Digging around in the undergrowth of schools reform in England
Warwick Mansell's news and analysis site
by Warwick Mansell
The DfE's endlessly-overlapping selections of advisers is again drawing criticism
An education academic is now on at least her seventh advisory role for the Department for Education, as the government this week announced another panel packed, again, with policy insiders but with no current teachers.
Professor Sam Twiselton, director of the Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University, was announced on yet another “expert panel,” this one to advise on new professional qualifications for teachers.
In the press release put out to mark the launch of what was reported as the eighth DfE expert panel to be announced in the past 18 months, the DfE said it “draws on a range of experience from across the school system, including…leading academics.”
But the use of that latter word in the plural appeared misleading. For the 12-person list seemed to include only one academic, in Twiselton, despite the sector extending to scores of universities.
This is feeding into criticism from others within university-based teacher education that the name of Twiselton – seen now as a government policy loyalist - is being viewed by policymakers as sufficient to persuade a whole sector that its voice is being heard.
The panel will advise on the development of qualifications for teachers wanting to develop their careers outside of conventional leadership roles, including in fields such as curriculum development and behaviour management.
Twiselton was quoted in February speaking up the benefits of this new career track, although with no reported mention of any schemes prior to this government which had attempted a similar trick, notably Labour’s Advanced Skills Teacher grade.
There were no union names on this week’s list, no-one from local government, and seemingly not a single current classroom teacher.
But large multi-academy trusts were well-represented, with people from Absolute Return for Kids (Ark), which runs Ark Schools, Outwood Grange and Star Academies all featuring.
Ark’s name on the list is John Blake, who used to be head of education at the Conservative think tank Policy Exchange, for whom he wrote a report last year on “coherent curriculum programmes” which seems to have fed into government policymaking in this field.
Another now-near-ubiquitous institutional name to feature was the Ambition Institute, in the form of its “chief education officer”, Matthew Hood. Ambition has very close links to Ark, with whom it shares an address and for whom its predessor organisation, Ambition School Leadership, has loaned £5.5m for the development of new London headquarters.
Ambition has many links with the teacher training body Teach First, which is also represented on the 12-person list, through Reuben Moore, its “Executive Director for Programme Development”.
Conflict of interest questions are also likely to be asked about the presence on the advisory group of organisations which themselves run, and have bid for government funding for, teacher development programmes. Both the Ambition Institute and the Teacher Development Trust are in this position.
Two weeks ago, Education Uncovered revealed how two organisations which have now “merged” to become the Ambition Institute had been awarded more than half the cash allocated under the government’s Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund.
Ambition’s predecessor organisations – all very closely connected to Ark – together were awarded at least £50m over four years to run teacher leadership training courses, Education Uncovered also revealed this month.
One teacher education source said, of the new group: “This is astonishing. It’s not even a close call anymore: this is just obvious cronyism.
“In developing frameworks and criteria for early career teacher qualifications, this group (and others like it) are not benefitting from the expertise of the many highly experienced researchers in the higher education sector, at the same time as they’re not benefiting from the classroom expertise of long-serving teachers.
“It’s obviously a problem stemming from the DfE but people such as Sam could just say no, enough is enough.”
The DfE said the new group met for the first time this week. Nick Gibb, the schools minister to which most of these current advisers seem closely allied, was quoted in its press release saying: “Our ambition is for teachers to be able to [progress their careers] without having to pursue traditional leadership routes, including expanding their expertise in vital areas such as curriculum or behaviour management.”
The full list of panel members.
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