Education policy churn - short term thinking and related problems

The problem of education policy churn

Education policy churn has damaged education productivity, created an incoherent system and further divided opinion.

Education policy churn

In the last forty years there has been over three times as much primary legislation for education as for health, and five times as much as for defence.

Problems driven by policy churn abound: curriculum modifications have left teachers in continual “catch up”; changing exam formats reduce teacher productivity and confidence – ‘teaching to the test’ has been a logical response. Compliance rather than mastery is rewarded. The 2017 Department of Education survey of former teachers found that “Government Initiatives” was the second highest reason for teachers leaving their jobs. There has been a particularly poor deal for those in FEs and on vocational studies.

The problem of education policy churn

It creates incoherent systems

At the same time, England’s education system is incoherent, as interdependent, macro-policy issues are tackled in part and in isolation. Teacher and school autonomy is at an all-time low – contrary to the intentions of most Secretaries of State since the Education Reform Act in 1988. There is an array of school structures: partial academisation; a stalled Free Schools programme; hollowed out LAs but no alternative oversight for Primary Schools; weak pathways for those failing in a normative assessment system; narrowing GCSE assessment and reform required in the FE sector.

Opinions are divided

Divisions persist and are deepening. Despite acknowledgement that “skills versus knowledge” is a false dichotomy, opposing positions are strongly held. Fundamental disagreement exists in all key areas: curriculum; assessment; accountability; measurement and league table; pedagogy; school and college structures; funding; local empowerment. New policies rarely receive overwhelming support and resistance to new initiatives can be widespread.

Reports, Roundtables, and Analyses

Evidence check: Presenting problems

Presenting problems

Policy churn*

  • Excessive Primary and Secondary legislation
  • Changing OFSTED frameworks
  • New MAT requirements
  • Multiple measures of success

Evidence*

  • 80 major acts in 40 years
  • 3 to 5 times legislation vs other departments
  • Many affect curriculum, assessment, pedagogy
  • 5 changes to OFSTED key judgements in 10 years
  • MATS: Additional layers of school guidance and inspection
  • SATS, GCSE, A-Level, BTEC, E BACC, Progress 8, Attainmen8, Pupil Premium etc.

Consequences*

  • 20% teachers leave within two years
  • Vast majority cite “Government initiatives/Policy changes”
  • Reduction in teacher motivation and agency
  • Excessive extraneous workload
  • Catch-up; teaching to the test; compliance not mastery
  • Narrowing of curriculum
  • Focus on measure success

Presenting problems

Incoherent systems

  • Multiple school structures
  • Reducing school autonomy
  • Disagreement over curriculum
  • Instability of post-16 provision
  • Ambiguity vis combined authorities LAs etc.

Evidence*

  • Academisation stalled in Secondary
  • Free Schools stalled
  • Primary management changes incomplete
  • Higher level of school accountability than ever
  • Third of children “failing”
  • Constant change in vocational area

Consequences*

  • Local competition rather than cooperation
  • Variation in over-management and under-management
  • School/college initiative stifled
  • “Large number of children being failed”
  • Driving disruption in schools/colleges and distraction for teachers/lecturers

Presenting problems

Divided opinion

  • Adversarial politics
  • Opposing representative bodies
  • No process for reconciliation

Evidence*

  • 2019 election disparity on SATS; OFSTED; Free Schools; EBACC; Apprenticeship Levy etc.
  • Major differences between bodies of representation; sector; professions; Think Tanks
  • Abolition of third-party and arms-length bodies including QCDA; NCTL. GTC; YPLA; TDAS

Consequences*

  • Unwilling to agree cross-party long-term plan
  • Ministers undoing predecessors’ work
  • Selective use of evidence, support and echo chambers
  • No process to develop progressive, enduring change
  • Tendency to take adversarial position and lobby for sectional interest
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