According to Ofsted (Letter, from the Chief Inspector to Shadow Education Minister Kevin Brennan MP -12 June) there are 502 Academy schools where the predecessor school was rated as ‘Inadequate’, at the point of it becoming an Academy. 385 of these schools have  thus far, not  been inspected, since becoming an Academy. However, that leaves 117 that  have been inspected.   Of these, 70,( 60 %), received either a ‘Requires Improvement’  or  an  ‘Inadequate’ rating , while 45,(38%), received an ‘ Outstanding’ or ‘ Good Rating’.  Interesting that.


Teachers cant do much about poverty, but they can make a profound positive difference to every child

In a new publication for Pearson ‘What doesn’t Work in Education’  John Hattie ,the author of Invisible Learning (2009),  which identified  the most effective classroom interventions,   concedes that ‘Poverty, homelessness, abuse and inappropriate use of drugs are all major impediments to students progressing in their learning. They are, in particular, killers of high expectations and encouragement to succeed.’

But he makes the point that ‘ It is my view that we educators cannot do much to fix poverty. Instead, we can offer the best chances to help students’ no matter what their home situation is. Indeed, one of the reasons governments make schooling compulsory is that it offers all students a chance to succeed – and there are many teachers and schools that make important differences to the lives of children from poverty. The mantra needs to be, ‘I can make a profound positive difference to every person who crosses the school gate into my class or school regardless of their background.’

‘Poverty and low family resources are no excuse for not making a major contribution to students, although they certainly make for a tough start. A belief that we can make a difference for children from poorly resourced families is a critical starting point the mantra needs to be, ‘I can make a profound positive difference to every person who crosses the school gate into my class or school regardless of their background.’

So, Poverty and low family resources are no excuse for not making a major contribution to students, although they certainly make for a tough start.

Hattie points out that he was  educated in schools with low socio economic status but his  teachers ‘ helped me to believe that I could succeed in school’.

Teachers, he adds, must ‘find success in whatever way possible, creating the circumstances for success and removing barriers (especially low expectations and explanations of why we cannot effectively teach these students) to allow the best opportunities for all’

Hattie also returns to a theme that he has previously identified as a major barrier to education reforms-that is the need to address the profound variability among teachers in the effect that they have on student learning .Reformers focus on the difference in performance between schools, when they should be paying more attention to the differences within schools, and teacher effectiveness within schools , which are more significant.  Solutions for this can be found  through  improving the expertise of teachers and leaders  and supporting effective  collaborative work and expertise.

He concludes “Recognising, valuing and enhancing the teachers and school leaders with high levels of expertise makes the difference. It’s what works best.”


John Hattie- June 2015

Pearson Report


When it comes to the reform Higher Education the two main pillars of debate are funding and easing access for disadvantaged students to good universities , but there is much more that should be  on the reform agenda than these two issues. For example:


Vice Chancellors Pay 

Vice Chancellors are very well paid indeed, for the most part, and have largely escaped the cold winds of austerity. The big question is- Why? They are hardly, after all,  a group that exhibits inspired leadership or creative and innovative thinking, across the board. If their pay were linked to employment rates for their graduates, ie those who have graduate level jobs,  within six months of leaving their institutions, many, perhaps  most, would suffer long term drops in income. The highest paid university chief in the UK in 2013/14 received a £623,000 salary and benefits package. The outgoing vice chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, Prof Neil Gorman, earned £170,000 more than his next highest paid counterpart. Nottingham Trent said the figure included benefits accrued over a five-year period.

The average vice chancellor salary in 2013/14 was £260,000. And London Metropolitan University awarded Prof Malcolm Gillies a staggering £453,000

What is the reputation of London Met and its degrees -among employers? I think we know.  It has one of the worst retention rates too (see below) so it manages to waste quite a lot of taxpayers money.  Forget  all the  self-serving tosh about market forces, which is seldom  if ever backed by convincing   evidence,  nobody believes that most of these VC packages can be justified, using any benchmark that has credibility. Something has  got to give, as this largesse, care  of the taxpayer ,is unsustainable. With many cutting work forces, we are likely to see tensions develop over the medium term.

 Degree Grading and inflation 

UK universities may shift their system for awarding degrees to be more in line with the US system. The current system is no longer fit for purpose, a government-commissioned advisory group said recently.  More than 20 universities began testing the use of a grade point average (GPA) in 2013. The GPA system awards students a points score on completion of their degree. UCL is among several in the UK to already run the GPA alongside the traditional degree classification.

The two-year pilot, ordered by the government, was aimed at addressing concerns that the traditional honours classification, now more than 200 years old, is outdated.

Critics of the first, 2:1 or 2:2 categories have said its broad marking points make it difficult to distinguish between the best applicants. For instance a 2:1 is required by many jobs, but as more than 60 per cent of students graduated with a first or 2:1 last year  so distinguishing between candidates can be tough.

More universities are awarding First Class degrees too , many more than, say ,20 years ago. It can’t be because students are brighter. Maybe they are working harder, or they are being better taught and supported, if so ,where is the evidence? The strong suspicion is that there is grade inflation. Certainly employers are not finding that students are  any brighter, nor are they finding that they have better skills to cope more easily in the job market.  Also, as employers know, there is little equivalence in the value of degrees in similar subjects between different institutions- those at the top of the league (Oxbridge and Russell Group) and those at the bottom. Students in these not very similar institutions  are investing the same amounts of money in their degrees, though the value of the  respective degrees in the job market clearly  differs.  And, with so many people obtaining degree qualifications there are concerns that academic credentials are losing meaning and value.


Private Sector 

One of the key aims of the previous Government’s higher education policy had been to increase choice and competition in the HE market. A controversial aspect of this policy was the Government’s rapid expansion of the private higher education sector. This looks likely to continue. With students having to invest in their own HE, students influence on HE Institutions will increase and they will use their ability to choose between institutions and sectors. The customer will become king which will be a shock to many HEIs.  Students   will shop around globally to see what best suits their needs. Our universities have not yet realised that this is already happening.  For many years there have been private providers (also referred to as alternative learning providers) in the higher education sector. Private higher education institutions receive no direct public funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) but some receive fees for certain courses, through the student loans system.

Alternative providers are generally small: two thirds are specialist institutions that offer courses in areas such as business, IT, theology and alternative medicine.  In the past private providers offered mostly sub-degree courses to overseas students. However the number of home students applying for their courses is increasing.

In July 2010, just three months after coming to power, the previous Government created the first new private university in over 30 years when it conferred university college status on BPP.

The next year, the Government published the 2011 Higher Education White Paper – Students at the Heart of the System: in this, the Government committed to opening up the higher education market, and as part of this process it increased the maximum tuition fee loan available to full-time students studying eligible courses at alternative providers from £3,375 to £6,000 per year. Following this, in June 2012, the criteria for the granting of university status was changed to allow smaller institutions to qualify.

There are now eight private higher education institutions with degree-awarding powers in England (up from four in 2009), four of which have university status (up from one in 2009).

Some, such as BPP University, are for-profit, while others, such as the University of Law, have charitable status. Only one, though, the University of Buckingham, offers a similar range of courses to public universities. Whether the private sector develops into a viable complement to the public sector, filling gaps in provision and offering low-cost flexible courses, remains to be seen but the laggardly performance of some publicly funded institutions provides a big opportunity for private providers.

Much could depend on whether the new Government tackles the overdue issue of reviewing the entire higher education regulatory framework – this step could improve confidence in the sector and ensure that students are well served by all alternative providers. The fact is current institutions, broadly speaking, do not respond to market demands. The key messages every player in the system needs to accept that the new student consumer is  now king and standing still is no longer  an option. They have to keep moving forward, they need to innovate and be more flexible  in the offers they provide students and be  more relevant to the needs of both students and employers.  Universities will need to respond to the changing demands and expectations of present and future students.

So Some Outstanding questions:

  • What scope is there for alternative providers to deliver further innovation?
  • Is the balance in funding between publicly financed higher education providers and alternative providers right?
  • When will legislation appear that offers a new regulatory framework for all providers of higher education?

Innovative and Flexible Learning 

Where are innovative models of flexible and more affordable learning? Why not have more two year concentrated courses? Why not more work based learning in HE? What about more earn-as-you-learn degrees? There is a demand for new  more flexible approaches.  So,  less swanning around, and propagation of the  one size fits all model-  much more   of a focus on work, preparing undergraduates for the real world of work. Increased competition for students between universities and colleges, and increased direct pressure from students, is intended to prompt greater responsiveness in higher education but the evidence on this is hard to find. On Line courses and MOOCS are growing in popularity, enabling universities to tap into the global student populations, but few institutions here offer this amount of flexibility and are well behind the curve. Inevitably the US takes the lead here.


Just as the curriculum,  teaching and learning are ready for disruption, so too is assessment. Traditionally, universities have hovered between end-of-course formal exams and either modular assessment or dissertations, or some combination of the three. In some places, especially the PhD, its ‘defence’ in an oral exam still holds sway.  Meanwhile, in the real world, technology can have a transformational impact. Pilots are assessed through sophisticated computer simulations and so on. Traditional approaches to assessment can be too restrictive-more ICT options need to be explored. Also why not assess teams of students on a project basis as part of the assessment process as this is more relevant to what happens in the work place? There is still too much testing of students’ short term memories rather than how they apply knowledge with others to create solutions to challenges.

Part Time Graduates 

Since 2010-11, part-time undergraduate entrants have fallen by 105,000 (40 per cent), while on postgraduate programmes the fall was 25,000 (27 per cent). We live in an age of lifelong learning, so the fall in part time graduates in worrying. More attention needs to be paid to the reasons underlying this fall

Mature students 

The drop in undergraduate applications and acceptances from mature students is much greater than that for young students. While acceptances among UK applicants aged 18 and under fell by 1.7 per cent between 2011 and 2012, acceptances among those aged 20 and over fell by 7.1 per cent. This was despite increases in the total numbers of people in their twenties and thirties in the general population. People in the jobs market   increasingly change careers and re-train, so why this fall?


According to UCAS data, 18-year-olds from the most advantaged areas are still three times more likely to apply to higher education than those from the most disadvantaged area. Sutton Trust data suggests that access agreements have had a marginal effect on entry to the best (Russell Group) universities. According to UCAS, 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas are 80 per cent more likely to apply to higher education in 2013 than they were in 2004 .According to the Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, “the most advantaged students are still six times more likely than the most disadvantaged to enter an elite university than the most disadvantaged”. Of course universities are making  bigger efforts in this area and there is a regulator with a stick to encourage them to deliver  but so far the results are disappointing. Part of the problem is that disadvantaged pupils are either getting poor guidance or no guidance at all  about  the qualifications they should choose if they aspire to a university education.And too few  FSM pupils are getting good GCSEs.

Students Face to Face Time 

The face time that students receive from academics has declined significantly over the last ten years. How many hours a week will you be busy in lectures, seminars or one-to-one sessions with subject tutors? It depends on the course you take, but because the massive expansion in universities was underfunded, academics can’t give students the individual quality time they used to, and that impacts on the quality of the education being provided to students.  Vice-chancellors will privately acknowledge somewhat wearily that the number of contact hours students receive is a major issue with parents specifically those who are graduates themselves, who compare and contrast what they experienced, with whats  being offered to their children, and they dont like what they see.  Students need face-to-face time with tutors in smaller groups to develop and test their understanding. They also need direct feedback, the quality of which varies considerably between courses and universities. University websites and prospectuses are failing to give a detailed picture of what work will be like at university and what students can expect in terms of face to face time.


International Students 

A hostile immigration policy is having an effect on the attractiveness of the UK to foreign students. The Home Office continues to include students in their target to reduce net migration. The post-study work rules imposed on international students who complete their studies are less generous than in many other countries. A sensible policy would be to give an unequivocal welcome to all legitimate international students.

Numbers show significant fluctuations in some of the major exporters of students to English higher education, including an 18 per cent increase in students from China since 2010-11 and a 29 per cent decrease in students from India. But there is strong anecdotal evidence that international students are now being deterred from applying to UK universities and the USA, Canada and Australasia will be the clear beneficiaries of this policy. Vice Chancellors are certainly concerned. Some universities are setting up satellites abroad but this represents a small minority. There is growing evidence that American and European Universities are attracting more of our brightest students. Oxbridge’s arcane interview process is thought to discriminate against bright state educated pupils who are beginning in greater numbers to look to the USA. .  One Harvard bound private pupil summed up his  reactions to  the prospect of  an Ivy league education thus-at  the Oxbridge interviews they asked me   what I   could do for them, at Harvard they told me  what they would  do for me  having looked at my interests….

We may be second in the pecking order of world class universities but this position is under threat due to complacency and inability to place the needs of our students first and due to the growing perception abroad that we are hostile to foreign students.

Advice and Guidance

Poor, or no, advice in schools at critical stages acts as a barrier to social mobility and improved access to HEIs. The provision of high-quality information, advice and guidance is critical at an early  age to help pupils at school and college to make important choices about their future careers. Recent changes to this provision now mean that independent and impartial careers guidance no longer extends to post-16 provision, the point at which students really do need formal careers guidance support. There is little face to face advice from professionals available. Advice needs to be   consistent, high quality and available to all ages.   Both social mobility and Access  is damaged by a lack of good careers guidance.  The current system . if you choose to call it that, of careers education and guidance, is patchy and fragmented which means that many young people are not making informed choices, and, indeed, in some instances are making the wrong choices ie choosing qualifications that are not appropriate for Higher Education, though they may be planning on applying to universities. We know that Russell group universities favour particular A levels-and if disadvantaged students dont know about this it reduces their chances, self-evidently, of getting into a Russell group university.


Official figures show that more than one-in-14 students quit higher education altogether after less than 12 months and numbers soared to almost a quarter at the worst-performing institution. In all, an estimated one-in-10 students will fail to finish the course they started after either quitting higher education, switching to other courses or leaving with a lesser degree. Across Britain, 7.4 per cent of students – including school-leavers and mature students – dropped out of university in 2010/11, the latest available figures. It represented 27,230 students compared with 31,755 – or 8.6 per cent – a year earlier. In England, the highest drop-out rate was the 16.6 per cent recorded at London Metropolitan University. An estimated 21.7 per cent of London Met students will fail to properly compete the course they started. These rates are unacceptable. If Universities cannot retain their students and have a poor post-graduation employment record they should reform, merge or frankly go out of business.  Undergraduates would face better prospects seeking direct employment or going into structured training programmes and  high quality Apprenticeships, without the burden of debt that graduates have to bear.

Post HE Employment

For first-degree graduates, early-career salaries have risen only slightly over the last six years. Some universities are building employability more firmly into their strategies but many are not.  For Imperial College London  the per cent of its graduates  in employment 6 months after graduating is  89.9- Which is at the top end of the scale. The problem with these  post -graduation employment figures  is that they don’t differentiate between what kind of employment (i.e. working the checkouts in Sainsbury’s versus a competitive graduate scheme ie Teach First) and don’t  take into account graduates who would prefer to wait (maybe even up to 6 months sometimes) and find a good full-time job doing internships instead.   However,  alarmingly, nearly 40 per cent of graduates are looking for work six months after graduation, while a quarter are still unemployed after a year, according research released in early 2014 .Conducted by the graduate recruitment website, the survey also shows that almost half of all graduates wished they had steered clear of academic courses, opting for ‘something more vocational’ instead.  An ONS report published in 2013 also showed that 47 per cent of graduates employed within six months were working in jobs that did not require a degree. Young people are looking at these figures and beginning to ask whether a university education is all worth it.Young people might also reflect on the fact that the  wages gap between those with and without a degree is narrowing, as graduates are typically earning over £1,000 less now than they were five years ago. Yes,  graduates benefit from an earnings premium over non-graduates, but….  The truth is  that for some university may not be an appropriate choice, although there is  real pressure for young people to go to university if they have the right qualifications as it is seen as a passport to join the middle classes.


An IPPR report  (see below)says that universities will increasingly find it difficult to cater for everyone. Universities will need to be sharper and clearer about what they offer and to whom. What we have now is too many universities, stretched too thin offering degrees that are of insufficient quality and are not rated by employers.

Pastoral Care

Pastoral care in many universities is  perceived as poor. Many school leavers away from home for the first time often feel isolated and unsupported and schools don’t offer support in non-cognitive coping skills that might ease the transition from secondary school to university.  Academic problems, personal and financial difficulties ,Ill Health  –  both mental and physical- these are all experienced by students.   The Higher Education  institutions’ slowness in responding to mental health needs of students is seen as a  big challenge. Depression in young men, particularly, at university, is an enduring problem  and more needs to be done to spot and support those in difficulties.

Student satisfaction

According to the NSS- Some 86 per cent of the 321,000 final-year undergraduates who responded to the latest survey said they were satisfied overall with their course, up from 85 per cent last year. Assessment and feedback was again rated the lowest by students, with just 72 per cent saying they were satisfied with this, the same level as last year.

But if you talk to real students about their university experience after graduation these NSS surveys don’t seem to tally up at all with their experiences. You hear grumbles about poor teaching, limited access to tutors, poor pastoral care,  virtually no feedback in many cases, poor quality lectures, poor careers advice etc. I smell a rat. Does the NSS adequately measures student satisfaction? Are the standard, multiple-choice questions the NSS asks really able to gauge the student experience in any meaningful way? I think not.  Buckingham, the only fully fledged private university, has been top or near top of the National Student Survey (NSS) in student satisfaction since 2006.  Also in respect of Career prospects, it is Ranked 1st out of 119 universities (Guardian University Guide 2014). Interesting that.


You will find most universities are pro-EU. If the UK withdraws from the European Union, that will shut off a major source of UK universities research funding. While the UK has just 0.9 per cent of the world’s population, it accounts for 4.1 per cent of researchers, 6.4 per cent of research articles and 15.9 per cent of the world’s most highly-cited articles.  But there are real concerns that money from the government for research is in decline. The 2014 Autumn Statement foresaw £92 billion of fiscal tightening during the next Parliament. The Institute for Fiscal Studies(IFS)said this could mean a cut of 40.1 per cent in the budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills(BIS).The knock on effects for Research budgets could be grim although there is evidence that public spending on research can ‘crowd in’ funding from other sources.

And, on the financial/funding side:

Fees in England are nearly four times higher than in Ireland and seven times higher than the next most expensive country in the EU, the Netherlands. English students now graduate with over three times more student debt than the average American student.

But it looks like the long-term costs of the post-2012 system could surpass those for the system it replaced because of high loan write-off cost. So the funding model may not be sustainable over the longer term.

This is how a 2013 report for the IPPR think tank,on the future of global, HE concluded:

‘In conclusion, the combination of marketisation – the student consumer as king with options outside universities for talented students too – and globalisation will lead to universities being less and less contained within national systems and more and more both benchmarked globally and a leading part of the growth of knowledge economics – collaborating and competing. In the new world the learner will be in the driver’s seat, with a keen eye trained on value. For institutions, deciding to embrace this new world may turn out to be the only way to avoid the avalanche that is coming. Just as an avalanche shapes the mountain, so the changes ahead will fundamentally alter the landscape for universities.’

This seems to me to encapsulate the very   real challenges currently facing the HE sector.

IPPR report ‘An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead ‘-Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly, Saad Rizvi March 2013


New  Governors Framework says  CEIAG must be  provided to pupils and  governors should  check on   pupils’  destinations

Governors should have a role in support of pupils aspirations according to a new ‘  ‘Framework for Governance’ published by the NGA and Wellcome Foundation . Under the heading ‘Future Aspirations for Pupils‘  the Framework says:

‘Pupils with high aspirations are more likely to go on to university, apprenticeships and other forms of further education or training, leading to rewarding and successful careers. They are also more likely to work hard to achieve their aspirations and therefore reach their full potential academically.’ Checking on careers guidance and where pupils end up is also part  of good governance according to the Framework.


  • Careers information, advice and guidance delivered to pupils and feedback from this
  • Pupil surveys
  • (Secondary) Proportion applying for degree programmes at universities (including elite universities), vocational programmes at colleges and apprenticeships
  • (Secondary) Number of former pupils not in education, employment, or training (NEET)

‘Improving governance for schools -A Framework for Governance: A flexible guide to strategic planning- January 2015’



Note- A recent survey by the CDI and Careers England  in secondary schools  suggests  that careers guidance remains  patchy across schools  and most advice  is being given by teachers without the  appropriate  QCF Level 6 qualification ( ie as recommended in Statutory Guidance)



Its a given that we live in austere times, and that we have to make what we have work better for us. When it comes to careers guidance and development you will find no stakeholders , and I mean’ no’, who think that the policy is currently  either joined up or cost effective.   Some adults are not too badly catered for, but for young people, and particularly the disadvantaged,  the support is patchy and fragmented,  and a post code lottery. Funds in the system could and should be better utilized and invested to secure the outcomes the government wants for  its  education, social, economic  and employment agendas.   But it urgently needs some overarching strategic management that cuts across departments and  makes better use of the various funding streams already there, to ensure all ages have easy  access to good  career guidance and  development.

One of the leading UK based  experts  on Careers development is Professor Tristram Hooley, of the University of Derby. What does he think are the challenges that confront the Cameron government on Careers?

  • Making the new careers company a reality
  • Co-ordinating between different departments.
  • Developing the National Careers Service.
  • Dealing with the potential fall out of cuts to school budgets and wider public spending
  • The need for a public career development” initiative.

We live in an era where what works matters ,more than it ever has, and evidence is supposed to inform both policy and practice. So what does Professor Hooley say about  what  the evidence tells us about career development ?


Career development should focus on the individual across  the life course  

Career development should support learning and progression

There is a need to ensure quality and efficacy of career development    

Source: The Future of Careers Guidance in UK-19 May 2015  Presentation to Inside Government  Event -T Hooley


What is expected of the new Education Secretary.? The short answer is that she will be expected to ensure that the performance of our system, and  the schools and students  within our system, improves against established , measurable outcomes  . The drive will be, as ever ,to improve the performance of all our students, but, particularly,  the most disadvantaged and to ensure that the gap between them and their peers narrows significantly.  We have the outcome measures and  measurable deliverables in place.

But, as  Sian Townson,  a writer, scientist and academic, at the University of Edinburgh reminds us (in the Daily  Telegraph 19 May )  ‘science tells us that when you focus on the outcome measures, the process is affected: people start to train for the measures directly, rather than the measures being indicative of correct training. These measures are not conducive to education.’ (see notes below)

When she  is talking about education, she means a rounded education, one that nurtures ‘creative ‘ and ‘ imaginative thinking’. Children are drilled in stuff that can easily be assessed but ‘that is not how you inspire or educate’ young people . This criticism is hardly new. Many commentators have suggested that we force our teachers to teach for the test,  that there is not enough time set aside  for truly educating the child , too much time is spent  on assessed academic subjects,   so schools are little more than  exam factories ;  and we only value what we can easily measure,   and so on.

There is a problem, Townson says, because of the ‘prevailing motivational climate’. The argument is that with all these measurable outcomes, ranking and league tables there really isn’t enough autonomy (we have controlled autonomy) to allow schools to really  educate, in the true sense of the word ,our children.   In short, schools really aren’t that autonomous. (True)

Here is how Townson expresses the kernel of the problem -which is essentially, to her, about the wrong controlling environment:

‘Within developmental and education research there is a pillar called self- determination theory. It states that in order to fulfil our basic needs we need to create the right sort of environment. The desirable environment is autonomy-supportive (non-controlling), defined by having provision of choice, rationales for imposed structures, recognition of participant’s feelings and perspectives, frequent opportunities to display initiative, useful feedback, no overt control and criticism, an appropriate reward system and the avoidance of ego-involvement such as rankings.

When supervised externally, and hence assessed and ranked by outcome measures, our schools meet the opposite criteria – that of a controlling environment for both the teachers and the pupils.

This is the environment that studies have shown to cause stress, poor performance and burnout, again not just for the teachers but for the very pupils that we’re meant to improve.

Increased autonomy has been attempted with private schools, faith schools and academies, but they haven’t escaped the league-table battles and so haven’t avoided the controlling motivational climate. A central education policy is needed, one that has the courage to sidestep the rankings. Here in the UK we have world-class potential not just in education but in educational research and theory. It’s time to practise what we preach.’

So, what are the chances of the accountability framework or ‘controlling motivational environment’ changing any time soon?  Not great. Maybe a bit on the margins, at a push. But if  we are serious about improving the education offer, of helping to develop character and  support the development of non-cognitive skills in our children (for which there is a clear demand  both at universities and in the work place), we really have to think a little  harder about how we  build the right enabling environment, and  ensure that there are   incentives in the system ,to deliver the outcomes we want. .


Note- Campbells and Goodharts Laws

Campbell’s law is an adage developed by Donald T. Campbell(1976)

“The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Goodhart’s law is named after the banker who originated it, Charles Goodhart. Its most popular formulation is: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”  Or ‘Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.’

(Goodhart’s original 1975 formulation)



The 2014 Triennial Review of the British Council  (BC) found:

‘Conflicts of interest inherent in the present arrangements lead other UK providers of similar products and services to believe that the British Council represents unfair competition. It also finds that there are some grounds for concern that the organisation could be limiting potential opportunities for other UK providers in a growing market where the UK has significant natural advantages. In this regard some transfer of responsibility to UKTI might be appropriate’

So, after years of robust  denials that it had any negative impact on other education suppliers . or the  education market more generally, the BC had been found out.

For many years big hitting education exporters   have  complained to successive governments that the British Council was using its privileged, monopolistic position to benefit itself rather than other British based providers, which amounted to a conflict of interest. They argued, rather compellingly, that you can’t promote other  UK education providers,  abroad(a key role of the BC) while concurrently competing with them, and taking most of the big contracts , from under their noses. The BC is supposed to help the export efforts of UK plc  which is why presumably  it is   still subsidized by the UK taxpayer.   But it competes head on with  unsubsidized UK companies for big ticket contracts. Often co-located  with British embassies  it has    privileged access to  local contacts  and  local market- sensitive information, care of local diplomats.   You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to work out that this is a clear conflict of interest. It also  acts as a barrier to market entry for companies   who see the dominance of the BC, hear of the way it operates in the market  and decide its  far too risky to get involved  . Small operators  often simply get nudged aside or are  undermined by the BC.   This in turn undermines our education export success.

Education Investor now reports  that Derrick Betts, vice president at consultancy firm Parthenon-EY, is to take an externship at UKTI Education commencing in January 2016.

In November 2014, Education Investor reported that audit firm Ernst & Young (EY), Parthenon’s parent company, had been hired to advise on the restructuring of the British Council. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has asked EY to consider three new operating models for the BC , one of which would involve transferring some of its responsibilities to UKTI Education. (see above)

Some might be worried that there is a conflict of interests here, too . But it could simply be a move that anticipates the results of the Review ie that there will be  some  transfer of responsibility to UKTI.  Matthew Robb, managing director at Parthenon-EY, told Education Investor that: “Derrick is a super hardworking guy with great expertise, particularly in private schools.” UKTI declined to comment on Mr Bett’s appointment.

We shall have to see what happens. But its worth mentioning that the BC has been very good in the past  , with FCO support, of course , at protecting what it sees as its interests, (which is not necessarily the same as  that  of  UK  taxpayers or suppliers)  and it will be lobbying behind the scenes to do just that. Whatever the outcome of the Review ,remember the plight of the small operators . UKTI is interested in the big  ticket contracts,  and big operators , the smaller ones  will probably still  have to   plough a lonely furrow, under the predatory shadow of the BC.

The Triennial Review