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Dear Justine Greening, here’s what you should do as education minister

Morgan out – Greening in. Will Oliver/EPA

As part of Theresa May’s reshuffle in her first full day as prime minister, Justine Greening was appointed as the secretary of state for education. She will take charge at the Department for Education, which will also assume responsibility for higher education and skills, formerly within the remit of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. She is the first Conservative education secretary to have attended a comprehensive school.

As Greening takes up her new role, five experts at UCL’s Institute of Education set out what they think her priorities should be in higher education, school inspection, primary education, teacher training and further education.

Higher education

Simon Marginson, professor of international higher education, UCL

  1. A stable regulatory structure The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has served English higher education well in the public interest. Big changes to the way the sector is regulated have been proposed in a new Higher Education and Research Bill currently making its way through parliament. It is crucial that the new regulatory mechanism is equally effective in providing for standards, good management and the effective use of scarce resources. The accumulated wisdom of the previous regulatory regime must be retained in the system.

  2. Crucial Brexit issues It is urgent that students and staff receive firm guarantees on their long-term future in the UK and that – if necessary – a subsided scheme is introduced to replace two-way student movement under the existing Erasmus exchange scheme. Brexit diminishes UK universities’ early access to the best research in Europe as well as sharply reducing income for research. Both are equally important. The problem is inescapable: a large scale government programme for research funding across all disciplines will be needed to fill the gap.

  3. Beyond Europe Relations with emerging Asia and Latin America have now become more important. Greening will need to catalyse engagement with higher education in these world regions through both ministerial leadership and selective incentives.

  4. Teaching Excellence Big changes are afoot in the way the quality of teaching is monitored and rewarded in universities. Greening must “hasten slowly” to put in place comparative measures that are educationally valid, leading to genuine improvements in learning over time. She must avoid proxy measures that turn the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) into a reputation race in which a nominal victory goes to institutions best equipped to manipulate the system, with little real improvement in learning taking place. It would also be a good idea to reconsider the proposal to link the TEF to state university funding.

  5. Research Excellence The Research Excellence Framework (REF) has become a back-patting exercise in which the rate of improvement in research quality is scarcely credible. More stringent international measures of the “world standard” are needed. The REF, next due in 2020, is also too readily gamed by selective inclusion of research, and universities should be required to submit data based on all of their academic staff.

School inspection

Melanie Ehren, reader in educational improvement, UCL

Arrangements for the accountability and monitoring of Multi-Academy Trusts – groups of academies – and the schools they run need to be simplified and streamlined. Head teachers have told us that the different frameworks used can cause confusion over which areas the school needs to improve on. Greater collaboration is needed between the schools inspectorate Ofsted, the Regional Schools Commissioners and the Education Funding Agency in holding academies and their trust to account, with clear frameworks for evaluation, sharing of information, evaluating performance and supporting school improvement.

The arrangements need to address the functioning of the trust itself, not just the performance of its academies. New frameworks are needed which evaluate the quality of the trust in supporting school improvement. These should evaluate the added value of the partnership such as ensuring that children have a good transition from primary to secondary school, the effectiveness of joint professional development across a group of schools or the efficient financing of centralised back office services.

Such frameworks should be part of focused inspections and current reviews of trusts, and included in the monitoring frameworks of Regional Schools’ Commissioners.

Primary education

Dominic Wyse, professor, department of learning and leadership, UCL

  1. Plan for a major review of England’s primary school national curriculum.

  2. Move to national assessment based on national sampling rather than high-stakes competitive assessments for all primary school children. This would mean selecting a nationally representative group of pupils, using random selection, who undertake national assessments which are used as one basis for evaluating the success of teaching and learning.

  3. As a matter of urgency, commission a review of English in the national curriculum, including investigating the damaging effects of the way grammar is currently taught.

  4. Fund a new initiative on creativity in primary education.

Too much measuring. Smiltena/

Teacher training

Clare Brooks, senior lecturer in education, UCL

I hope the new secretary of state will:

  1. Recognise the contribution universities make to the development of professional teachers who have a solid knowledge base and a thorough understanding of what teaching involves.

  2. Recognise the importance of the partnership between schools and higher education institutes in the initial and continuing education of teachers. Higher education institutes play a large role in school-based teacher education and schools contribute enormously to the Postgraduate Certificate in Education.

  3. Consider the international evidence which suggests that initial teacher education should comprise of a two-year integrated programme rather than a one-year programme with variable support afterwards. Newly-trained teachers and recently-trained teachers need ongoing specialist support.

  4. Recognise the contribution of a range of research evidence on improving teaching and learning.

  5. Agree that all teachers should be educated to Master’s level. This enables them to engage thoughtfully with professional dilemmas, to diagnose problems effectively and to find solutions not just for tomorrow but well into the future.

  6. The teacher education system needs stability. Please don’t change it again.

Further education

Ann Hodgson, professor of post compulsory education, UCL

The Sainsbury Review of technical education and the government’s response to it in the Post-16 Skills Plan recognised the strong and clear role for further education colleges and not-for-profit training providers in technical education and apprenticeships. Yet, building a strong technical education system requires considerably more funding than has been the case for further education programmes to date and the Post-16 Skills Plan hedges its bets on this score.

Greening’s new department will need to do considerable and careful work to design the new technical programmes, as well as the all-important transition year and bridging courses that potentially allow for progression and the ability to transfer between academic and technical programmes and apprenticeships.

It is very important that the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education makes full use of the experience and expertise of the educational practitioners who will be implementing these reforms with real learners in different local contexts, as well as satisfying the needs of national employers and professional associations. We have been here before (remember the unfortunate 14-19 diplomas which were discontinued after 2010 when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power). So getting it right this time requires the involvement of all those who will be affected by the changes.

This article also appears on the IOE London blog.

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