Is it time for an end to personality politics and the FE sector?


14 June 2017

Tony Davis, member of the Policy Consortium asks: should the Department for Education be set free from government control?


Depending on where you draw your line in history, you could argue that we’ve been providing formal education and training for around 2500 years. During that time, countless men and women have dedicated their whole lives to perfecting the art of teaching. This art form has a continuum from the micro to the macro – from working with an individual learner to designing a nation’s whole education landscape in which that teacher works. The question is: do we now know how to do it?

While every learner is different, chaos theory might enable us to say that the types of learners we are presented with each year fall into very similar categories, from those with distinct barriers to independent learning right up to those find learning almost effortless. The skills needed to deal with all of these learners, however, are honed, not just over a lifetime, but over generations. We’ve all paid our dues. The architects of our nation’s education system, however, have not.

Since 1945, the post of Secretary of State for Education (or equivalent) has been held by 36 MPs; 20 Conservative, and 16 Labour. Undoubtedly, all had strong ideas about what was best for the FE & Skills sector at the start of their tenure. All wanted to make their mark. All wanted to change the system so that their mark could be seen. The inescapable impact is a destabilised sector that is not allowed to grow – just yoyo.

Currently, we don’t even warrant a whole minister, as Justine Greening, who has previously been tried in the departments of Transport and then International Development, is required to split her time between Education and Women and Equalities. She’s an economist. Gove was a journalist.

Are you happy with this situation? Swathes of subjects undermined by Gove. Assessment regimes changed at the drop of a hat? Policy decisions taken with no thought to the unintended consequences? Ofsted’s Chief Inspector wanting the dissolution of the FE sector? Oh, and what’s the latest hobbyhorse? Grammar schools; producing elitism and sink schools, but not in equal measure?

In 1997, Gordon Brown gave the Bank of England independence from political control. The experts were allowed to get on with the job, while simply being accountable to government. Do you think this is what should happen to Education?

The 2017 FE National Survey, run by the Policy Consortium in association with the TES, is where you can have your say. This is not a talking shop, it’s your chance to influence the whole context in which you work. We’ve had a great response so far, but would like to extend the survey deadline to the 30th of June to ensure that all parts of our varied sector have a chance to contribute. Just 15 minutes of your time could change our world.


Contact: Tony Davis

Tony Davis is a member of the Policy Consortium, a former Ofsted HMI and director of the Centre for Creative Quality Improvement.

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