Why I support putting the Brexit question back to the people

I just delivered this speech in the Lords (or watch it Brexit speech 10/1/19):

My Lords, I feel like a rarity in this House, in that this is my first speech in the Chamber on Brexit. It is hard to know how much value my six minutes will add, amongst over 130 speeches in the latest of so many debates on this subject. However, this is the biggest political crisis of my lifetime and, like Lord Low, I think it is time to stand up and be counted.

The first thing to say is that I don’t think Brexit should be the most important issue facing us right now. I also think most of the electorate feel the same.

The global economic outlook is poor. Our public services are in a dreadful state after ten years of austerity, with a huge staffing crisis facing both the NHS and our schools. The Government’s welfare reforms are in pieces. Everything the Transport Secretary touches goes wrong. Our prisons are in a dreadful state. We are going through a mental health crisis, especially amongst our young people. I could go on. The threats of climate change only get worse.

I am desperate for the time and money currently diverted to Brexit to be returned to rebuilding this country.

That said, I believe in the importance of the free movement of goods, of services of capital and of labour. Our nation’s history as a great trading nation, as a great financial centre, and as true global heavyweight, depend on those principles. They are also the founding principles of the EU and the reason why I voted to Remain back in the Referendum.

And what a catastrophe that Referendum has turned out to be.

To be fair to the Prime Minister she was dealt a rubbish set of cards by her predecessor. And, unlike most of the men implicated in this disaster, she has not shown the same sloping shoulders and shed her responsibilities. I believe she has shown commendable resilience in keeping at it and trying to deliver the mandate to deliver Brexit.

That said she has made an appalling job of playing the cards she was dealt. It has always been predictable that Brexit needed to mean more than Brexit, and that once it was defined the divisions in her party would make life very difficult for her. Things could have been very different if Mrs May had chosen to engage across party for the last in 30 months. But as it is, only the inexplicable position on Brexit of Jeremy Corbyn that has allowed the Prime Minister to remain in office.

But now her political strategy, of kicking the can down the road for as long as possible, has now run out of road. We now have her Withdrawal Agreement and the accompanying Political Declaration. We now know what Brexit means.

I would like to say we now have political certainty but of course we don’t. The only certainty we do have is uncertainty. In my commercial work I see the huge damage this is causing our economy, and this damage is just as we see worrying signs of the next global slowdown just around the corner and few, if any, policy levers available to anyone if that turns into a crash.

This uncertainty is at the heart of the Government’s failure and why I will be supporting the amendment in the vote on Monday. Others have analysed the weaknesses of the Agreement better than I, and I particularly value the insights of Lord Kerr, but I am especially appalled by the Political Declaration.

How can we agree something that is so vague on our future relationship with the EU?

Our economy, our environment, many parts of our society depend on a close future working relationship with the EU and we are offered just 26 pages of good intent in future negotiations.

The other big uncertainty is the current political situation and the likelihood of the Withdrawal Agreement being defeated next week in the Other Place. What happens then

My Lords, I have thought long and hard about this.

In agreeing to Article 50 being triggered, Parliament respected the Referendum result, and both the main parties again respected it with their manifesto positions in the 2017 General Election. The Government formed from the Parliament elected in 2017 has negotiated an agreement with the EU. The EU says this is the only Agreement that can be negotiated.

So far so good. Our problem is that Parliament is unlikely to agree that the Agreement is in the National Interest. That is not out of disrespect for the democratic process, but because representatives are carrying out their duty to “act in the interests of the nation as a whole”. They, and we, are obliged to vote for what we we believe is in the national interest. For reasons debated at length in your Lordships House it is clear to me that the Withdrawal Agreement is not in the national interest.

So, if the Agreement is defeated by Parliament I believe there to be only one possible next step that respects democracy. We must accept that Parliament will have then failed to agree terms with the EU and the questions should be put back to the country as a Peoples’ Vote.

Not to repeat the question or to test the view on no deal. Parliament seems clear that no deal is no one’s interest and I don’t believe it would therefore legislate to allow it on the Ballot. We should instead ask the people whether the Withdrawal Agreement is better than remaining in the European Union on the current terms. Yes or No.

That respects the work the Government and the EU has done in defining what Brexit looks like and it respects the will of the people. If they vote Yes we proceed with Brexit. If no we withdraw Article 50.

I hope we can get there quickly. That we can then remain in the EU and drive change from within, and most of all I hope we can then get on with fixing so much that is broken in Britain following the catastrophic legacy of David Cameron.


A new model for post 18 education?

There is no doubt in my mind that schooling must change, but the same is equally true of post 18 education.

One of the many consequences of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that the roll out of artificial intelligence will both de-skill and empower workers in new and unpredictable ways. The certainty of uncertainty creates insecurity and fear in people, especially in the periphery of the economy and society. The political consequences of that are playing out in the UK, elsewhere in Europe and in the USA.

An essential part of the policy response to this constant change has to be an agile, affordable and responsive adult learning system. We need adults to have the desire, self belief and capacity to keep learning and pivoting through multiple careers. How might we do that?

We first need a compulsory schooling system that nurtures a confidence in learning and skills as self directed learners. Education needs to be an engaging and enjoyable exploration, and not dull rote-based instruction dominated by tests. There needs to be a broad framework of knowledge from across the curriculum as a foundation to build upon, with a playfulness to learning that feels natural and sociable.

But what happens then? Two thirds of school pupils currently have an ambition to go to university. This is seen as the sign of ambition and aspiration. Schools sell themselves on the basis of their university admission data.

Cathy Davidson explains in her book “A New Education”, our model of universities was developed first by Harvard in response to the industrial revolution – it was no longer sufficient to educate clerics alone. What emerged was a system where academic selection created a talent filter that suited employers wanting higher level human intelligence. As technology has eroded the demand for lower skilled labour we have channelled more and more young people through college to an extent that the only way to fund it was through spiralling levels of personal debt.

The return on that investment is now starting to look shaky.

The Sutton Trust show that the earn as you learn model of higher level apprenticeships can develop the higher intelligences demanded by employers without the debt of university. Employers are also beginning to find that it is more efficient to employ someone straight from school and develop them that way, rather than having to get graduates to unlearn habits from academia that don’t work so well in the real world of work.

This could be a disaster for our universities. They have a business model based on research funding and being paid for teaching services, largely teaching school leavers. Many are also doing well as property developers. But what if apprenticeships really take off? And what is the sense of beginning a working life with a £50,000 student debt?

We need a new business model for universities. I think they should move to subscription services. These offer attractive recurring revenues and create room for better services. Why not offer employers subscriptions to both research and teaching services? They could also do so in partnership with FE Colleges as part of a new flexibility and outreach to peripheral areas.

Such a model would presume school leavers go straight into work. Their employer would then work with apprenticeship and other training providers to develop the skills that are needed to develop the individuals. They would identify those staff that would benefit from university courses, when they are intellectually and emotionally ready, and at all points in a working life. The learner can then continue to earn whilst learning. Employers could use a reformed apprenticeship levy to fund this professional development.

Such schemes could be offered by universities themselves so that they can meet their own needs to recruit academic talent for their research activity.

Such a system would need to be underpinned by an accreditation system that recorded this ongoing learning and the experience gained in work. That then allows learners to change jobs and take the value of their training with them. Such a learning ledger could be developed using blockchain technology.

The courses would also need flexibility. The four year Batchelors and the Masters degrees serve the needs of institutions but are becoming an anachronism. Degrees could instead become capstones across a multiplicity of different courses from different institutions, some online and some campus based. Assessment can then examine what the individual is capable of – not time served on a course as is too often the case, especially in the current apprenticeship framework.

We need a flexible new adult learning system that embraces part time, and new forms of assessment and accreditation. We need a vibrant university and college sector that interrelates to meet the needs of individuals who must keep refreshing their skills and knowledge to remain valuable citizens. This requires radical change.


Speech today on a new paradigm for schools

See video of the speech

My Lords, let me start by reminding your Lordships of my education interests in the register, particularly as one of the chief officers of TES. I thank my noble friend Lady Morris not only for instigating this debate, but for the passion and clarity with which she opened it.

Our schools are struggling, particularly our secondary schools. Four statistics tell the story. We have heard the Institute for Fiscal Studies statistic about an 8% real-terms cut over the last eight years. At TES we have done the calculations as a result of the surge in pupil numbers coming through secondary, and predict that in 2024, this country will be 47,000 secondary school teachers short of what it needs to maintain current pupil-teacher ratios. This week, NHS Digital published statistics which tell us that one in five of 17 to 19 year-old girls in this country self-harm or attempt suicide. An Opinium survey for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Inclusive Growth found that 56% of teachers believe that our school system is no longer fit for purpose. I happen to agree. 

What is going on? I commend to your Lordships the BBC2 series “School”, which you can catch up with on iPlayer. It is slightly depressing but insightful. In it we see a head teacher, James Pope, struggling to improve standards at Marlwood secondary school, a rural comprehensive in south Gloucestershire that has been put into special measures by Ofsted, while simultaneously being expected to cut nearly £1 million from his annual budget.

Austerity is biting. Funding reductions mean that schools, as the OECD tells us, are employing younger, cheaper teachers, who are often less resilient. More are now leaving the profession than are joining it; I see from today’s statistical first release that initial teacher training recruitment targets at secondary level were missed again for the sixth consecutive year. What then happens is that reduced local authority support, especially for special educational needs, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about, creates more problems. Those problems often start with an increase in low-level disruption in the classroom, which grows. Teacher stress then grows and, with that, illness; the Education Support Partnership reports that one-third of teachers in this country have mental health problems. That increases the numbers off sick and the need for more expensive short-term supply teachers and, as a result, behaviour gets worse and learning falls. Teachers start to leave as their workload increases because they are left to do the planning and paperwork that supply teachers do not have to do, and as they struggle, the behaviour management problems grow. 

As teachers leave, the school tries to recruit in the normal way to fill the vacancies, using the usual vacancy service, but finds that the candidates looking for jobs are not there. The school then re-advertises if there is time, or it may have to go to an expensive headhunter. In 2016, PwC reported that the cost of recruiting teachers is rising as recruitment agencies capitalise on the perceived shortage of candidates. Their market share has risen to 25%, at a cost of 65% of school recruitment budgets. If the headhunter fails, the school may ultimately have to get a long-term supply teacher at great cost, and often poor quality. This creates further pressure on budgets, with the promise of free recruitment services delivering a bitter reality, because the candidates are not looking. As a result, the school suffers declining teacher quality, results suffer, the high-stakes accountability system kicks in, followed by parental choice and a collapse in budgets, and the end of the head teacher’s career. This is the spiral of decline, and school and local authority funding cuts are often at the heart of that story. 

We currently see a burning platform of rising pupil rolls coming out of primary into secondary—there will be 500,000 extra secondary school pupils by 2025. There will be fewer secondary teachers; if we are to fill all the maths teacher vacancies with people studying maths at university, we would need to persuade 40% of all maths undergraduates to become teachers, which is impossible. We have a narrowing curriculum, with less subject choice. The 20% cut in sixth-form funding, which my noble friend Lady Morris talked about, is cutting the number of subjects available at sixth form, but I am increasingly worried about this fetishisation of the academic over the applied, because we are training young people to be outperformed by machines. 

If we train young people just to recall knowledge in tests—machines do that better; they are really good at it—computers will take their jobs. We have to remember what it is like for a young person growing up in this country. They are over-tested; they are looking forward to a debt of £50,000 if they choose to go to university, just at a time when employers such as AXA—an insurance company I was talking to someone about today—have done away with graduate recruitment. AXA prefers to source people earlier and train and develop them to meet its individual needs. It is not alone: Apple, Google, Cosco, Starbucks—all these companies, according to Glassdoor, are phasing out graduate-only recruitment because they want more diversity in their workforce. 

The payback on going to university, in exchange for that debt, is starting to diminish. Young people are worried about robots taking the jobs they hope to get if they are successful at university. Their qualifications are starting to be dismissed by employers. No wonder we are facing a mental health crisis among our young people. What most parents want from schools is for their children to achieve according to the cultural norm, to be happy—parents do not want a battle to get them out from under the duvet every morning—and to be able to make a meaningful contribution at the end of the educational journey. That vision for parents is being rapidly eroded by a school system that is not fit for purpose. We have a funding crisis but, as my noble friend Lady Morris said, there is also a lack of hope about that on the horizon. But this is an opportunity for us to build consensus for change in our school system, and for a new paradigm for education. We could even call it a national education service.

We could cut testing. It is estimated that in this country we spend around £2 billion per year on testing in our schools. Let us just say we halve that: £1 billion could go a long way in helping with some of these problems. We should trust teachers more to shape a curriculum that engages young people and uses testing for formative rather than summative purposes as assessment for learning. More applied learning could be inserted on top of a foundation of knowledge and core skills in the curriculum. A more diverse 14 to 19 curriculum could be created, perhaps by abolishing GCSEs at 16 and ending the national curriculum at 14 to free up the years from 14 to 19 for a much more engaging curriculum experience. We should welcome back teachers in creative and applied subjects, so that they can properly develop the whole child; we should reconnect teachers with their vocation, so that they stay in and, at the same time, equip learners to find their vocation in time. 

All this should be underpinned by proper resources, focused on learning and child development, not on testing and accountability. I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I look forward also to hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and I salute her for having made sure that he Minister is not quite so lonely on his Bench.


Recharging Rural

red bicycle

Photo by Rezky Rahmatullah on Pexels.com

A few weeks ago I was sat in the Home Room in the House of Lords having a conversation over dinner about the “digital village”.  

It is a classic wood-panelled room with a long wooden table set for dinner with white table linen, House of Lords crockery and plenty of wine glasses. There were around twenty of us there, including our hosts from The Prince’s Countryside Fund, Lord Don Curry, DEFRA minister Lord John Gardiner, Helen Milner from the Good Things Foundation and representatives from BT and Facebook amongst others.

Such evenings are either a perk of the job or an occupational hazard – depending on how the conversation goes!

There was a slight misunderstanding around the table.  The minister wanted to talk about rural broadband, and the important issue of getting bandwidth to the last settlement.  However most of us wanted a wider discussion about the potential of digital to empower rural communities.

The discussion was informed by a great report that the Fund has commissioned from Professor Sarah Skerratt.  The title “Recharging Rural” echoes the recommendations of making rural communities more sustainable.  The problems are familiar: an aging population with fewer and fewer village amenities.  The conclusions can be summarised around better digital connectivity, better transport infrastructure and more diversity of employment.  

Since then I have been reflecting on what more policy makers could do in using digital to redefine what is possible in peripheral areas.

Anything that is done has to tackle inclusion.  There are still areas and residents with very poor connectivity, and still 11 million people in the UK without the skills and confidence to be active online.  I have also written elsewhere about problems around the readability of the web.  The efforts from government to reduce this exclusion need to continue apace.

Scarcely populated areas struggle to sustain services because, by definition, they can not offer the economies of scale that urban areas can.  But we can now aggregate dispersed populations to create viable rural services using digital.

The rise of Babylon to supplement NHS GP services has been controversial.  Whilst there is every reason to be suspicious of this private sector entrant into NHS primary care, and accompanying worries about personal data security, the core service is certainly interesting.  The notion that NHS GPs in rural areas could offer a similar service is compelling.

Their service has an app interface that allows the patient to talk to an artificial intelligent bot about symptoms which then triages the individual and can connect over video to a human GP 24:7.  The GP can then prescribe, and presumably get a prescription delivered.  If the choice is that, or phoning a triage nurse and either being directed into a hospital some distance away or being given a GP appointment the next day, which would we choose?

Similarly I am no fan of the corporate practices of Uber, but I also recognise a great service.  Could their platform technology be re-purposed to better organise volunteer hospital transport, or Uber Pool technology to create new forms of rural transport?

I now have oversight of Tes Institute, a digital teacher training business.  We have been able to train teachers in a way that was previously inconceivable in far flung places like St Helena and the Isles of Scilly, because we blend a social learning experience online with peripatetic tutors.  

There is no doubt that public service delivery can be transformed with digital innovation to the great advantage of rural areas.  This can significantly help the existing rural population.  But can it make communities more sustainable by shifting their demography?

That is a harder problem to crack.  It is not as simple as installing high bandwidth connections and selling great quality of life and good schools to aspirant entrepreneurs.  Whilst this could go a long way it needs more to trigger a behavioural shift.

I have been interested for some time in shifting thinking away from a sense that urbanisation is inevitable in a post-industrial economy.  The pressures on our great cities are now almost overwhelming as house prices, air pollution and congestion make them harder to sustain.  So why not follow Dave Coplin’s vision from this 2013 RSA talk around flexible working?

If government mandated two or three day a week season tickets on our trains, knowledge workers could come to cities for some of the time and get the benefit of clustering and creative exchange.  But if rural market towns also had flexible working facilities like WeWork (the largest real estate tenant in London, New York and Washington DC), then those people can then work and start businesses in rural communities.  They then support local retail and daytime economy, and get the quality of life of the school drop off and pick up.

All of this points to the opportunity of digital in making rural Britain more diverse and therefore sustainable.  It needs vision and a magpie mentality to steal the best of digital enterprise and bring it to serve the public interest.


Principle and Power – the future of the Labour Party

Thirty years ago I took part in one or two student demos, collected for the miners and marched through London for the CND. The politics of protest didn’t make me join a political party. Naively, I thought I would have more impact in changing minds through the theatre company I had co-founded. I joined the Labour Party in Warminster in 1991 because I wanted to get elected to change things in my town and then across the country.

For me the Labour Party always has to be a marriage of power and principle.  

I remain very proud of what the Blair/Brown government achieved in applying Labour principles in power. The dramatic reductions in child and pensioner poverty, improvements in education and health outcomes for everyone, the minimum wage, rights at work, support for parents, peace in Northern Ireland, and much more. I am especially proud of the reaction to the global financial crisis when Gordon and Alistair together led the international response to prevent the collapse of the global economy, and returned the economy to growth by 2010.

Protest can make me feel and look good, and it can create common purpose, but on its own it rarely changes anything.  

However it is not helpful for Tony Blair, and others, to prophesy annihilation if Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership. We do need a viable alternative. Just telling people they will lose by voting for what they believe in only stiffens the resolve. People want to rally around passion and principle, and from there build support to win power.

So I do understand and respect those people who are supporting Jeremy Corbyn, and I now think he is likely to win.  

Jeremy is very nice, highly principled man. His is an important voice in the Labour Party. The lack of a clear alternative to austerity economics makes his very different prescription attractive.  

But it won’t work.

The world is changing very fast. Globalisation and technological change have transformed things for people. People look at the old deal that if you work hard, get a job, get a house, and save for your pension then you’ll be all right. And they understand that model is now broken.  

There is no job for life, no final salary pension. There are big worries about job security, house prices, student debt and care in a long period of old age. People want answers to these new challenges, not old answers to old problems of the seventies.

It is likely that young people leaving education will have many careers. They will need to continue dipping in and out of learning, and occasionally welfare. They will work well into their seventies. Their current best hope of owning their own home is through inheritance not thrift.  

Facing this level of uncertainty significant numbers of people are reacting against the consensus of the middle ground. The politics of UKIP and the hard left are both in the end in denial of change. They paint a picture of the certainty of the past before globalisation, a time when nation states had control over their own destiny.

The Greek government has shown that attractive anti-austerity rhetoric doesn’t work in practice, and is hurting the very people they were elected to help. If Labour Party members want a more equal society, if they want to end child and pensioner poverty, if they want people better off in work, then they need new thinking not recycled thinking.

That is challenge for all four leadership contenders and the party as a whole.  

I think the future lies in more local, more mutual solutions. At a time when local power generation schemes are starting to emerge, this is not the time to re-nationalise the power companies. Instead it is a time to make it easier for such schemes to raise finance and access the market. At a time when people are using services like Zipcar to get around we need to embrace the sharing economy in transport provision. We are even seeing a growth in meal sharing apps so that neighbours who cook too much food can give it to someone locally who needs it. Amsterdam and Kyoto have a vision as sharing cities – that is where the progressive left should be looking.

The Labour Party does need passion and principle to reappear alongside pragmatism. It needs new thinking true to its values of mutualism and social justice. But it also needs to win around 20,000 votes each in more than 325 different constituencies in 5 years time, if it wants to put new thinking into effect.

Please let’s not pretend that our own Facebook newsfeed represents a cross section of public opinion. Your newsfeed is just full of people who largely agree with you.

If we want to stop austerity economics blighting the opportunities of swathes of poor working families we must reach out beyond our comfort zone. We need to persuade those that voted for our opponents to vote Labour. We need to be credible on the economy and the level of national and personal indebtedness.  

We need a leader with the experience and ability to first unite the party and then the country around an alternative. In doing so we need someone willing to lead new thinking to new challenges.

I will be voting for Yvette Cooper. Read her speech today in full http://www.yvetteforlabour.co.uk/manchester_speech_text


Recent Opinion Pieces for TES on education.

I’ve recently been writing opinion pieces for tes.co.uk.  Here they are:

11th June: On the need for a government focus on teaching rather than schools.

19th June: About the trendy issue of the Growth Mindset in education.

26th June: the potential of pupil voice – if we listen

3rd July: the power of CPD to change – teacher led

11th July: on education innovation

17th July: a proposal for digital education

27th July: are personal devices in school too distracting?

6th August: we need a learning pattern to match the new working pattern


Berlin to Brazil – it’s all about teachers

Brazil is famous for great food, and great people.  The latter was in evidence for a rich discussion I led at the think tank, Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso in São Paulo on Friday.

I was asked to stimulate a discussion based on reflections on how to improve schools systems.  This was a great opportunity to pull together some of the thinking from my attendance at the World Education Symposium in Berlin and the Education Fast Forward debate two weeks ago, at the Oppi Festival in New York last week and now at Bett in Brazil.  In that time I had been lucky enough to hear from the likes of Howard Reingold, Andreas Schleicher, Randi Weingarten, Andy Hargreaves, Pasi Sahlberg, and Taylor Mali.

First, it is clear that the conflict between education and learning applies across the world.  In this rapidly changing world, people are learning in new ways outside formal education.  Schooling and qualifications are struggling to keep up and to keep learning relevant to the real world.

The coincidence of the 21st century skills demanded by employers, and the learning styles that young people gravitate to is profound. This opportunity is being largely ignored because it is inconvenient for high stakes accountability systems as it is harder to test.  It also requires some new pedagogy from teachers.

The highest performing jurisdictions of Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong are, however, the most innovative. They are designing creativity into their systems.

Secondly, politicians are easily distracted by what doesn’t work at a system level.

Parental choice and new school structures are yet to work at a system level.  Chile, Sweden, the US and the UK show that, whilst there may be innovative schools, it is not raising standards at a system level.

Quality teaching is more important than class sizes or technology.

Thirdly, what is important is great teaching.

“We uplift the people we serve by uplifting the people that serve them” – Prof Andy Hargreaves

The jurisdictions that perform well focus on:

  • great initial teacher training, with recruits from a range of academic backgrounds
  • strong career routes for teachers, and not just into leadership
  • embedded professional development with time for reflection, feedback and collaboration
  • collaborative teacher networks
  • strong leadership of teaching

This is encouraging for my work at TES.  Our collaborative teacher network for sharing resources is growing all the time. Our  Courses are proving popular and are pioneering a new socially based online professional development.  I continue to think about how we might further develop those but also what more should be done on ITT, on teacher careers and leadership development.

And finally here is Taylor Mali performing at Oppi

2015-05-16 11.01.55 from Jim Knight on Vimeo.