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School systems are distorting mirrors for the society around them

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 December 2015

Chris Husbands
For any country, doing well in education league tables is – frankly – a mixed blessing. It attracts a good deal of international attention, and in theory it means that your young people should be better prepared for the labour market than those from less successful countries – although all of this depends on human capital theory being right, which it may well not be.
Your ministers of education can look forward to building their air miles points. On the other hand, success can make it more difficult to address underlying problems and challenges – the policies which got you to the top may well not be those which sustain high performance, and, depressingly, you can look forward to being misrepresented and (more…)

Queen's Anniversary Prize: a time for reflection

Blog Editor, IOE Digital20 November 2015

Chris Husbands
I’ve already written about my own departure from the IOE – leaving, in just a few weeks’ time, to become Vice Chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University. As we all know, leaving one job and starting another is  a time of mixed emotions: the combination of apprehension and excitement, the sense of the unfinished business which will remain forever unfinished, the opportunity, albeit briefly, to take stock. It’s in this context that I reflect on the award of a Queen’s Anniversary prize for Higher Education to the Institute of Education. (more…)

‘Tragedy of the commons’: how the government abandoned the pursuit of teacher quality

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 November 2015

Chris Husbands.
The ‘tragedy of the commons’ is a well-known tenet of public, and especially environmental policy. The ‘commons’ refers to a resource shared by many individuals who can use a portion of it for their own benefit. The tragedy is that in the absence of effective regulation, each individual will tend to exploit the commons to his or her own advantage. Under this state of affairs, the commons are depleted and eventually ruined: everyone acts in their own interests and the outcome is destructive for everyone. But the problem is that if the commons are going to be used up, whoever uses most stands to benefit the most. The application of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ to environmental challenges is obvious. (more…)

Subject to change: here we go EBacc again

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 November 2015

Chris Husbands.
The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has begun to flesh out plans to make the English Baccalaureate – English, Mathematics, Science, History or Geography and languages – all but compulsory for 14-16 year olds in England.
The idea that all pupils should study a common curriculum throughout compulsory schooling is hardly new. The concept of a ‘comprehensive curriculum for the comprehensive school’ underpinned David Hargreaves’s widely read and influential 1985 book The Challenge for the Comprehensive School – it was subtitled ‘culture, curriculum and community’. In 1988, Kenneth Baker’s National Curriculum embedded a national curriculum from ages five through 16 in statute. I was a secondary school history teacher at the time and remember turning out to earnest conferences of history and geography teachers who were – in most cases – relieved that government had achieved what our would-be eloquent arguments had not: to convince deputy heads responsible for option systems to make our subjects (more…)

How much testing is too much? Is the 2% solution too strong, too weak or just wrong?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 October 2015

Chris Husbands
How much is too much? It’s a question we tend to ask when in the proximity of strawberry crèmes, or gin and tonics. One is fine, two could be great, but carry on and it all goes horribly wrong.   On Saturday 24 October, the Obama administration applied what we might call the strawberry crème principle to education testing. In the USA, education is the responsibility of each state, not the federal government – but over the past two decades, the federal government has developed programmes with aspirational titles such as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and Reach for the Sky (although I made the last one up).
Federal funding for education is tied to states’ agreement to accept accountability through testing. Tests developed rapidly, first in English and mathematics and then in formally non-tested subjects including PE and social studies – sometimes as a way of measuring pupil performance but also, and perhaps equally, as a way of managing teacher evaluation.
Opposition to testing was mounting. On the political right, conservatives argued that rapid development of (more…)

The school autonomy debate won't go away – nor should it

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 October 2015

Chris Husbands
It’s one of the most difficult questions in education policy: how much autonomy should publicly-funded schools have. The debate has been re-ignited by Labour’s newly appointed shadow secretary of state for education, Lucy Powell, and the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Lucy Powell, looking ahead to 2020, argued that there was a strong case for local authority oversight of schools, something the left of the Labour Party have held dear; Michael Wilshaw was sharp in his condemnation: this would “return schools to the middle ages: the horse has bolted on that one”; local authority responsibilities, he maintained, should be confined to admissions and safeguarding.
Long before he became Prime Minister, David Cameron argued that improving standards depended on giving real power to schools. (more…)

Making sense of the Coalition: read all about it in the London Review of Education

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 September 2015

Chris Husbands
It has conventionally been said that Coalition governments are unable to undertake radical change. The assumption is that the need for trade-offs between governing parties, to prioritise compromise and consensus over clarity and conviction, lead to a tendency to preserve the status quo.
But this appears not to have been the case in the United Kingdom after 2010. In its policies on early years, schools, training, and higher education, the Coalition Government was nothing if not radical. The Academies Act, passed in the first weeks of the government’s tenure, using parliamentary procedures designed for emergency legislation, represented a decisive, irrevocable break with governance arrangements in English education which had lasted, with modifications, since the 1944 Education Act.
Towards the end of 2010, the Coalition made similarly stark changes in the funding of higher education, tripling the cap on (more…)

Lucy Powell comes out from the shadows… and into a very tough job

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 September 2015

Chris Husbands
There’s currently some controversy about whether teachers should – or should not – ask children to put their hands up to answer classroom questions. My IOE colleague Dylan Wiliam has argued that they shouldn’t – the teacher should simply decide who to ask, making sure that all children are involved; the DfE’s latest ‘behaviour tsar’, Tom Bennett takes a different, more traditional view. But: hands up if you had, a week ago, heard of Lucy Powell.
Lucy Powell is Labour’s new shadow secretary of state for education. An MP since 2012, she was chief of staff to Ed Miliband before the election. Schools Week’s indefatigable Laura McInerney produced a useful quick biographical note. But it’s rumoured that one of the people who may have kept his hand down when asked the question above would have been the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is reported never to have met Lucy Powell before appointing her to lead a policy area (more…)

An entrance somewhere else…

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 July 2015

Chris Husbands.
The IOE’s director reflects on the past five years as he prepares to move on.
Tom Stoppard has the right line: in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, his sideways look at Hamlet, one of the hapless courtiers urges the other to ‘look on every exit as an entrance somewhere else’. It’s now five years since I was appointed Director of the IOE – five years in which the landscape of education policy in England has been transformed in every direction. Five years ago, there was no pupil premium, and so no pupil premium toolkit, indeed, no Education Endowment Foundation. There were no teaching schools, there was no EBacc; there were just a few hundred academies, all sponsor-led. GCSEs were largely modular in form. There was no baseline assessment and no phonics screening check. University fees were capped at £3,000 and student numbers centrally controlled. In five years, all this has altered with the most radical of changes in curriculum, assessment, school structures and accountabilities.
It has been an exceptional privilege to lead the IOE through this period. The Institute is a hybrid: simultaneously researching (more…)

Teacher training and teacher supply

Blog Editor, IOE Digital1 July 2015

Chris Husbands.
The shift to a ‘school-led system’ has been a defining strand of Coalition and Conservative education policy – first in school improvement and leadership development, and now extended to other aspects of education policy. In relation to initial teacher training (ITT), it has meant radical changes in approaches to the delivery of training, with many implications for how we think about ‘the teaching profession’, as well as for securing teacher supply. As the government rolls out its latest reforms for managing ITT, it’s interesting to reflect on the progress made so far in implementing schools-led ITT, and where we might be heading in future. (more…)