The IOE’s director reflects on the past five years as he prepares to move on.
Tom Stoppard has the right line: in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, his sideways look at Hamlet, one of the hapless courtiers urges the other to ‘look on every exit as an entrance somewhere else’. It’s now five years since I was appointed Director of the IOE – five years in which the landscape of education policy in England has been transformed in every direction. Five years ago, there was no pupil premium, and so no pupil premium toolkit, indeed, no Education Endowment Foundation. There were no teaching schools, there was no EBacc; there were just a few hundred academies, all sponsor-led. GCSEs were largely modular in form. There was no baseline assessment and no phonics screening check. University fees were capped at £3,000 and student numbers centrally controlled. In five years, all this has altered with the most radical of changes in curriculum, assessment, school structures and accountabilities.
It has been an exceptional privilege to lead the IOE through this period. The Institute is a hybrid: simultaneously researching education and being thoroughly engaged in it. In my view, that’s what makes it so interesting and effective. It has been rewarding to see the IOE become more research engaged with schools, build relationships with Teaching School Alliances, lead the National College Research and Development Programme for Teaching Schools, and collaborate closely with the Education Endowment Foundation as well as with so many other stakeholders. It’s been fabulous to see applied research centres including the Centre for Holocaust Education and the Centre for Research in Autism and Education become so influential. The IOE blog has been established as a highly respected, but responsive and relevant source of education expertise, with trenchant and stimulating views from genuinely world-leading academics. As IOE Director I have been fortunate enough to serve on the Academies Commission, capturing the impact of the wholesale academisation of the school system, and then on the Commission on a College of Teaching – now bearing fruit in the development of the College.
And throughout this time, the IOE has been exceptionally responsive to the changes it has described: adapting our masters provision to reflect the changing nature of CPD in schools, developing our initial teacher education provision to respond to School Direct, working closely with Teach First to expand and develop the reach of that programme, extending our consultancy work to support change and development, growing the range and influence of the IOE Press, leading the London Festival of Education. It’s the liveliest, most innovative and most challenging of institutions, never afraid to do what universities must always do – to speak truth unto power, however unpalatable power may find the truth.
And all these changes have been taking place against the background of much deeper changes in education, including the pedagogic tsunami of changing technologies: the IOE’s first MOOC, in 2014 was genuinely innovative, providing a tool for primary teachers across the world to develop thinking about learning design. There have been others too – the ‘knowledge turn’ in curriculum, so ably presaged by the thinking of IOE curriculum theorists such as Michael Young and David Scott; the continuing fixation on international comparisons, brilliantly mapped in an IOE project on curriculum models in high performing jurisdictions, led by Tina Isaacs; the global focus on teaching and learning, analysed by the OECD TALIS programme, led in the UK by an IOE team; the globalization of higher education, now being explored in a new ESRC research centre led by Simon Marginson. I could go on (and as some people point out, I often do). Leading the IOE has been like curating a fabulous, if frenetic, education museum. It was fantastic to be ranked first in the world for education by QS in 2014, and beyond expectations to be ranked in the same position in 2015. Finally, the long-term future of the IOE as a world leader has been secured through merger with UCL in December 2014.
But now I am moving on. I have accepted a new job, as Vice Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, which I’ll take up in 2016. It’s a different sort challenge, in a different part of the country, but a university with an enviable record in creating opportunity and securing success. Making a decision to leave a job you love, and a team which works well, is always difficult; the choice between the challenges you know and the ones which may be coming is a difficult one. We can all leave too soon, just as we can all out-stay our welcome. I’m sure that the time is right for me to seek a new challenge, which is not to say that I won’t miss my fantastic colleagues and the amazing work they do in this most vibrant of cities. But the world is changing again, and each of us needs to work out where we can make the most significant contribution. Sheffield Hallam is one of the country’s biggest universities with almost 35,000 students, and I am genuinely excited by the quite different challenges involved in leading a very large, comprehensive, urban university, and in finding ways to lead and enthuse my new colleagues.
Exit, but not, happily, pursued by a bear (The Winter’s Tale, I, 3).