Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Building schools: education policy and social justice -keynote speech University of Bristol 20 October 2010

Thought you might enjoy the speech I gave last week to the Graduate School of Education at University of Bristol.

Firstly I’d like to thank you for inviting me to come and speak.  My name’s Kate Reynolds and I’m Chief Executive of Learning Plus UK.  Learning Plus Uk works with schools and colleges to improve standards and to make a difference to children and young people.

BRISTOL, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 24:  Primar...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeI started with Learning Plus an education charity at the beginning of October following a career spanning the public and private sectors.  My work has always revolved around the inter-relationship of central Government policies on education and their implementation in a local context – be it local management of schools in 1980s, the introduction of nursery vouchers in 1990s or Building Schools for the Future in the early 21st century.  This interplay, the weft and weave of education policy and what this tells us about the state, civil society and what we want from schools - have been at the core of a fascination with education in its broadest sense which has shaped my career and my own learning for more than 20 years.

Talking to you today is, then, a space for me to reflect personally and professionally – to give myself room to look back and look forwards – to understand why as someone committed to social justice and the importance of education as the ladder to raise community aspirations and to make the world a different place – I found my career moving from the public sector (where I was Deputy Director of Education in two local authorities) via a period in the private sector (heading up a consultancy business focused on learning and children’s services) to a position as a Chief Executive in a third sector organisation. 

BRISTOL, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 24:  A olde...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeReflecting it seems to me that in a sense my work experience mirrors the shifts in Government policy over the last 20 or so years – starting with a Conservative Government committed to introducing the market into education, through a Labour Government actively using investment in schools and learning as a mechanism for community regeneration to a ConDem Government talking about a greater role for the third sector under the guise of the Big Society.

I am speaking today in a personal capacity rather than as a spokesperson for Learning Plus Uk.  That is important both for some of the things I might say (these are merely my own thoughts and opinions) and because it reflects the notion that we are both shaped by the society and times in which we live and key agents in that world.

I am a child of the welfare state – my mum and dad both being the first of their families to attend University and get degrees – a result of the post war expansion of education and the grants for disadvantaged young people to study at higher education level.  My own schooling was the local state school and a degree courtesy of Thames Polytechnic and the universal system of no tuition fees….my it seems a lifetime ago and it is!

So for me the notion that education is a mechanism for altering the world, for giving access to dreams, ideas, alternatives and concepts and learning which can lead to change for the better, for me this is a ‘family thing’ – its as much a part of my DNA as it is my professional world.  I worry that ‘closing down’ opportunities to people to learn is ‘shutting the door’ on new ways of thinking and new hopes and dreams that could hold the key to making the world a better place.

So given this backdrop and my interest in education as a mechanism for social justice and the interplay between the world of high politics and what goes on in schools, I want to specifically focus this talk on one of the key Government agendas and policies which I was closely involved with – the last Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme.  I want particularly to look at how the programme brought about different relationships between the public and private sectors, how it conceptualized the roles of local authorities, schools and private sector providers and what underpinned the programme in terms of an approach to community cohesion and regeneration and the role of schools in their locale.

The BSF initiative was a key plank of the last Labour Government’s approach to education and was rooted in a belief that school buildings could make a difference to their communities, the staff and the children and the local economy.  As well as being about transforming learning and new ways of teaching, it was a economic regeneration strategy, one focused on areas of disadvantage that had suffered from a lack of community investment for a significant period of time.

The Government inherited a significant backlog of repairs and maintenance due to a chronic lack of capital investment in state schools.  The quality of school buildings was perceived as having a real impact on the standards of achievement and the ability of teachers to support learners and to equip them with the skills they might need for the 21st century. 

The plan was to remodel, rebuild or refurbish all secondary schools in the country through a phase programme of capital investment.  A Non Departmental Public Body (in old money a quango!) – Partnerships for Schools was established to oversee the delivery of the programme and establish the framework for approving local authorities bids for capital investment.

Moreover, BSF was intended explicitly and implicitly as a strategy to boost schools in deprived areas (with the first sequencing of the programme prioritizing schools whose pupils had a high incidence of free school meals and later sequences focusing on schools with performance results below floor targets of 30% A*- C GCSE including English and Maths).  It was intended as a vehicle to regenerate local areas through using capital investment as tool to create new opportunities for local employment (through using the local workforce) and as an intentional signal through the use of quality architects and architectural designs of the importance of schools and their local communities.  The earliest projects often involved signature architects delivering academy schools (for example the Roger’s and Foster’s iconic designs for London schools) epitomizing a view of the importance of statement architecture in areas of the country plagued by deprivation and low community and social aspirations.  The view was clear: school buildings were important, school buildings changed social aspirations, school buildings made a difference to learning outcomes. Schools made a difference to children.

The language of the BSF programme was intention, it talked about strategies for change, community cohension, every child matters, social inclusion and most loudly and explicitly TRANSFORMATION.  The political (with both a capital and small P) rhetoric centred on schools making a difference in transforming the lives of young people and therefore the outcomes for communities.(slide with quote)

BSF also transformed the relationships between the public and private sectors in education through a series of structures and delivery vehicles that brought both worlds together. 

Each local authority had to submit a Strategy for Change which showed the difference that capital investment would make to their local communities and schools.  The objectives of the change encompassed ensuring sufficient school places to meet demand, through to adding social capital to the community through a variety of arts and community events and involvement.  The private sector was recruited through a procurement framework which enabled local authorities to buy consultants to work with them to develop the strategy.  There were three main frameworks, one for education consultancy, one for ICT and one for technical advice.  All new school builds and programmes above a certain threshold would be funded using the Private Finance Initiative – a mechanism for getting private sector investment into public sector projects with the promise of a secured revenue pipeline for some 25 years.

In the private sector working for one of the major consultancy firms, I was responsible for bidding to be on the frameworks and once we were on them, working with local authorities to deliver their Strategy which would be the key to unlocking capital investment. 

They were heady days back in 2006!  My team and I worked with some of the most challenging local authorities – building relationships between schools and their local authorities and helping them to write winning strategies. I did work for some of the NDPBs, helping them to think through the impact of school building on local communities and how this could be assessed and measured.  I advised, coached, acted as an interim Director and helped to make school buildings a reality for young people.  Over the course of my time in the private sector, my team helped nearly 30 authorities with a potential impact on over 150,000 young people in schools.

Consultants were used since they were easy to get rid of and could provide an interim resource without big overheads – no redundancy pay! There was also a lack of capacity in local authorities – many of whom had not had a schools capital team for 20 years or more.  So there was little expertise of how to build schools, how to get the best deal from the private sector, how to engage communities.

The satisfaction came from little as well as big things – school children who saw examples of new schools and said ‘that school won’t be for us we don’t get nice things like that’.  Groups of young people who in workshops talked seriously about what skills and learning they might need for the new century and how schools could help them get such skills.

If the strategy was successful, authorities would embark on the process of securing a local education partnership – a joint venture between the public and private sectors with the public sector supplying equity literally ‘buying the public sector into the private sector’.  Through a process of competitive dialogue sample schemes for a small group of schools were produced showing how these designs would meet the key aims of the strategy.  A preferred bidder would be selected and the initimate details of the contract drawn up.  Once financial close was reached – work could start.

One of the difficulties for which the programme has been criticized was the length of time it could take for school buildings to be built – from start to finish some buildings were taking 4 or 5 years.  However, if you think about what the programme was intending to do – use capital investment to regenerate a community and you can see how the process could be inordinately long and the process of engaging with all the different stakeholders somewhat protacted.  The bid costs were high but the rewards were great – both for the private sector who got guaranteed contracts for 25 years and the public sector who got the new schools they so desperately needed.BRISTOL, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 24:  Primar...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

So what happened?  Well….the election came and instead of transformational learning and transforming communities, the new Government is focusing on scaling back the deficit and reigning back large scale infrastructure programmes.

One of the first things Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Education did was to end the Building Schools for the Future programme.  You’ll perhaps remember the ongoing saga through the summer about which schemes were ‘in programme’ and would go ahead and which wouldn’t.  This has continued into the autumn with a number of local authorities seeking a judicial review on the decision to cease the programme.

As well as stopping the BSF programme, the new Government quickly introduced a bill which became enacted before the summer break.  The Act enables those schools judged by OfSted to be outstanding to become Academy schools – through a fast track process that saw some 36 schools become Academies this term.  The Act also puts in place the framework for ‘free schools’ – schools run by groups of parents, teachers or charities independent of the local authority and funded directly by central Government.

What’s interesting about the new political landscape and the role of education within it is the continuance of education policy as a contested arena for political debate and the state.  Despite the rhetoric of localism and freedom from the interference of the state, in order to ensure such localism and freedom the Government pushed the legislation through Parliament at a phenomenal rate.   The Free School movement was heralded as a means of letting people run their own schools and local authorities would be removed from ‘controlling’ schools.  As yet though there hasn’t been a groundswell of support with a likely 16 possible Free Schools from September 2011.

Interestingly much of the debate has returned again to the relationship between school buildings and the quality of teaching and learning.  Toby Young, a proponent of Free Schools and keen to set up his own in West London argues that we don’t need iconically designed buildings to teach kids and much of private sector is following this lead by looking at how empty spaces such as warehouses or even disused Department for Education office could be retro fitted to equip them as schools.

So for me, following the election, working in the private sector was no longer viable, it wasn’t about making a difference to children and young people and using capital investment as a transformational lever to turn around disadvantaged local communities.  It was about bottom lines, profit and chasing the market.  I found myself increasingly angry – angry at organisations that focused solely on the bottom line, bending anyway education policy went in order to make a profit, angry at a shift to political agenda that didn’t see the impact that buildings could have on communities and angry at possibilities of my job becoming introducing the private sector into state education.

Sitting alongside this shift to introducing new providers into the education system is a move to decrease the power of the state in delivering services.  Building on Labour’s commissioning model for Councils, the new Big Society emphasises local groups of people coming together to make a difference to their local communities – we can see this in some of the notions around parent promoter schools and free schools.

In particular, there’s started to be a greater emphasis on the role of the third sector (charities and voluntary organisations) both as a means of reducing the deficit (they’re cheaper!) and a means of reducing the power of local government and the state as a provider of goods and services.  It is very early days in the journey of the Big Society and as yet it is really not clear what this will mean for education services in general and schools in particular.

As for me, following the election, I was lucky enough to be appointed as Chief Executive of a not for profit charity that focuses on providing support to education leaders through supplying high quality performance data and a range of training and consultancy services.  Working with higher and further education and schools and colleges, we help education organisations to understand what they’re doing well and what they’re doing not so well so that they can improve learn and grow. 

It’s satisfying to be in an organisation that cares passionately about making a difference to the education sector and one that is driven by values rather than profit.  It’s exciting to be working alongside schools, colleges and higher education to look at new ways we can help them.  It’s interesting to be professionally at the crossroads of Government policy and its implementation.

Ultimately in terms of education and social justice and as people who work in education, our professional lives are intimately bound with our values and how we make a difference to the next generation.  I don’t believe young people should be educated in buildings which are not fit for purpose, I don’t believe that learning is a production line that you can place children in and come out with a finished model, I do believe that schools, their buildings, their communities, their students and their staff deserve iconic buildings that make a statement that says ‘education matters’.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reflect on how my professional career has intertwined with vagaries of education policy and how the relationship between private, public and third sectors continues to develop and change and in the end, the difference that we all can make. 

Thank you for listening.

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Saturday, 24 July 2010

The education world after capital investment

The Church of England primary school in BurnestonImage via Wikipedia
Despite the furore surrounding the halting of the Building Schools for the Future programme, there will continue to be a need for leaders in education to continue to do what they've always done - inspire children and young people to create new futures through new ways of looking at the world.  High quality leadership in schools, colleges and local authorities will be critical to ensure that we have the skills, knowledge and imagination that will equip the next generation to have the tools to meet some of the challenges ahead.  Central to this new world will be the need to create more for less, to stretch the limited and limiting resources that will come from the double whammy of cuts in public spending combined with an increase in the student population.  This is bound to lead to a decrease in the per capita funding for schools, whilst at the same time central Government will be able to argue that the overall level of public spending in education has gone up.

Moreover, the burgeoning primary school aged population in the South of England will necessitate a need for more school places.  Already in parts of London the demand for primary school places is way in excess of the available supply and without capital investment programmes, it's not clear where these children will be educated.  The idea that somehow the 'magic hand of the market' will just sprinkle pixie dust on the chronic problems of lack of space, lack of resources and lack of places shows a singular misunderstanding of how to plan schools and is in danger of creating a free for all - with signficant numbers of young people losing out. 

One of the benefits of the BSF programme was that it made local authorities think through the issues of demand and supply and plan strategically to meet them.  Working with projections for future numbers of school pupils meant that public money wasn't going to be wasted on classrooms which may not be needed and an overview could be taken of the most effective way of using the whole school estate.

A strategic approach to capital investment in schools is critical now, not just because of the need to create spaces which inspire and equip young people for the 21st century, but also because without such a planned approach, we are in danger of wasting public money at a time when we can ill afford to.

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Thursday, 22 July 2010

Picked this up from the LS Foundation....interesting one

Waste what waste? - a word in defence of consultants - from Learning Sustainability Foundation

The debate around the halting of the school capital programme has generated a lot of talk about waste. Waste in procurement time, waste in bureacracy, waste in time are all part of the media coverage of the investment in schools. In particular there's been a spotlight on the waste of money spent on consultants who supported the programme. These consultants appear as the devil incarnate 'milking' the taxpayer and diverting valuable money from children in classrooms.

But what's important to remember is that the consultancy firms were all procured through an open exercise under European legislation and that many of the people who worked for these firms were and remain deeply committed to making a difference for children and young people.
Yes the big firms made money on the contracts - that is what they're in it for - but for some of the consultants who worked for them, it was often the joy of working with schools to start to create a future that motivated them.

For these value driven people, who have sat alongside schools through the BSF process running workshops, consulting with children and young people, teachers and support staff, local communities it was the potential of the programme to create projects which would raise the aspirations of communities which for many years had suffered a lack of investment both physical and educational which was their driving force.

The rationale which inspired many to want to work in this area was the desperate need to break the cycle of disadvantage in our communities and to enable the next generation to have a sense of hope, a feeling that education and learning mattered, that, even if they wouldn't be in a new school, their friends, neighbours and even children would. For many it is this deep anger at the way such hope has been dashed that has caused such an outcry - it is not the so called waste of time, money or energy that we need to be incensed about - it is the waste of hope, inspiration and the sense that education can make the future different that will in the end be the ultimate waste of the next generation.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A new dawn....

Given the change in Government and their commitment to wholesale change in state education - I am changing my blog to start to cover my personal views and opinions on these developments.....bear with me as shift the emphasis to analysis and critique.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Technology everywhere

Thought you'd enjoy the first draft of an article that will go in Government Technology. Still needs a bit of fine tuning, still not bad for a first cut.

Future gazing is a difficult art form and the likelihood of getting it right is very low. Reading from today into tomorrow is notorious for many hostages to fortune – most of us get it wrong! There are however, a number of relative certainties that can provide a structure for looking at how society might develop and what the role of schools in the future might be. There are a number of things we know now that will impact on our society and economy and that will shape how we develop schools to empower the next generation to face such challenges. We know that the developed countries will see an increasing proportion of their populations being older people – some will want to continue working, some will not. We know that in contrast in China and India the proportion of young people in the population is increasing and these young people are highly skilled, highly technologically savvy and speak English. We know that the growth of the Internet has been expediential and is now seen by many as a ‘must have’ rather than an optional extra. These certainties rest on the knowledge that the next generation will not have a single career but many careers, some estimate that most young people will have as many as 15 different jobs in a lifetime. That will mean a lifetime of reskilling, learning different skills and techniques and using ICT and technology as a mechanism to upskill and change.

As part of a strategy to address some of these challenges, in the UK, there are a number of different Government initiatives that focus on harnessing the technology to develop a 21st century infrastructure that enables children, young people, and their families to harness the power of the new technologies. The national rollout of high speed broadband to all homes is part of a commitment to tackle the digital divide which sees some people with greater access to use the digital infrastructure whilst others do not benefit from such access. The Building Schools for the Future programme, which now has over 80 local authorities involved with a plan for the remaining 70 to be brought on board over the new couple of years, has at its core an approach to technology that sees it as central to improving school performance and creating new ways of teaching and learning.

These policy approaches are based on an acceptance that technology is here to stay and that digitalized forms of learning (through structures such as ICT managed services and virtual learning platforms) can liberate knowledge and provide access to information for everyone. The exponential growth of social networking tools (Face book, Bebo and more latterly Twitter) as well as the development of web2.0 with its ability for anyone, anywhere to set up their website, blog or podcast and to broadcast their view of the world to anyone anywhere represents a significant shift in our approach communication and knowledge.

New technologies can also provide a mechanism for creating new jobs and new forms of economy. The growth of digital jobs where knowledge can be provided from across the globe mean that our young people will need to have the skills that enables them to benefit. More flexible forms of working, combined with the solutions offered by faster more robust ICT infrastructure, mean that people from across the world can be working on one project, sharing information, knowledge and skills as part of a collective ‘we-think’ approach.

So what will this mean for schools over the next 20 years?

The infrastructure that is being put in place as part of the big capital investment programmes will need to be flexible enough to adapt to significant changes in the school population. There is the real potential for students to learn anytime, anywhere and this will change the relationship between students and schools, learners and teachers. For some young people (digital natives who can use and manipulate the technological tools) there will be a need to guide their learning in more mentoring, coaching forms of support. Some of this will need to take place in school. For others, the technology will be part of their skills based learning focusing on vocational courses where the learning relationship is more based on learning through doing. Again, this will mean that students will need to come together to learn from each other. The infrastructure will need to support all these forms of learning and more and enable the facilitation of learning through robust high speed backbones that become as robust and easy as paper and pens!

We are already witnessing the growth of new forms of school organization – particularly in the secondary sector. Schools are joining together – either loosely through mechanisms such as 14-19 collaborations or more formerly through new arrangements like Trusts and federations of academies. At the same time, local authorities are moving towards more flexible models that support their strategic commissioning role whilst ensuring local leadership. These two strands could see the development of ‘mini’ local education authorities – groups of schools that come together to procure services (HR and finance spring to mind as well as ICT managed services). There are already groups of Academies (the Academies Education Trust is one such group) who are running sufficient numbers of schools to require their own back office functions independent of the local authority. Overseen by an Executive Head teacher or Chief Executive, these groups of schools have the potential to become corporate ‘brands’ – marketed across the net with increasing ease and productizing learning and education to the next generation of parents who are increasingly confident in the net as their primary source of information.

So, how can we future proof our current approaches to make sure that we benefit as a society from these technological advances. The first issue will be to ensure that access does reach all corners of our society, which is why the rollout of broadband is crucial. Without it, we are limiting accessibility to some groups and not others. The second issue is make sure the systems that we put into schools (from virtual learning environments to wireless cables and servers) are agile enough to meet the demands of the future without needing more and more investment. We need to maximize the flexibility of the infrastructure to build systems that are equip for tomorrow’s change today. And finally we need to reaffirm the importance of schools since it is schools that will equip the next generation with the skills, knowledge and learning they need to make the best of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead – whatever they may be.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

A not quite defintive history of education

One of the things that I find blogging useful for is recording my thoughts and ideas. I know that not all of them will come to fruition, but there's something about the action of writing a plan down that helps me to think about it and get it sorted in my head.

I think at the end of the year in the Winter months, I'll go through the blogs and see what I've accomplished and what plans still lie as twinkles in the eye.

My latest spark of an idea is that I want to write a history of education going way back and understanding what the origin and idea of education in this country is. Am thinking this will help me get my head around schools, colleges, universities and will feed my (slightly nerdy) curiousity around education and the state......draft title: A not quite definitive history of education........

Will keep you updated....

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Articles from my other life...part 2

Here's an article that I've done for work for a building magazine. Enjoy.

Education for the Future

Over the last 10 years technology and the Internet has changed significantly and is still constantly evolving. There’s been a huge rise in the use of the world wide web and it’s now commonplace for young people to spend their spare time using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace while their school day is spent surfing the Internet to research information for GCSEs. For them, the net has become a way of life, a way of receiving and researching information that helps them make choices about their life. Every day, new applications, software and ways of using the Internet hit the market – and every day young people make choices about how they will use this information in their lives.

Schools are at the forefront of working with children and young people to understand some of the challenges this new technology brings. With all young people able to access the same information from different sources on the Internet it could have implications on what they learn and could change the way they are taught, especially with access available anywhere at any time. It is also important to understand how using social networking sites to organise lives outside of school impacts on parents and how it also opens up opportunities for jobs on the other side of the world without even having to step out of their front door.

There are significant challenges which face schools as they change to meet the demands of the 21st century. These range from the role of the teacher as the source of information , to recognising the way that information is now global and available 24 hours a day. The skills and jobs of today will not be the skills and jobs of tomorrow. Young people need to have the critical skills to help them use the Internet to enhance their lives and they need to have the tools which support them to do this in a way which is safe. Schools need to have systems which talk to each other, that support learning through robust and speedy infrastructure which can pipe knowledge and information across classrooms and across homes.

Technology can be a catalyst to exploring what teaching and learning can be in the new century and can provide a new range of skills which enable young people to prepare for new jobs and careers. Technology can provide personalised approaches which enable learners to progress at their own speed in a way which interests them and engages them in the subject. In Southampton, Mouchel has been working with schools and pupils to begin to map out what schools of the future could be like through a series of interactive workshops which asked school students what makes good schools and what makes good learning. At the same time, we’ve been working with school leaders to understand their needs and to explore the type of technology that could work for them.

These workshops are part of the work Mouchel does with schools, colleges and local authorities to help them map out a vision which will transform teaching and learning. making schools centres of excellence for the 21st century. Using a range of different techniques, Mouchel works with young people in schools, school leaders and local authorities to create blueprints for what they want from new buildings and learning environments. We help them take that vision and shape it into a technical model that uses the best ICT advice to map out a solution for the school and local authority. Mouchel brings procurement expertise to make sure schools and local authorities get the best deals, that technology is up to date and relevant and that schools can focus on teaching and learning rather than fixing the kit.

Mouchel’s expertise covering academies, schools, the Building Schools for the Future programme and colleges means we understand the importance of learning in developing solutions for education and know that a focus on the student is critical in getting the best out of the technology. Our work with local communities through projects such as the rollout of broadband, means we know technology is not just the wires and cables, but is at the core of equipping our communities and futureproofing them for the challenges of the future. Our approach of ‘learning led technically expert’ solutions, means we believe technology in education can make a huge difference to changing the life chances of children, young people and their families.

Although we don’t know all the challenges that our young people will face in the future, we do know technology will be a critical tool in helping them meet that challenge. Working as an approved supplier under the BECTA framework, Mouchel is helping our schools and local authorities rise to that challenge.