Uncategorized

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.

Standard
education

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.

Standard
Uncategorized

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.

Standard
Uncategorized

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.

Standard
Politics

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

Standard
education

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

Standard
education

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.

Standard
Politics

Too many unknowns – the Labour leadership

The Labour Party is less than a week from a shattering election defeat, and already the leadership election appears to be in full swing. Soundings are being taken, domain names registered, and backers recruited. But is the party in a position to choose the right candidate to lead it to victory in five years time?

What do we know about the 2020 election?

It will be held on 7th May 2020.

The world and the country will be a very different place five years on. Politically, we will have had the EU referendum. If we vote to leave there are huge political implications, not least the potential for Scotland to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU.

We also know that by 2020 there will be a new leader of the Conservative party, and therefore a new Prime Minister with a new leader bounce.

Plenty more will have changed. What will be the state of our economy, our public services, our security? If Labour needs a new leader to appeal beyond former coalfield areas, university towns and London, can we predict now the politics of coast and country five years out?

In any other walk of life the new leader would be appointed for around three years. She or he would stabilize the party, lead an effective Parliamentary opposition, and build a good electoral platform through the Scottish elections, the London mayoral elections and the EU Referendum.

There is much to do in terms of listening to neglected parts of the country, raising money, succession planning and changing the party structures to reflect the fragmentation of British politics.

When Tony Blair won in 1997 he had been leader for three years – not a full Parliament. John Smith had done vital preparatory work such as OMOV before he tragically died. This made Tony’s job and reforms considerably easier.

My political friends will call me naïve. But I would love to have a candidate declare that he or she will do the job we need doing for the next two or three years and then will open up a new leadership election. He or she may run again and can be judged on a record of reviving the party’s fortunes, and in comparison with the likely new Prime Minister.

The upside is that those who are dismissed as experienced but too associated with the past, have the chance to use that experience and maybe redefine themselves as leaders for the future. It would also give a chance for candidates that offer a break from the past to build experience and prove through campaigning around the country that they are the one to win in 2020.

The downside is if it became a three-year feeding frenzy for journalists. Potential leaders would need to know they would be judged on their discipline, their positive record and their ability to work with colleagues.

This is not a proposal for a caretaker leader. It is a proposal for a renewable fixed term contract. It is counter cultural, but with the known known of the next General Election and the very many known unknowns of the next five years, I think it may work.

Standard
education

Is Democracy Good for Learning?

As the UK woke up to the political earthquake of the General Election, I was in Berlin listening to the OECD’s education guru Andreas Schleicher. As the architect of PISA test and the TALIS teacher survey he regularly gives great new insights evidenced by data.

Andreas told us some of the things that work in the best performing school systems such as Singapore and Shanghai. Here there is significant investment in teacher capacity, rewarding them well, giving them time for preparation and training funded by larger class sizes, and running a longer learning day with more self directed learning.

He has clear evidence that this focus on teaching capacity works and yet these important findings are not applied in most Western jurisdictions. Incidentally, he also finds more evidence of innovation in the leading Asian systems.

It would have been inappropriate for him, as an OECD official, to point out that the successful Asian jurisdictions were less democratic. However he added a couple of other things. He said that short electoral cycles can be a problem and that politicians are more likely to do what is urgent than what is important. He also pointed out that school choice tends to make no difference because many parents are interested in more than just academic performance – such as school neighbourhood. Andreas was speaking at the inaugural world education summit organised by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The previous day I also took part in the 13th Education Fast Forward debate which discussed the challenge of developing 21st Century skills in schools (such as creative, collaborative, & presentation skills). Both discussions were coming to a similar conclusion.

Howard Reingold strikingly suggested in the EFF13 debate that there is a growing conflict between education and learning, that our qualifications and schooling are hampering the development of learning. He suggested that whilst in times of stability the older generation should be passing on what it knows to young people, at times of rapid change – like now – the older generation should be passing to young people the skills to direct their own learning.

This sentiment was reinforced in Berlin by speakers from Australia, India, the U.S. and Asia.

We can carry on trying to improve the system we’ve been tinkering with for the last 70 years, and nothing will really change. Or we can design a new system based around great teaching that at its heart coaches learning.

And so I came full circle in my mind. This change in teaching may be the right thing to do that ignites the fire of learning that we need for our children to thrive. If so it is really important. But implementing the change would take much longer than a five year electoral cycle and parents, employers and teachers would all need to be persuaded to support it to sustain it.

Meanwhile countries who don’t worry so much about democratic consent are just getting on with it and gaining a competitive advantage.

But I am first and foremost a democrat. Coming back to the UK, I have to accept our election outcome.

I congratulate Nicky Morgan on being re-appointed as Secretary of State for Education. My advice to her is to focus on what is important. In this case it is both important and urgent to address teacher capacity, especially recruitment and development. Here she can build on her record, learn from the best in the world, and many of us on the left of education politics will happily work with her on that vital agenda.

Standard
digital

This is for Dot Everyone

This evening I was lucky enough to be invited to the Science Museum to hear Martha Lane Fox’s Dimbleby Lecture. It was engaging, interesting and beautifully delivered, as I would expect. More significantly Martha used the occasion to launch the vision for a new national institution she has christened Dot Everyone.

Martha and I share a passion for digital inclusion. We regularly meet to ensure the organisations we each chair – Go On UK and the Tinder Foundation – are complementing each other in our shared aim of ending the digital divide in Britain. I am also a huge admirer of the work she did as the UK Digital Champion, and subsequently, in influencing long overdue change in the way government embraces digital technology.

It is therefore no surprise that she has used the honour of delivering the Dimbleby Lecture to re-focus on the next challenge so that:

Britain can “leapfrog every nation in the world and become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed on the planet.”

Martha’s analysis starts with the proposition that the power of the Internet is defined by the balance between private companies and public bodies. The dynamism and dazzling pace comes from the private sector but they must operated in an environment regulated for the public good.

And she is right to say that the civic side of the equation needs a boost.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the Olympic 2012 opening ceremonyThe digital revolution could and should be “for everyone” as Sir Tim Berners-Lee defined it in the opening ceremony of London 2012. But the dominance of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook over the net, risks civic society becoming powerless as a very few in California get richer and richer. Governments are then left as bystanders whose role is only to cheer when those that run them are generous enough to turn to philanthropy.

I want a digital society that is defined by the cultures of sharing and co-creation, not increasing control through decreasing privacy.

In her lecture Martha wants her new institution to initially focus on three things:

  • First, how we improve our understanding of the internet at all levels of our society
  • Secondly, how we get more women involved in technology, and
  • Thirdly, how we tackle the genuinely new and thorny ethical and moral issues the internet has created

The first and third go hand in glove.

There are huge security issues around the asymmetric threats caused by cyber terrorism. There are opportunities to impose surveillance on our online activity, for example to guard against grooming by both paedophiles and terrorist groups. But few senior civil servants, ministers or Parliamentarians have sufficient understanding of the infrastructure of the net to know how best to do this.

And few also see the downsides of invading our online privacy.

These are really difficult judgements and need an informed Parliamentary debate that is informed by the public. Right now it is hard to see much public debate. This is a huge failing by politicians and their friends in the media.

Dot Everyone is a bold idea to keep that debate at the forefront.

And should we worry about the paucity of women in tech? Of course we should – if we want the internet to be more collaborative, more inclusive and to grow the culture of sharing online.

I work with some brilliant women in technology – Helen Milner at Tinder Foundation, Rachel Neaman at Go On UK, Louise Rogers at TES Global, Annika Small at the Nominet Trust, Debbie Forster and Iris Lapinski at Apps For Good and Emma Mulqueeny at Young Rewired State. But I also see how imbalanced the sector is as a whole and know that Martha is right to want this fixed as a priority.

There are plenty more questions to ask about Dot Everyone. Are these the only priorities? What about inclusion? Should it be global or national? How should we find it and safeguard its independence?

But by finding myself asking these questions I know I have already accepted the need for it to exist. Which leads to the question I hope many of us will be asking:

Well done Martha – now how can I help?

PS. Visit Martha’s Doteveryone site doteveryone.org.uk and sign up to her change.org perition

Standard