If we could reduce ministerial power, what responsibilities would you take away?
It’s not the Minister’s policy, but the Minister’s power.”
Instead of Campaigning against the latest directive from the Secretary of State for Education, we should campaign for the powers they have to be reduced.
Change After Change:
For 30 years there has been a stream of directives from the Department for Education.
- SATs are on, and then off, then, maybe, on again.
- Schools should be specialist, then academies, then free.
- GCSEs should be modular, then linear. Remember the Diploma?
- A-levels are split into two parts, then re-united.
- Schools can let students choose their GCSEs, then we get EBacc.
Every time a minister claims they are trying to help students’ learning, we get a new initiative. Teachers (and unions) complain, campaign, sweat, get stressed, and consider resigning …
Image: (an amalgamation of) Google and Wikipedia
Ministers are not evil people; they genuinely believe their own thoughts. All the evidence, campaigning and resigning that teachers do, simply reinforces their belief that they have to make the change because teachers are resistant to the ‘obvious’ benefits of the policy.
So, perhaps we should stop campaigning on individual issues and get to the nub of the problem. The Secretary of State for Education has not always had these powers.
Could we agree on a political objective which would remove the powers and give them to an independent body (perhaps modelled on the Office for Budget responsibility?
“How we change the system is almost as important as what is being changed. Too often change is chaotic and hasty, which limits our ability to make it stick. The profession and government become distracted by conflict over principles rather than engaged in discussion around implementation. What we propose is an ‘office of educational responsibility’.
This office will go beyond existing proposals for evidence collection into planning and managing a five-year reform programme.
This programme would be agreed in advance and subject to rolling review. New proposals for change will need to be submitted to the office for analysis against three tests:
- evidence of impact,
- value for money and
- capacity to implement.
It needs to be difficult for ministers to depart from the programme. A high-profile chief education officer, coming from the profession could lead the office.
Politicians would set principles, policies and outcomes. The profession would determine methods and, subject to representation via the office, be able to implement defined and tested policy in good faith.
Perhaps time to move slowly?
Time to Change?
Brian Lightman, departing ASCL leader, asked for “an independent body to make decisions about the school curriculum and called for the end of schools having to follow the personal “whims” of policymakers”. (Mar 2015)
If a number of teaching organisations could agree what we wanted, perhaps we could persuade the present Secretary of State to close the door on future (rapid) changes to existing policies, by creating such a body and handing over her powers.
Dreaming? Why not?
Unless we can get these powers changed we will be stuck with a continuous round of ‘initiatives’ as new ministers make their mark on the job.
It’s time to make to a change!
Written by Mike Bell for Teacher Toolkit.
Mike taught secondary science for ten years and have spent five years studying the evidence about what works in education (and why). You can follow him at @EvidenceTeach.