These studies in education could influence future policy

Two landmark studies examining the future of education have recently emerged, from UNESCO and the UK’s Department of Education. Both draw conclusions that should be analysed in the context of our own approach to educational improvement.

The ever-evolving nature of education requires continual evaluation, for the benefit of both students and teachers.

Periodically we are presented with significant reports on the landscape and how it could develop in the future, and we have arrived at one such moment, with the almost simultaneous release of studies by UNESCO and in the UK, the Department of Education.

These will undoubtedly impact educational methods on an international level, so it would be prudent for us to examine them ourselves.

We will assess these studies against the framework of our effective knowledge management approach to school improvement. Here we consider their aim, impact on areas of performance and their sources of knowledge.

Aims

The aim of our approach to school improvement is to provide our students, especially the most disadvantaged, with an education that represents the wisdom of the global education community. This is also the aim of the UNESCO report. However, the White Paper, like all approaches to school improvement, has to be seen in its political context, which is one of a government promising to level up the variable performance across the country in all public services, of which education is a critical component. As a result, it focuses on English, rather than global education.

Upwards convergence

Both reports set out to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots in education – This is understandable as the pandemic has harshly exposed the fissure that already existed between those who receive a good education; often those from advantaged backgrounds and those who do not; those from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, our experience shows that over time, raising the bottom of performance without growing the top of performanceleads to a levelling off in performance and potential decline. It is hoped therefore that future reports and policies will address this.

Sources of knowledge

Of the three sources of knowledge we identify – relevant research, emerging effective innovation and best practice – both reports predominantly use evidence, or relevant research, to support their case for an improvement of the education systems they represent. The methodology they use has been championed over the past decade by the England-based Education Endowment Fund. In fact the work of the fund underpins aspects of both reports and the White Paper proposes that it continues to carry out this role in the future. Particularly impressive is the research behind the UNESCO report, which draws on the input of 300 experts from 45 countries in their field, which has been reviewed by 50 scholars.

In both cases, the evidence they have provided has caused them to look at the problem of system-wide school improvement holistically rather than the single focus of other approaches. They accept, as we have described in this journal, that school improvement is the result of the improvement across a web of interconnected variables amongst which the learning of the teachers and school leaders is one of a number of critical factors.


Over the next few months we expect to be making a considerable number of references to the reports mentioned above, these are the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development  report ‘Reimagining Education – The international science and evidence based education assessment” 2022 and the United Kingdom Department of Education’s education White Paper called ‘Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your children’.

These studies represent an ideal opportunity for us to triangulate our approach to school improvement with current international approaches.

Over the past month we have been reminded of how small the global education community can be. Firstly, through the Horasis network we have made contact again after many years with Peje Emilsson, Founder, Kunskapsskolan Education, Sweden who then was kind enough to invite us to the launch of the UNESCO report Reimagining Education – The international science and evidence based education assessment at the Swedish Pavilion and Expo 2020 in Dubai. This was followed by a chance meeting on a bike ride in the desert also in Dubai during which we found out that our co-rider in the ambling peloton we had joined had been taught by both David Cotton, CEO and David Vernon, Executive Principal, of Diverse Academies in Thetford. It’s a small world indeed.

As ever on these trips we received great hospitality in Dubai from Louise and Christian Ford.  A special mention – or should it now be a shoutout – goes to Sam for his coffee and to the long-serving senior members of the staff of Dubai English Speaking College, who made riding around the desert on a Sunday (the new Saturday since January) in 35C heat a lot more bearable.

Take care and stay safe

George

Professor Sir George Berwick, CBE

Reimagining Education – The international science and evidence based education assessment’, UNESCO – Mahatma Gandhi institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, New Delhi, 2022

‘Schools White Paper, Opportunity for All’, Department of Education (England), 28 March 2022

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