One of the things I wanted to do in the Department for Education was open up the policy making process and run things like wikis in open formats in order to a) start off with better ideas and then b) adapt to errors much faster than is possible with normal Whitehall systems.
Obviously this was ‘impossible’. In the DfE, one is not even allowed (officially) to use GoogleDocs. (Why? Officially – ‘security risk’. Reality – Whitehall’s fundamental operating principle is ‘obedience to process‘. It is not – have a good product, service, or idea. Decentralised collaborations are inherently threatening to Whitehall’s core principles. Hence, for example, why they hate the model of: incentivise a goal and be neutral about method. Although this model has been a success throughout history, it obviously flouts the principle of ‘obedience to process’).
So we could read what was happening in the outside world far from the 7th floor of DfE, and occasionally email or get people in, but we could not interact it with it using modern tools.
But I have a proposal that costs nothing… I’ve planned to do it for a while but today’s twittering on School Direct prompts me to do it now.
I will pick a topic. Today, School Direct & ITT.
And I invite people to enter comments explaining –
What does not work with X?
What specific things would improve it?
The more specific complaints and recommendations are, the better. A curse of being in the DfE was generalised whining and when we asked ‘what SPECIFICALLY do you mean, what SPECIFIC regulation is causing trouble?’, <1% of people had an answer.
I specifically INVITE criticism of what we did. Not abuse, not praise, not general whining – but specific criticism that can be used to improve things.
The ideal comment would be something like –
‘The following specific regulations XYZ and guidance ABC say on pages X the following Y. This is damaging because X. The evidence for this is X. What should Charlie Taylor do? Tell Marcus Bell and his team to eliminate pages X-Y, and rewrite Z to make everything much simpler and the incentives better aligned. The whole of document A should be withdrawn apart from para B on page C, which should be added to D. The funding system causes problems by XXX. If you simplify it by doing YYY, it will eliminate 90% of the problems with A but won’t solve B. B could only be solved by changing primary legislation XXX…’
You get the drift. This is the sort of advice that approximately never is given to ministers or spads. If the people on the ground dealing with the consequences of Whitehall decisions could give them such help, then it is possible that lots of small improvements could be made quickly. I often made small improvements / corrected our own errors in response to emails from the front line but this was very sporadic – not systematic – and the process left me screaming at my computer that we were, because of the insane Whitehall structures, so disconnected from reality.
Why would you bother?
DfE ministers, spads, and officials watch this blog. They might change things if you help them by explaining SPECIFIC things they can do. They might also think ‘if we do X, then education world will complain Y, so let’s not do it’.
Gove will read the comments (this is not a promise based on discussion but a prediction based on character). Gove is going to be involved in writing the next Tory manifesto. Therefore if you can show why something is wrong / stupid, you have a chance to influence him and give him ammo to head off the appalling stream of gimmicks that are, as we speak, being cooked up. Others in No10 will also read it. (A plus is that this process can influence No10 even though everybody in No10 will deny they even read it.)
Labour’s team read this blog looking for information to harm the Tories therefore will happen upon useful information that may also nudge them in useful directions. If they become the next government – which betting markets think is reasonably likely – you will have helped educate them.
The media read this blog looking for ‘news’ so also will see worthwhile information.
I will try to answer questions (from those interested) about why we made certain decisions, relying on memory, emails, papers etc. But my goal is not to ‘defend what we did’ – it is to discover what we did wrong so others can improve it. Also, NB. I left DfE partly because I was desperate to have as little involvement in the election as possible and I plan on implementing this by being abroad for its entirety so I don’t have to listen to a word. From recent interviews etc, it ought to be clear that this experiment is not designed to help Cameron or any other political force win an election.
Nothing will be censored or edited by me other than abuse/swearing/obvious frivolity etc, so that hopefully reading the comments will be worthwhile.
If nothing comes of it, then I’ll stop and nothing has been lost apart from a little bit of my wasted time. If someone comes up with a better technical solution then I’ll ditch this and transfer whatever has been done to it…
So, School Direct.
What do you think, why, and what should be done. SPECIFICS PLEASE.
I’ve texted Charlie Taylor so you know he’s going to be reading…
UPDATE 1: Acronym glossary.
Someone reasonably pointed out in comments that non-specialists don’t want to have to google all of the acronyms so here is a quick list of the most common used in comments below.
EEF = Education Endowment Foundation: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk
HEI = higher education institution.
IP = intellectual property.
ITT = initial teacher training.
NLE = national leader of education.
NQT = newly qualified teacher.
PGCE = post-graduate certificate of education.
QTS = qualified teacher status (a Whitehall-defined certification process for new teachers).
R&D = research and development.
SCITT = school-centred initial teacher training.
SD = School Direct. (A post-2010 programme in which schools recruit people before they do training (unlike PGCE), then train them, then often give them a job. Controversy over the flaws / merits of this programme is one of the reasons I did this blog.)
SLE = senior leader of education.
TS = teaching schools.
UPDATE 2: next steps.
To those who have commented…
I am going to leave this thread as it is until Sunday/Monday, then do another blog summarising / clustering the comments and publish that (Monday), in the form of a note to ministers / spads / officials in the DfE. Then people can send corrections / additions etc, and I’ll redo it, then post a final (for the moment) version.
Thanks to all who have contributed so far. I know many of the relevant people in the DfE have read your comments so hopefully some good will come from your efforts…