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Conservative education plans are poetic – but are they practical?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 May 2015

Chris Husbands.
This post originally appeared in The Conversation
Each year, the Queen’s speech marks the point where the poetry of aspiration gets translated into the hard slog of legislation and implementation. The Conservative manifesto for education was certainly bold and aspirational: firmly targeted at parents (the chapter on education is headed “giving your child the best start in life”), the document promised a “good primary school place for every child”, with “zero tolerance of failure”. It pledged that struggling and failing schools would be taken over, good schools – of whatever type – would be allowed to expand, and 500 new free schools would be established. (more…)

Conservative victory means England's school system will look like few others in the world

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 May 2015

Chris Husbands  
No-one foresaw the scale of the Conservative victory – it exceeded even the limits of the party’s own expectations. Now, a majority Conservative government comes to power – unexpectedly and with sufficient lead over a divided and, for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, demoralised opposition. What will this newly confident government mean for education in general and schools in particular?
The Conservative education manifesto was long on aspiration. It promised that England would lead the world in mathematics and science; that there would be a place in a ‘good’ primary school for every child; that every ‘failing’ or coasting school would be turned into an academy to drive up standards; that universities would remain ‘world-leading’; and that further education would ‘improve’. But translating these – rightly aspirational – goals into policies will bring some difficult challenges. (more…)

Election manifestos: a multi-coloured swap shop?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital30 April 2015

Chris Husbands 

Blue, red, yellow, green, purple: they are bright colours. There is a reason why political parties choose them – to stand out, to be unmistakable. So too, do the election manifestos provide us with the parties’ views of education in a sort of heightened sense – the world of Mary Poppins after Mary and the Banks children jump into the pavement.
As one might expect, the Conservatives offer more of the same: academies, free schools and university technical colleges (all, we hope, better directed to areas in need of places), more focus on literacy and numeracy standards, more EBacc, more parachuting in of new school leadership.
The Conservatives have appropriated the Pupil Premium policy that the Lib Dems claim as their own, and promise more of that. (more…)

London Festival of Education: vibrant, unpredictable, so much more exciting than golf

Blog Editor, IOE Digital10 February 2015

Chris Husbands
I remember an occasion early in my teaching career when I went to try to see my headteacher at the end of a school day. His secretary (there were no PAs in those days) told me that he was ‘on a course’ after school every Wednesday. As a young teacher, I was impressed that senior professionals were still committed to their own learning. It was some time before I discovered he was playing golf.
We used to separate professional development and enjoyment. One of the great things about the London Festival of Education is that it puts them back together. This year’s LFE – here at the IOE on 28 February – is another vibrant, buzzing treasure house of debate to stimulate you, workshops to enhance your practice, entertainment to engage you: great speakers, great sessions, fabulous festival food for the stomach and the mind. No (more…)

Looking and listening in Shanghai: what’s beneath the headlines and slogans?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 January 2015

Chris Husbands sends a China diary
The trick of optical illusions is that we see what we want to see. Our preconceptions and our prejudices shape the way we process what we observe. As a result, there is nothing, perhaps, more misleading than direct observation. Few preconceptions are really challenged by experience. The Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger famously put it like this: “A man with a conviction is hard to change… Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”
I’m lucky: as a visiting professor at East China Normal University (ECNU), one of Shanghai’s leading universities, I spent some time in an elite upper secondary schools. A publicly funded, newly built school in northern Shanghai, it is, in effect, a selective sixth-form college. In one Science lesson, I saw a teacher in confident command of advanced technology and subject matter, using a well-constructed PowerPoint presentation to offer a technically detailed account of crystalline structures. And I saw 39 passive pupils sitting in rows, not using technology, some of them referring to a (more…)

Higher education’s X-Factor: everything you always wanted to know about the REF

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 December 2014

Chris Husbands
Imagine – if you do not work in a UK university – a cross between the Olympics, the X-factor and a visit from Father Christmas. That will give you some – some – idea of the REF (the Research Excellence Framework), and its importance in academic life. The results of REF2014 are published this week. Around the country, vice-chancellors, pro-vice-chancellors for research, deans, heads of department will be looking anxiously – not just at their own results, but at their competitors. As Gore Vidal famously put it: “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail”.
Research funding matters enormously to government, and to universities. For government, it is how new knowledge is generated, new science supported, innovations which will eventually strengthen national competitiveness developed. For universities, research is the lifeblood, motivating
academics and defining their purpose.
In the UK, the bulk of research funding is offered competitively, through bidding to research councils and charities, but the research infrastructure is funded through a grant – now called ‘QR’ (quality-related) funding. This system was developed in the 1980s; with public spending under pressure, (more…)

Teacher supply: why deregulation is not working

Blog Editor, IOE Digital1 December 2014

Chris Husbands
Some weeks ago, I was working for the IOE in Chile. Chile is an object lesson in education reform: in the 1980s and 1990s, it de-regulated its education system on a grand scale. For-profit schools entered the public sector. Quasi-voucher schemes were introduced. Teaching was de-regulated. In the last five years, the Chilean government has begun to re-regulate. Michele Bachelet’s new education law will remove for-profit provision from public schooling and reduce selection. I met Christian Cox, Dean of Education at the Pontifical University of Chile at Santiago, a thoughtful, wise observer of education policy, who shook his head as he told me: “it was sheer chaos in Chile. It was a state of nature”.
The teaching profession in England is being de-regulated at speed. Academy schools are no longer required to appoint individuals who have qualified teacher status (QTS). Schools themselves, singly or in groups, are being encouraged to establish (more…)

Why IOE and UCL have decided to merge

Blog Editor, IOE Digital27 November 2014

Chris Husbands and Michael Arthur
Higher education is changing – and at a dizzying speed. Universities now operate on a global canvas, and reputations are made (and lost) on a worldwide scale. Around the world, measures of quality – however imperfect, flawed and downright misleading they may be – drive student preferences, funders’ decision-making and government strategies. At the same time, local impact remains equally important: all universities exist in communities, but as those communities become more diverse and demanding, the pressures on universities intensify. It’s easy to despair at the pace and scale of these challenges, but adapting to change can be bracing too. New challenges bring new possibilities and new horizons. It’s against this background that after a good deal of thought and careful planning we have decided to merge the IOE and UCL, creating academic opportunities for both partners. The merger will take effect from 2 December.
About the IOE
The IOE was established at the beginning of the 20th century. Initially set up to train teachers for the rapidly developing schools of London, it was from the very beginning international in outlook. Over the next hundred years it expanded its role and remit enormously, so that at the beginning of (more…)

The London effect did not just happen without hard work

Blog Editor, IOE Digital17 November 2014

Chris Husbands
For several years, the outstanding success of London Challenge has been a beacon for school improvers across the nation and beyond. The marked improvement in the performance of London secondary schools in the decade after 2002 has been a clear indication that school systems can be significantly improved for all young people, given commitment, imagination, investment and collaboration.
London schools significantly out-perform schools across England and the best of London’s boroughs – Camden, Tower Hamlets, Hackney – perform outstandingly well. In recent months, this narrative has been unpicked. The Institute for Fiscal Studies argued that the success of London’s secondaries was an illusion caused by earlier improvements in primary schools.
Now, in a more direct assault, Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol argues that it’s not the schools’ success of schools at all: London’s (more…)