Who should be the policy makers?
I am writing this blog for CEBE from a “would-be” policy-maker’s perspective, being a member of the Executive of the Liberal Democrat Education Association. We have been engaged for well over a year in collecting evidence from a diverse group of individuals and organisations to devise a policy concerned with effective school governance that can be ratified by conference in September 2011.
It’s fair to say that, throughout the process, I have been concerned that maybe we have not been as thorough as we could be in approaching every relevant body that may be able to offer valuable insights and evidence about what constitutes good school governance. But the problem with the world of politics is that it is the ideology that is associated with each political party that forms an essential - possibly crucial - part of that party’s appeal to voters.
So from this perspective, it is a fair position to say that all policy should be formed from a melding of ideology (i.e. what got the party elected in the first place) with a robust consideration of the best peer-reviewed academic evidence (i.e. justification for public spending). The crucial question then becomes, is this process fit for purpose when it comes to devising sensible, joined-up and sustainable education policy that allows each child to fulfill their potential and go on to maximise their life chances? In short, can education policy ever actually be rational and sustainable, as long it rests in the domain of a political party?
To me, this is the nub of the challenge facing both any academic assiduously at work on sound research, and any classroom practitioner trying to devise a professional programme of learning that addresses the needs of each child. At the end of the day, if what they are doing happens to chime with current policy trends, their efforts can be transformational, but if not, their efforts will at worst be totally ignored and even discarded (witness the treatment of the Cambridge Review of Primary Education). Ideology will trump reason within the political arena every time. This makes the magnificent work that CEBE is doing very hard, but still immensely worthwhile, and it must continue in the best interests of our young people.
If the overarching aim of CEBE, as advertised on this website is ‘to empower educators with evidence’, what should a suitable aim be for the people who are devising education policy? One may argue that similarly it should be: to empower policy makers with evidence, especially given that state education is a public expense and is essentially a one-off opportunity for each child.
This can neatly bring us on to the question: who should be the policy makers?
To commit education policy to the vagaries of the electoral cycle and to the dogma of any political party seems at worst reckless and at best optimistic. Yet that is the situation we find ourselves in. De-politicising policy-making, and leaving the politicians with a scrutiny role only, in the interests of the best use of public money, seems like a pipe dream. Yet it remains probably the only certain way we will ever have sensible, joined-up and sustainable education policy.
At the Lib Dem Education Association, we have done our best with our review of school governance, used good and varied evidence and come up with what we believe are sound recommendations. But I can divulge this much at least in advance of the policy’s publication: at one read only there is no denying that these are Liberal Democrat policy proposals. There is no way they could come from either Labour or the Conservatives. There is a distinct yellow hue running through the entire document. But, then again, what would you expect?