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Reflections on the education policymaking process

From the Office of the Secretary of the State:

Reflections on the policymaking process and their time in office from nine former Secretaries of State for Education, 1986 – 2019

The 1988-2019 period represents one of the most packed of any periods of statecraft in education policy. In many ways, the modern way in which teachers and students experience education in the state sector in England was created in 1988.

But while there have been many reflections on the educational impact of policy during this period, there has been less focus on the ways in which the person holding the most senior position – the Secretary of State for Education - carried out their role. 1 What was their vision for their time in office? How did that gather evidence and set policy? Do they think they had sufficient time and control in office, or did they want more? And how much were they driven by the actions of their predecessors and existing policy?

This essay collection came as part of a wider project run by Patrick Wall and with a goal to “present evidence-based insight into education policy making problems and how to improve them”. This work was commissioned by to Public First, and all interviews were carried out by Public First. The aim of the interviews was to explore with the former Secretaries of State how they carried out their time in office, and reflections on it. Apart from the cover essay from Jonathan Simons which starts this collection, which contains his own analysis, the remainder of this publication is the lightly edited transcripts of the conversations, carried out by Ed Dorrell for Public First. This is the Secretaries of State in their own words.

We hope that these reflections will be of interest to students of education policy, and of policymaking in general. But if this collection of essays has a wider purpose than simple interest, it is to make the case that the process of policymaking needs to be regularly reviewed and considered as part of a whole to ensure a coherent system. This does not mean depoliticising the system. But it means recognising that education is too important to be purely within the gift of Ministers, and that the right type of environment – people, research, programmes, insight and intelligence – needs to be around them in order to support effective policymaking and address some of the biggest ‘wicked’ problems within the system. Many loose ends remain in English education policy, more than 30 years after 1988.

You can download the pdf here:

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