Education policy failure - disorder

Causes of education policy failure

Education policy failure is caused by an unstable centre, weak institutions, lack of process and distrust.

Why is the education system in England falling short of its potential?

Ministers are caught in short-term cycles of rapid policy making

The best intentions have been negated by a revolving door of secretaries of state (24 in 40 years) and many more ministers (some 104 in 40 years), who have overlooked what has gone before and disregarded the capacity of schools and colleges to absorb more change. High stakes OFSTED inspections and frequent changes to key judgements amplify the impact of central control and uncertainty.

causes of education policy failure

The DfE and NGOs are trapped in an unworkable policy making cycle

The turnaround time for policy advice is too short, meaningful consultation is unrealistic and often made within an “echo chamber” and the DfE is beset by systemic issues that face the civil service. Non-governmental institutions could provide a counter-balancing force, however, these institutions are highly fragmented and must survive in a competitive market. While the Education Select Committee is effective, arms-length bodies and advisory organisations in education have been considerably reduced in the last ten years. When compared to other government departments, they are few in number and narrow in representation.

Process and evidence use is weak

Many important macro-policy discussions are opinion-led. This is aided by weak processes in policy making and little formal evaluation of policy options. There is a distinct lack of forums or institutions to explore and reconcile highly contested areas. There is suspicion of partisan motive and distrust of supplier capture. Evidence could strengthen the policy-making debate – but it is either not available at all or not available in a timely manner. This ad-hoc approach to policy making is doubly worse because there in no narrative arc to maintain consistent threads of thinking and institutional memory is poor.

Reports, Roundtables, and Analyses

Evidence check: Causes

Highly centralised


  • Ministerial revolving door
  • Rapid policy cycle
  • Amplified by OFSTED


  • 20 SofS and >100 ministers in 40 years
  • 6 weeks for policy response
  • 5 key judgement changes in 10 years


  • Edpol Stability Report
  • EPI/Edpol Roundtable DfE
  • Edpol Stability Report

Weak institutions


  • DfE below potential
  • Agencies disbanded
  • Highly fragmented
  • Few national institutions


  • Lack of institutional memory
  • Abolition of QCDA; NCTL; GTC; TPLA; TDAS
  • 300 institutions trying to influence govt.
  • Compared to Japan, S. Korea, Finland etc.


  • EPI DfE Roundtable
  • Edpol Stability Report
  • Edpol Research Analysis
  • EPI Reviews



  • Opinion led
  • Ad hoc policy making approach
  • No narrative arc
  • Lack of trust


  • Little use made of available evidence
  • Multiple approaches to curriculum reform
  • Past SofS disagree with present
  • Common complaints v teacher retention


  • Edpol Research Analysis
  • Edpol Curriculum Paper
  • SofS interviews
  • Edpol Teacher Retention Analysis
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