I take strong exception to this Times Education article by Jamie Martin, an independent education consultant and formerly special adviser to Michael Gove when he was the UK’s secretary of state for education. Jamie Martin argues that post-Brexit, with the right strategies, becoming the leading country for scholarship and science is within the UK’s grasp.
The article is pitched at a UK niche strategy in education. It cites the outstanding reputation of Britain’s top universities and believes that this is generalizable with more money thrown at it.
As an expert in delivering strategic change, I sense the article would have appealed to Michael Gove in his post-truth Brexit campaigning. It’s full of motherhood statements and extremely light on evidence. Strategic analysis starts with competitive benchmarking and SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). The hard evidence, using international benchmark studies by international organizations like OECD shows that the UK education sector has been on the slide for years.
Like in the US and France, the UK has a handful of world-class universities but public education has deep flaws. Indeed recently the UK and the US were bottom in a OECD league table of literacy and numeracy – this is simply disgraceful.
A large part of the problem in both the US and the UK concerns teachers who are heavily unionized, often strongly left-wing, with increasing leanings towards to far-left for whom the end justifies the means. The reality is that the bureaucratic education sector does not have enough competition. Also teachers unions put their own interests ahead of adopting change. If a large Activity Based Costing Study was conducted of the education sector, most of the cost would be in administration and bureaucracy rather than teaching.
Many UK teachers think that they are working hard but they are immune from the pressures of other sectors where professionals soon learn that it’s results that count not effort.
For the UK to be a real leader in education, a radical change strategy is required, opening up competition and removing restrictive practices and the unions. Non-performing teachers must be kicked out and replaced by competitors from around the world, especially Europe. For too long, teaching has been a soft option for the lazy and risk averse.
In a post-Brexit world, especially a hard-Brexit, there will be far less growth to fund experimental programs in the education sector. If the government is serious about an education strategy, it must be ready to cut out the weak and non-performing parts of the system.
Sadly, I fear that many in the education sector will read Jamie Martin’s article and believe that this blue sky vision represents the truth. Welcome to post-truth politics.