I’ve already written about my own departure from the IOE – leaving, in just a few weeks’ time, to become Vice Chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University. As we all know, leaving one job and starting another is a time of mixed emotions: the combination of apprehension and excitement, the sense of the unfinished business which will remain forever unfinished, the opportunity, albeit briefly, to take stock. It’s in this context that I reflect on the award of a Queen’s Anniversary prize for Higher Education to the Institute of Education.
Few things call forth more world-weary cynicism in education than league tables and prizes. Educationists are all too well aware of the tenuousness of assessment judgements: always based on a myriad of evidence, always sounding more definitive than the evidence might suggest, always made at one point in time. But there is also a quiet delight when external recognition arrives. The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes are a biennial award scheme within the UK’s national honours system. They are the most prestigious form of national recognition open to a UK academic or vocational institution. The awards are presented by The Queen, with the Duke of Edinburgh, in recognition of work by universities and colleges judged to be of world class excellence. Winning a Queen’s Anniversary Prize is a great treat.
The citation for the IOE’s Prize recognizes the IOE’s “world leading contribution to the policy and practice of education with international reach around innovative social research”.
The prize citation recognizes the IOE’s twin missions in research and teaching, and, insofar as a thirty-word citation can do, reflects the IOE’s range and influence. The IOE was established in 1902 to train teachers for the rapidly developing schools of London – then the world’s largest city.
Teacher education, at all stages of the career cycle, remains critical to our mission, but we now do far more. Innovations in the last five years have been extensive. The Institute is the only center in the UK higher education system focused on building capacity in the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in schools. Our Confucius Institute for Schools leads a network of ‘Confucius Classrooms’ in England which serve as centres of excellence, providing professional development and advising other schools interested in offering Mandarin for their pupils. The Institute’s Centre for Holocaust Education is the only institute in the world to combine research into classroom needs with programmes specially designed to enable teachers to meet those needs and challenges. The Centre recently released the most detailed and authoritative national portrait ever created of students’ knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust, drawing on responses from over 8,000 11-18 year olds. The IOE’s Centre for Research and Evaluation in Muslim Education is a critical resource for understanding and promoting cross-cultural dialogue at a time of profound and troubling challenge to multi-faith societies.
Our work extends way beyond the UK, extending across 100 countries. The Institute has made a sustained contribution to education in developing countries. Its recent research has included work to improve access to education in India, and to raise the quality and reach of primary education in Sri Lanka, work to facilitate girls’ access to education and improve their safety and wellbeing across Africa, and engagement with education policy as a means of progressing relations within post-civil-war Myanmar.
These projects have achieved their impact, each affecting tens of thousands of children and their communities, through close collaboration with third sector partners, the DFID and agencies such as the World Bank.
And the IOE’s understanding of education is very broad. It includes the Thomas Coram Research Unit’s innovative new approach to providing research evidence for policy-makers in the field of children and families and the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre’s pioneering use of systematic review beyond the medical field. The Institute also hosts four of the national cohort studies, including the Millennium Cohort Study which is following more than 19,000 children who were born in the UK at the turn of the century.
There has never been a time in this history of the world when education has mattered more, in more ways to more people than it does today. If something of the Institute’s achievements and importance is captured by the Queen’s Anniversary Prize, then it’s worth celebrating.