‘No one agrees on anything in education – can we sort that out, please?’

Planning an education conference led Heidi Williams to question whether ever-shifting policy at the whim of ministers was really best for the nation’s children. In media partnership with Schools Week, the Politics in Education Summit will consider, could there be a better way?


My background is as an organiser of Summits. At these events we put evidence centre-stage. From this vantage point it was fascinating to see how differently evidence is treated in the education system and the extent to which political values take centre-stage. This runs all the way from bias in the interpretation of evidence, and the way it drives policy, through to ideological models of how schools should be structured and governed.

Thinking about running an event on education I started researching possible topics and found an overwhelming lack of consensus on everything to do with the sector. From pedagogy to curriculum, from accountability to the very purpose of education itself.

This lack of consensus revolves around the fact that education is very much values-based and therefore, by its nature, is political. Plus, delivering a fit-for-purpose education system is one of an elected government’s key responsibilities. But in recent years the way education has been delivered, structured and assessed has seen unprecedented reforms and shifting priorities.  The speed and breadth of these changes has highlighted how powerful an individual government can be and raises questions over whether there are sufficient controls over this right to implement the government’s will.

It strikes me that important questions are going unexplored in education:

– Does the political nature of education mean government interference is just an inevitability or is it actually helpful?

– Does ideology improve or worsen transformation of schools?

– Does the political system drive change or merely create divisiveness?

– If education is the bedrock of a society, is it appropriate that the cyclical pressure of changing governments and rotating education secretaries make it impossible to have a strategic long-term vision?

If we were to design an effective education system from scratch – what would we do differently?

And, most important of all: if we were to design an effective education system from scratch – what would we do differently?

Hence, we’ve created an event that explores the impact of government in education, which we will question if there is value in creating additional safeguards to reduce ongoing change and disruption in the system

We are purposely questioning the status quo. We’re exploring alternatives. We’ve brought together an incredible line-up of expert educationalists to debate the influence of all those currently invested in the system – including governors, teachers and industry.

We will ask:

– Should there be an Independent Education Body to reduce cyclical disruption?

– What place do unions have in a non-politicised education world?

– Can the proposed College of Teaching wrest control from government?

– What about governing boards – are they the real powerhouse?

Ultimately, this event questions who or what protects education from bad ideas and explores ways in which education policymaking might be better improved.

The Summit will be recorded, transcribed and circulated to policymakers.  It includes four separate 40 minute open Q&A debates with the audience to ensure a wide range of perspectives are heard. Make sure you get your voice heard, join us by registering at www.politicsineducationsummit.co.uk

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