Author Blog

Why politicians find it difficult to act on the things which really matter in schools

Bill Lucas reflects on two recent stories which confirm Educating Ruby authors’ views that it is difficult (impossible?) to get politicians to engage with and act on the really significant educational issues we face today

Consider these two examples. 

The Minister

For the last fortnight Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, has been in the media talking about two issues. She was in The Times under the headline ‘Make happiness a priority in schools’ thoughtfully discussing the increased levels of stress being experienced by students in schools. Days later she was in The Guardian with a very different approach ‘Nicky Morgan says secondary schools will be classed as coasting if they fail to ensure that 60% of pupils get five good GCSE grades’.


Is it just me or is the Secretary of State not able or willing to see the tensions, not to say, contradictions in her thinking? The GCSEs concerned will be in EBacc ones. They will not necessarily suit all students. Those students for whom they do not suit will inevitably feel stressed. Those for whom they work well will inevitably receive that extra transferred pressure from their teachers who will want even more focus on test scores.


The DfE is publicly supporting awards on character (good) and its Secretary of State is apparently interested in wellbeing (interesting). The DfE is hell-bent on Ebacc (will have intended and unintended consequences) and on using a language of ‘coasting schools’ (deeply unhelpful – captains of ships have typically turned their engines off when they coast implying intentionality on the part of school leaders).


A local MP


Nick Briscoe is a freelance consultant specialising in creative thinking and independent learning. He recently read and liked Educating Ruby and volunteered to take direct action with his MP. His MP, Antoinette Sandbach, agreed to meet him. Here, in Nick’s own words,is what happened:

As part of contributing to the ‘Educating Ruby’ awareness campaign I met with my local MP to bring the book and, more importantly, its message to her attention. I hoped that in this way I could add a bit of weight to the message that the Secretary of State for Education might receive.


She is an MP new to Parliament and was, I feel, cautious about not straying from the party line. She quickly admitted that she knew very little about state education saying that this was because both she and her daughter are privately educated.


However she agreed that the aims outlined in the book are extremely important. She said that she imagined that schools already pursued this type of curriculum and if not then asked why not. I explained about the stifling effects of the current Ofsted regime and league tables, but she simply said that both these things had an extremely positive effect upon education so the conversation became locked into a circle. I feel it ended as positively as it could though as she did promise to increase her knowledge in this area.


All credit to Nick for choosing to talk about these issues with his MP (thanks Nick!) And reassuring to hear that Antoinette Sandbach agreed with the book’s aims. But how revealing to hear that she thought most state schools ‘already pursued this type of curriculum’.


Some do. Many more, we suspect, want to. It’s just that they feel that they can’t. For Ofsted might judge them to be coasting if they stop for a moment to think about what really matters as opposed to the latest external accountability measure to be visited upon them.


If we are to change the system so that it is possible to get really good examination results AND develop character AND develop students who can really think and learn for themselves, we – with or without politicians - have to consider, in detail, how we can create schools which will do this. We have to be aware of the influences of national edicts and sloppy or unkind language from ministers. And we MUST be brave enough to go beyond any party line.