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Policies to put education on a stable long-term footing

Rab Butler is monumental figure in our political history. As Winston Churchill steered the nation through the tumultuous second World War, Butler’s pioneering 1944 Education Act abolished educational disparities, laying the foundation for universal free education. This visionary legislation bestowed upon us an inclusive education blueprint for the future.

Today, as a significant general election approaches, the spirit of possibility illuminates our path amid formidable challenges. Over the past four years, FED has served as a neutral and independent platform, bringing together stakeholders from various sectors. We have conducted the largest-ever qualitative consultation on education in England to understand why our system struggles with long-term planning and how it can be improved.

Our research reveals a widespread recognition that frequent changes in priorities and a constant turnover of leadership impede our capacity to develop long-term strategies. Simply put, the system established in 1944 was never intended for long-term planning.

Consequently, a lack of continuity and consistency in direction is exacerbated by political turbulence. Since 1979, we have witnessed 24 Secretaries of State for Education, eleven in the past decade alone.

Short-term planning, outdated governance practices, and electoral cycles all impede effective policymaking and long-lasting implementation. So much so, in fact, that the DfE ‘s 2022 Schools White Paper describes a system that is ‘often messy and confusing’.

FED’s research has revealed a clear mandate for change. An incredible 97 per cent of survey respondents agree that a fresh approach to strategic education planning is imperative. Furthermore, 89 per cent believe the next government should initiate a comprehensive system review within their first 12 months, underlining the urgency of change.

The main party manifesto pledges are positive attempts to address significant issues, but they are sticking-plaster fixes. We need strategic solutions.

Backed by evidence, that is exactly what FED’s stakeholders have brought together.  Their key proposals include:

A Long-Term Planning Framework

This will establish a clear roadmap for sustained educational progress, ensuring that every decision aligns with a unified vision for the future

An Education Council

Integrating a diverse range of perspectives and expertise to identify challenges and set priorities, such a council will build robust governance into the system. This body will provide impartial oversight, valuable input, and guidance to the Secretary of State for Education.

A Chief Education Officer

Backed by an associated office, a sector CEO will serve as the country’s most senior education professional, bring expert advice and a deep understanding of the education system, and help draw public attention to education policy matters, making the process more transparent and accessible.

A National Education Assembly

This would empower communities and educators to actively participate in shaping the future of education, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability that is crucial in this age of a broken social contract affecting behaviour, attendance and more.

These proposals are the very opposite of change for change’s sake. They would provide the infrastructure for the stable policymaking education is crying out for. This would inevitably lead to genuine sector-wide improvement rather than soundbite-friendly but ultimately artificial outcomes.

As one of the nation’s largest enterprises, education needs a comprehensive long-term plan. These solutions promise to establish a cohesive and successful education framework that caters to all levels, from early education to adult learning.

The link between 1944 and 2024 highlights three crucial truths. First, that education has had to adapt to crises before and has done so by becoming more inclusive, not less. And second, that it is possible for a government with a bold vision to define the system for generations, not just the next news cycle.

The third is that we now have an 80-year gap in strategic planning that is no longer sustainable. It is time for the next evolutionary step, and FED’s extensive global, national, and regional research has uncovered vital insights to underpin it.

We have a unique opportunity to live up to Butler’s legacy. All we need is to find the courage to put the long-term interests of the nation’s young people over the expediency of political point-scoring.

So let’s respond to today’s crises by defining education’s mission until 2104.

Read FED’s proposals in full here.

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