would have sorted it. If teacher’s still have to hold to ways of teaching without being respected as professionals (and humans) with the reasoning behind decisions made for them, current students will be wondering why. If those wishing to inspire learning are not free to learn, to explore or conduct research for the work they choose to do, too much is lost; ‘the profession is at breaking point’ – teachers are telling me. Last year, when I decided to explore these issues more publicly, it’s like my mind switched on. Now I know what learning is and it has nothing to do with what I did for those celebrated school grades, first class degree and arm full of prizes. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s real and it’s social. I think we’re beginning now to see how the internet connects people, and how much positive could come from that; ResearchED,TeachMeets, WomenED etc.

  • Christalla Jamil

    5.9.16 Day 3
    Gosh Leah! This is definitely my favourite section too. Just love what John Dunford has brought to our table. “Stop looking up and start looking out at the evidence” for me, says it all.

    I agree with Angela McFarlane, definitive global outcomes are indeed rare. This is why it is pivotal to be clear about what is to be achieved and why. It is imperative that all involved understand this in order to support and take ownership if the outcomes are to be fruitful. Tried strategies, shared and proven amongst practitioners. Don’t sit back and be told, share and support. I am in total support of the CoT.

    Emma Knights part on the role of governors was truly refreshing to end on.

  • Leah K Stewart

    ​As I said on email, this is the part that perked me up in the day. ​It was also interesting to me how much more I got from the talks afterwards with the transcripts than live. I think my brain might have been zonked by this 3rd section, after lunch. I knew this part was good, but didn’t know how good till I went through the transcripts.