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As I said in my ever so brief blog last Friday I was on last week's Any Questions from Kingston University. It was a good night with a conversation that was probably enhanced by none of the panellists being an official Party spokesperson.

It was a nice start to the evening to find out (of course I should have known already) that both Bonnie Greer and Lord Ramsbotham are Fellows (and I am going to try now to recruit the final panellist Tim Montgomery!)

I guess I am on the programme as much because of my past as my present role, so it is a challenge to get the right balance between my personal views and the need to protect the RSA's vital political independence.

I'm sure I'll hear soon enough if Fellows think I got it wrong.

There were a couple of moments in the programme which connected with the work here at John Adam Street.

One was the chance for me to vent, again, my concerns about the divide between state and independent schools. As I said in the programme, I don't condemn those who provide or send their children to private schools (I wouldn't have many friends if I did). But I do worry about the most privileged pupils being educated in schools where it is hard to fail and the least privileged in schools where it is hard to succeed.

In the past I have suggested that the RSA might try to convene local discussions to explore how well-off parents might be encouraged to keep their children in the state sector. My thoughts haven't got much further but any views would be welcome.

The discussion also reminded me of the gap between what we say about the kind of society in which we want to live in and how we respond to questions about our own lives.

When I argued that the abolition of inheritance tax could not be a priority if we want a fairer society and a more productive economy, I got a good hand of applause. But when Jonathan Dimbleby then asked the audience if they thought the tax should be abolished they voted overwhelmingly in favour.

It shows how important the framing of an issue is.

If we are asked what we want for ourselves without any reference to our wider idea of a better future, and without being asked to think about the trade-offs involved in any choice, our answers will tend to be narrowly self-interested.

But when a policy is placed in a fuller context - including the wider good - we may reach different conclusions.

Which goes to underline two things:

First, that most opinion polls about policy options are a waste of time and tend by their superficial nature simply to reflect our most unthinking responses.

Second, the need to move from government-centric political discourse ("what I want the politicians to do for me") to a citizen centric approach ("what kind of future we want and what we need to do to create it").

Apologies again for the holiday blog break I will make up for it in the weeks to come.

Damon - I really enjoyed your comment. I think individual empowerment is only achieved alongside strategies of collective empowerment - including bringing alive the policy dilemmas and trade offs. Many people who think hard about public service reform have come to the conclusion that this issue of reconciling individual and collective choice and empowerment is one of the big future policy challenges.

Bob, given the importance of our competency based Opening Minds curriculum to the Willingsworth Academy and our recognition that rising expectations is a crucial aim for the new school I hope you can rest assured.

Thanks, Tony, I agree with the sentiment. Getting the practice right is the challenge.


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