RSA Education is delighted to have been commissioned to lead an inquiry into education in Suffolk. Chaired by Matthew Taylor, the aim of this inquiry is to offer analysis, insight and advice to Suffolk County Council, and Suffolk’s Education, Community and Business leaders, on how to achieve a significant and sustained improvement in attainment and improved capabilities for the world of work. The inquiry aims to contribute to a change in the way that education is discussed, perceived and delivered in Suffolk. It also aspires to inform education policy and practice beyond the county, positioning Suffolk as a high-achieving, forward-looking, connected and innovative place for learning - a “county without limits”.
Matthew spoke at the launch a fortnight ago, and tentatively suggested a few ideas. These were welcomed, especially our thoughts on a potential new local or sub regional role (building on our forthcoming Middle Tier paper), the introduction of the Modern Baccalaureate across Suffolk, and the development of a practical learning offer at Key Stage Three, including electives and online mentoring. Overall, there is a collective momentum for change in an area that should be doing better in terms of exam scores, and is committed to thinking more deeply about learning and achievement.
One audience member from a business school asked the question ‘where’s the beef?’ Fair question, I guess, but we are at the start of a journey during which we will engage in deep comparative analysis, and plenty of community engagement, to create a set of robust, creative recommendations. The RSA has never done an inquiry of this scale before, and we come with no baggage apart from our values, no assumptions apart from our belief in human capability. If Mr. Business School is asking the same question in nine months, when we complete our report, he’ll be justified. But for the moment, we hope people in Suffolk are happy with our starter.
Meanwhile, beefy education stories come thick and fast: the leak about the return of O levels and CSEs; a draft new primary curriculum, an Ofqual consultation on A Levels; a speech from Michael Gove with interesting ideas about the role of teaching schools in Initial Teacher Education; and a row about phonics where, as far as I can tell, people are pretending to disagree with each other. We know (from this sparky Today Programme interview back in 2010) that our Secretary of State is no fan of “processology”. Yet the varying processes behind all these policymaking methods do matter.
The Education Endowment Foundation, in presenting their excellent evidence to support schools’ decisions about use of the pupil premium, talk about the ‘Bananarama Principle” – it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. From teaching assistants to literacy interventions, arts programmes to tutoring, the quality of the original idea is just one factor in a nestled set of implementation issues.
The same is true for policy development. Emotions matter to implementation, regardless of the strength of a policy’s rationale. My prediction is that the policies which will unravel first, or at least be most vulnerable to political change, are those which cared about process, and followed through on promises about consultation and user and professional engagement. Let’s hope that Mr Gove hangs around long enough to deal with the tricky, less glamorous, but ultimately more rewarding implementation phase of everything he’s unleashed. And more parochially, we hope that in Suffolk our own ‘processology’ creates a platform for great ideas to flourish. Then we’ll be really saying something.