Education: Educational Review Article

Considering the big picture: How important are policy initiatives?

Academic and journalistic comment is prioritised by the endless flood of policy initiatives. Yet these can be seen to be determined by long term intellectual frameworks which define why some issues remain constant and others remain marginal. Thus the dominance of academic provision and neglect of the vocational dates back to the C19th. However within these long term determinants, major shifts of policy emphasis do take place, but do so within relatively long run parameters.

These may be considered as Kuhnian paradigms, ie, intellectual structures which determine what evidence is accepted and what rejected. The results can be regarded as irrational, and the author follows the CFBT report of 2010, Instinct or Reason: How Education Policy is made in seeing policy imperatives as not being driven by evidence.  He argues that this is a relatively modern development, of the last thirty years, but that education policy has always been driven by paradigmatic agendas.

In the post war era three can be detected: (a) the tripartite paradigm, embedded in the 1944 Education Act (b) the comprehensive paradigm, implicit in the Crosland circular 10/65; and the marketisation paradigm enshrined in the 1988 Education Reform Act. The latter also embodied a major shift in power to the Secretary of State and the removal of professional autonomy from teachers and the marginalisation of democratically elected local authorities. As with all Kuhnian paradigms, anomalies exist.

The author considers the current policies of Michael Gove, while embodying much that is new, notably Swedish style Free Schools and a reversal of recent attempts to develop vocational education, are a continuation of the third paradigm. The rhetoric of a “Conservative Revolution” is therefore misleading: the current paradigm remains the framework for policy making and analysis.
Trevor Fisher

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