My son was born in February 2000. That may seem an unimportant fact, and in truth it is, other than it places him close to being born at the turn of the millennium. At the time of his birth, the Secretary of State for Education was David Blunkett.
As he now approaches his 17th birthday (my son, not Blunkett) and enters in to the last stage of his secondary education, Justine Greening is the holder of the same position.
What I find quite remarkable is that by the time he reaches the end of his studies in spring 2018, and assuming no further changes, there will have been a total of NINE holders of this position. At present, the average tenure of the person responsible for education, during his lifetime, falls short of two years.
It isn’t an unusual pattern, in fact you have to go back to 1918 and Herbert Fisher to find anyone holding the post for longer than five years. To provide comparison, the average tenure of a CEO is somewhere close to ten years.
It seems unsurprising that the education sector is failing to deliver the outcomes required when the leadership, direction and ethos change with such frequency. Particularly when education policy is often tainted by the personal experiences of the senior person in charge – the “it didn’t do me any harm” effect.
When interest rates were placed in the hands of the Monetary Policy Committee in 1997, the rationale was to remove political interference and to focus instead on long-term stability and growth. What we see now is a group of experts, bringing different views, coming together to achieve a consensus for the benefit of the country’s economy as a whole.
There feels little, more important to the future prosperity of the country than the education system. Having spent time in and around schools over the last twenty years, the biggest complaint is not perhaps what one might believe – funding, but the overwhelming sense of disorientation and fatigue caused by the multiple initiatives and changes in direction from above.
If we are serious in reinventing the education system in the country, if we believe that it has a fundamental role to play in the future success of the country and the economy, then it requires us to think differently about the way in which policy is set and how we create a single sustainable and stable approach to our education system.
The obvious, but perhaps unpalatable, answer is to take policy out of the hands of government and to place it in the hands of a panel of experts drawn from academia, education, business and other areas and overseen by a cross party group of MPs and with overall accountability to the Secretary of State. Build consensus on our education policy for the long-term, remove personal bias and create stability.
The reality is, that it would take a brave and courageous government to hand away one of their main political bargaining chips. But in turn that begs the question;
Is our education system there to serve the careers of politicians, or to serve the country?