Dear Secretary of State for Education…
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 14 July 2016
Now we know. Justine Greening, MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, has become the new Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities. Her brief is to include higher education and skills, formerly under the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Downing Street says the education department will take on responsibility for: “Reforming the higher education sector to boost competition and continue to improve the quality of education that students receive; and delivering more apprenticeships through a fundamental change in the UK’s approach to skills in the workplace”.
Ms Greening, one of the few education secretaries to have attended a non-selective state secondary school – Oakwood Comprehensive in Rotherham – was previously Secretary of State for International Development. The new education secretary has a background in accountancy.
While teacher supply – discussed in a recent IOE blog post – will be at the top of her very full in-tray, she will also need to master a wide range of topics from Academies to Teacher education. As early as next week, she will have to steer the Higher Education and Research Bill through its second reading. Here, IOE experts suggest priorities for Ms Greening to consider in key areas of education policy.
Simon Marginson on higher education
- The system needs a stable regulatory structure. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has served English higher education well in the public interest. It is crucial that the new mechanism is equally effective in providing for standards, good management and the effective use of scarce resources. The accumulated wisdom of the previous regulatory regime must be retained in the system.
- Crucial Brexit issues. It is urgent that students and staff receive firm guarantees on their long-term future in the UK and that – if necessary – a subsided scheme is introduced to replace two-way Erasmus student movement. Brexit diminishes UK HEIs’ early access to the best research in Europe as well as sharply reducing income for research. Both are equally important. The problem is inescapable—a large scale government programme for research funding across all disciplines will be needed to fill the gap.
- Beyond Europe. Relations with emerging East and Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Latin America have now become more important. The new education secretary will need to catalyse engagement with higher education in these world regions through both ministerial leadership and selective incentives.
- The Teaching Excellence Framework. The new Secretary of State must ‘hasten slowly’ to put in place comparative measures that are educationally valid, leading to genuine improvements in learning over time, rather than proxy measures that turn the TEF into a reputation race in which a nominal victory goes to institutions best equipped to manipulate the system, with little real improvement in learning taking place. It would also be a good idea to reconsider the proposal to link the TEF to funding.
- The Research Excellence Framework. The REF has become a UK back-patting exercise in which the rate of improvement is scarcely credible. More stringent international measures of the ‘world standard’ are needed. The REF is also too readily gamed by selective inclusion of research — universities should be required to submit data based on all of their academic staff.
Clare Brooks on teacher education
We hope the new secretary of state will:
- Recognise universities’ contribution to the development of professional teachers, who have a solid knowledge base and a thorough understanding of what teaching involves.
- Recognise the importance of the partnership between schools and higher education institutes (HEIs) in the initial and continuing education of teachers. HEIs play a large role in school-based teacher education and schools contribute enormously to the PGCE.
- Consider the international evidence which suggests that initial teacher education should comprise of a two-year integrated programme. Newly-trained teachers (NQTs) and recently-trained teachers (RQTs) need ongoing specialist support.
- Recognise the contribution of a range of research evidence on teaching and learning.
- Agree that all teachers should be educated to Master’s level. This enables them to engage thoughtfully with professional dilemmas, to diagnose problems effectively and to find solutions not just for tomorrow but well into the future.
- The system needs stability. Please don’t change it again.
Dominic Wyse on primary education
- Plan for a major review of England’s national curriculum.
- Move to national assessment based on national sampling rather than high stakes competitive assessments for all children.
- As a matter of urgency commission a review of English in the national curriculum, including investigating the damaging effects of grammar teaching as currently configured.
- Fund a new initiative on creativity in primary education.
Guy Roberts-Holmes on early childhood education
Young children need time and space to be allowed to play to build up confidence, resilience and social skills. Young children should not be tested and put into so called ability groups which can set low expectations for too many children.
Michael Reiss on secondary education
Allow some of the existing changes time to bed in.
- Encourage stronger professional subject associations so that the focus is on excellent subject teaching in each classroom.
- Widen the EBacc so that the arts and humanities are better represented.
- Ensure better use is made of the pupil premium.
- Change the tone so that good teachers feel valued – you will get more from them!
Ann Hodgson on further education
The independent Sainsbury Review of technical education and government’s Post-16 Skills Plan response recognised the strong and clear role for FE colleges and not-for-profit training providers in technical education and apprenticeships. However, building a strong technical education system requires considerably more funding than has been the case for FE programmes to date and the Post-16 Skills Plan hedges its bets on this score.
Moreover, considerable and careful work will be needed to design the new technical programmes, as well as the all-important ‘Transition Year’ and ‘Bridging Courses’ that potentially allow for progression into and transferability between academic and technical programmes and apprenticeships. It is very important that the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education makes full use of the experience and expertise of the educational practitioners who will be implementing these reforms with real learners in different local contexts, as well as satisfying the needs of national employers and professional associations. We have been here before (remember the unfortunate 14-19 Diplomas!). Getting it right this time requires the involvement of all stakeholders.
Chris Brown on research use
If we are serious about the English school system being one that meets the OECD call for schools to become learning organisations that innovate to improve student outcomes, then we need to ensure school leaders can:
- develop the ability of teachers to engage in and with research and data;
- foster school cultures that are attuned to evidence use (i.e. that make research-use a cultural norm);
- promote the use of research as part of an effective learning environment; and
- put in place effective structures, system and resource that facilitate research-use and the sharing of best practice. One way to achieve these might be the wider adoption of Research Learning Communities.
In a similar vein, the Department for Education should also seek to develop itself as a learning organisation. This will require educational policy makers to rigorously engage with research in a systematic way as part of the policy development process. Here policy learning communities can help, since they provide collegial environments within which to consider research along with policy-makers’ own knowledge and experience, and in relation to the values of the government of the day. This would help policy makers find the most effective way to address the wishes of ministers. Also key to making policy learning communities work will be a meaningful partnership with universities – with HEIs providing key knowledge to help civil servants address pressing problems.
However for policy-making to become truly evidence-informed, policy makers need both the ability and the incentive to use evidence. The former can be addressed through culture change and an explicit requirement in the form of professional standards. The latter can be achieved through the development of skills.
Melanie Ehren on inspection and accountability
Arrangements for the accountability and monitoring of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) and the schools they run need to be simplified and streamlined. Head teachers tell us that the different frameworks used can cause confusion over which areas the school needs to improve on. Greater collaboration is needed between Ofsted, the Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) and the Education Funding Agency (EFA) in holding academies and their trust to account, with clear frameworks for evaluation, sharing of information, evaluating performance and supporting school improvement.
The arrangements need to address the functioning of the trust itself, not just the performance of its academies. New frameworks are needed which evaluate the quality of the trust in supporting school improvement and in creating synergy across the trust. These frameworks should evaluate the added value of the partnership such as ensuring that children have a good transition from primary to secondary school, the effectiveness of joint professional development or the efficient financing of centralised back office services. Such frameworks should be part of HMI focused inspections and current reviews of trusts, and included in Regional Schools’ Commissioners’ monitoring frameworks.
Rose Luckin on ICT and education
- The automation of the workforce through robotics and artificial intelligence is increasing at an incredible rate. The routine cognitive skills that are emphasised in the current education system are the easiest and first to be automated. Learners and teachers must therefore be equipped with different skill sets: such as negotiation, collaborative problem solving and effective communication, as well as deep subject knowledge and understanding. Artificial Intelligence software for education (AIED)techniques can be used to equip learners and teacher with the new skills they need, such as collaborative problem solving, if investment is made in AIED software development.
- There are significant educational advantages to be gained by reaping the potential of Big Data. Educationalists are starting to see the myriad of conceivable uses for the massive quantities of data collected about learners and teachers. These include: school and student demographic and performance data, predictive data (such as identifying students who are most at risk of falling below their potential in exams) and process data that enables the micro-analysis of how the learning and/or teaching takes place.
- Better connections between educational technology researchers, educational technology producers and educators is essential. The UK is home to many world leading and cutting edge educational technology companies. For UK education to benefit from this, much better connections must be made between the above three key communities. Higher Education Institutions account for 24% of UK Research and Development expenditure and yet there is currently no space where researchers can collaborate with EdTech ventures to exploit research results and generate new or improved products. The UCL EDUCATE project, which starts in September 2016, will start to address this problem, but more work is needed.
Toby Greany on school leadership
The importance of high quality school leadership is critical in England’s high-autonomy-high-accountability school system. There are some significant risks ahead as Local Authorities are dismantled, a national funding formula is introduced (while budgets remain flat and real terms costs increase), pupil numbers rise, and schools must deal with relentless changes to the curriculum, assessment and accountability framework.
Meanwhile, school leaders must also work out how to form and lead successful Multi-Academy Trusts – an endeavour that will require enormous emotional energy as well as vision, skill and perseverance if we are to avoid a more fragmented system, a stagnation in results and/or a rise in expensive new bureaucracies. More needs to be done to help new MATs to succeed and to ensure communication and learning between, as well as within, trusts.
Leaders will need support, encouragement and enough space to succeed in the face of all these challenges. A priority should be to make sure that the recently announced DfE review of the National Professional Qualifications for leadership leads to sensible and well-enough funded proposals to ensure that there remains a core spine of high quality development for leaders. The NPQs have been under-funded and have lacked national impetus since the National College for School Leadership was neutered after 2010, but the answer cannot be to scrap them and let the marketplace prevail because that will lead to yet more fragmentation and a lowering of quality.
Brian Creese on adult education
How about a rediscovery of adult literacy and numeracy? In the six years no-one has paid any heed to this issue, the problem has not gone away. There is still a significant number of adults with very poor literacy and numeracy skills who should and could be helped by greater government investment in the sector. There are also many adults with poor skills who can get by but could do better in both work and personal lives with better basic skills. We used to lead Europe in this field, but as the rest of the continent have learned from us, we seem to have forgotten about the problem.
Photo: DFID https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/