When Labour’s shadow minister of education, Stephen Twigg, announced his “Office for Educational Improvement” idea, it was quite well received by many of us. It pushed a lot of our buttons, not least the welcome emphasis on evidence and the idea of protecting educational policy from the whims of politicians with “transient ambitions”.
The question that crossed my mind was how this might be combined with our liberal themes of localism and democracy to improve it further. So to start a debate, here’s a suggestion:
How we might “devolve” educational policy
We could create a council to deal with educational policy. Part of the council would be elected to represent the electorate. The country would be split into regions, each region having 5-7 or so members elected by STV and would form an education board for that region. The board would be responsible for delivering education in that area. The members of the board would also take part in the council that set national policy.
The other part of the council could be made up of representatives from unions, academics, business organisations etc, and any other body with an interest in education. These representatives would bring a rich combination of research, evidence and frontline experience in issues of education.
Off the top of my head, advantages could include:
- Independence from Westminster – Instead of big headline grabbing reforms and pet projects by politicians whose party was voted in due to the opposition screwing up the economy, decisions would be made by people involved with the sector and politicians dedicated to education.
- Stability – Rather than decision-making swinging like a political pendulum between the absolute control of opposing parties, the council would provide a more stable and balanced decision-making chamber, allowing for more long-term decision-making.
- Innovation – Different regional boards will be willing to try out different approaches. Since experimenting on a small-scale is less risky than on a large-scale, we’re likely to see more of it.
- Localism – Local boards would have the last say on whether a certain approach is taken in their area. This will ensure that decisions made are more locally sensitive.
- Relevant Voices – Including union and academic representatives will increase the role of evidence and the voice of frontline staff in decision-making. Industrial action would be less likely compared to if they were frozen out.
At first the council could be formed to “advise” the Department of Education, the minister having the last word on what is taken for legislation. If the council proves to be successful, we could potentially abolish the department of education, devolving all education policy to this council. The council would have an education budget set by the treasury and the rest would be in its hands.
Devolve health policy too?
The NHS has also suffered from government top down organisations. The medical institutions and professional bodies that have felt alienated by the various government reforms over the ages might welcome reforms that take policy out of the hands of ambitious MPs and into a council that included their representatives.
So there’s my suggestion.
Is it time to rescue education policy from the hands of MPs?
*Daniel Henry’s parents are both teachers. Having heard extensively of the havoc Gove is causing in the education system, he’d be quite relieved to see educational policy taken out of the hands of reckless ministers.