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Why Education Shouldn’t be Run by Bankers

September 1, 2007

This article in the Guardian explains why education should be run by an independent committee along the same lines as the Bank Of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, the bankers who set interest rates. The suggestion is that party politics is responsible for the state of education and an independent committee of experts, the education equivalent of bankers, would do a better job.

There are a number of assumptions that make this enterprise dubious:

  1. This approach assumes that politicians have a lot of power over education and that politicians exercise day-to-day control over the system. This is nonsense. The system is run by Quangos and bureaucrats. The problem is not that the system changes continually at the behest of politicians, changes in minister and Government actually seem to have very little effect on the education Titanic. A bigger problem is that politicians make announcements about improving discipline, or ending mixed ability teaching and nothing actually happens.
  2. It assumes that educational experts are technocrats, concerned only with adjusting inputs to achieve particular predetermined outputs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many education experts are ideologues promoting particular, politically-motivated views of the system. Worse, the most ideological of them have often proved capable of taking places on Quangos and subverting the designs of politicians.
  3. It assumes that what heads and teachers need is more research about how to do their jobs. The fact is that some schools are well run and some are badly run. We can do all the research in the world but it will always come back to the same basics: Schools with good discipline and an academic ethos do well, schools with poor discipline and no respect for learning do badly. Successful schools have headteachers who know that and know what to do about it. They don’t have piles of research to tell them the obvious.

Without these assumptions then the whole scheme seems like nothing more than another desperate effort to make an unaccountable system that is wrecked by bureaucrats even more unaccountable with an even more powerful group of bureaucrats in charge. Education is a battleground, with those who want to educate in a constant battle with those who want to prevent it.

Far from getting politicians out of education we should be acknowledging that they could do the most to save education. They are the only ones with the power to change the set-up of education, but they live in a world where their lack of power is presented as unalterable fact and they are constantly referred to the very same experts who are destroying the system as it stands. Every Education Secretary is under the delusion that they can encourage schools to improve but can’t demand it. What we need is not a further weakening of ministers. What we need are politicians who pass education laws that mandate schools to do what the minister wants, rather than simply encouraging the DFES to tell the Local Authorities to tell the Headteacher to implement an initiative designed by a Quango that may have some resemblance to something a politician may once have promised. For example, instead of promising to increase the powers of schools to enforce discipline, politicians should reduce the power of Local Authorities and SMT to NOT enforce discipline. A legal right to exclude is almost worthless when Local Authorities are encouraging inclusion. A legal requirement to exclude violent and abusive pupils would be far more useful. However, unless politicians actively go out and seize the power then they will continue to have only the responsibility and the blame for a system they don’t control, and somewhere along the line some government probably will decide that they no longer want that responsibility and will hand it over to “Bankers”.

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3 comments

  1. An excellent blog, keep up the good work.

    You’re obviously an erudite blogger, keep telling it how it is and cutting the gunk that comes from Central Government, whose only answer is blame the teacher.

    All the best.


  2. oldandrew: Did you say ‘Bankers’ or ‘Wankers’? Seems to be our only choice.


  3. It frustrates me beyond description that we all know that you have stated the plain truth but that the people who need to see it will not.



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