Principle and Power – the future of the Labour Party

Thirty years ago I took part in one or two student demos, collected for the miners and marched through London for the CND. The politics of protest didn’t make me join a political party. Naively, I thought I would have more impact in changing minds through the theatre company I had co-founded. I joined the Labour Party in Warminster in 1991 because I wanted to get elected to change things in my town and then across the country.

For me the Labour Party always has to be a marriage of power and principle.  

I remain very proud of what the Blair/Brown government achieved in applying Labour principles in power. The dramatic reductions in child and pensioner poverty, improvements in education and health outcomes for everyone, the minimum wage, rights at work, support for parents, peace in Northern Ireland, and much more. I am especially proud of the reaction to the global financial crisis when Gordon and Alistair together led the international response to prevent the collapse of the global economy, and returned the economy to growth by 2010.

Protest can make me feel and look good, and it can create common purpose, but on its own it rarely changes anything.  

However it is not helpful for Tony Blair, and others, to prophesy annihilation if Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership. We do need a viable alternative. Just telling people they will lose by voting for what they believe in only stiffens the resolve. People want to rally around passion and principle, and from there build support to win power.

So I do understand and respect those people who are supporting Jeremy Corbyn, and I now think he is likely to win.  

Jeremy is very nice, highly principled man. His is an important voice in the Labour Party. The lack of a clear alternative to austerity economics makes his very different prescription attractive.  

But it won’t work.

The world is changing very fast. Globalisation and technological change have transformed things for people. People look at the old deal that if you work hard, get a job, get a house, and save for your pension then you’ll be all right. And they understand that model is now broken.  

There is no job for life, no final salary pension. There are big worries about job security, house prices, student debt and care in a long period of old age. People want answers to these new challenges, not old answers to old problems of the seventies.

It is likely that young people leaving education will have many careers. They will need to continue dipping in and out of learning, and occasionally welfare. They will work well into their seventies. Their current best hope of owning their own home is through inheritance not thrift.  

Facing this level of uncertainty significant numbers of people are reacting against the consensus of the middle ground. The politics of UKIP and the hard left are both in the end in denial of change. They paint a picture of the certainty of the past before globalisation, a time when nation states had control over their own destiny.

The Greek government has shown that attractive anti-austerity rhetoric doesn’t work in practice, and is hurting the very people they were elected to help. If Labour Party members want a more equal society, if they want to end child and pensioner poverty, if they want people better off in work, then they need new thinking not recycled thinking.

That is challenge for all four leadership contenders and the party as a whole.  

I think the future lies in more local, more mutual solutions. At a time when local power generation schemes are starting to emerge, this is not the time to re-nationalise the power companies. Instead it is a time to make it easier for such schemes to raise finance and access the market. At a time when people are using services like Zipcar to get around we need to embrace the sharing economy in transport provision. We are even seeing a growth in meal sharing apps so that neighbours who cook too much food can give it to someone locally who needs it. Amsterdam and Kyoto have a vision as sharing cities – that is where the progressive left should be looking.

The Labour Party does need passion and principle to reappear alongside pragmatism. It needs new thinking true to its values of mutualism and social justice. But it also needs to win around 20,000 votes each in more than 325 different constituencies in 5 years time, if it wants to put new thinking into effect.

Please let’s not pretend that our own Facebook newsfeed represents a cross section of public opinion. Your newsfeed is just full of people who largely agree with you.

If we want to stop austerity economics blighting the opportunities of swathes of poor working families we must reach out beyond our comfort zone. We need to persuade those that voted for our opponents to vote Labour. We need to be credible on the economy and the level of national and personal indebtedness.  

We need a leader with the experience and ability to first unite the party and then the country around an alternative. In doing so we need someone willing to lead new thinking to new challenges.

I will be voting for Yvette Cooper. Read her speech today in full

2015-08-06 19.02.00

Recent Opinion Pieces for TES on education.

I’ve recently been writing opinion pieces for  Here they are:

11th June: On the need for a government focus on teaching rather than schools.

19th June: About the trendy issue of the Growth Mindset in education.

26th June: the potential of pupil voice – if we listen

3rd July: the power of CPD to change – teacher led

11th July: on education innovation

17th July: a proposal for digital education

27th July: are personal devices in school too distracting?

6th August: we need a learning pattern to match the new working pattern

2015-05-22 20.19.35

Berlin to Brazil – it’s all about teachers

Brazil is famous for great food, and great people.  The latter was in evidence for a rich discussion I led at the think tank, Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso in São Paulo on Friday.

I was asked to stimulate a discussion based on reflections on how to improve schools systems.  This was a great opportunity to pull together some of the thinking from my attendance at the World Education Symposium in Berlin and the Education Fast Forward debate two weeks ago, at the Oppi Festival in New York last week and now at Bett in Brazil.  In that time I had been lucky enough to hear from the likes of Howard Reingold, Andreas Schleicher, Randi Weingarten, Andy Hargreaves, Pasi Sahlberg, and Taylor Mali.

First, it is clear that the conflict between education and learning applies across the world.  In this rapidly changing world, people are learning in new ways outside formal education.  Schooling and qualifications are struggling to keep up and to keep learning relevant to the real world.

The coincidence of the 21st century skills demanded by employers, and the learning styles that young people gravitate to is profound. This opportunity is being largely ignored because it is inconvenient for high stakes accountability systems as it is harder to test.  It also requires some new pedagogy from teachers.

The highest performing jurisdictions of Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong are, however, the most innovative. They are designing creativity into their systems.

Secondly, politicians are easily distracted by what doesn’t work at a system level.

Parental choice and new school structures are yet to work at a system level.  Chile, Sweden, the US and the UK show that, whilst there may be innovative schools, it is not raising standards at a system level.

Quality teaching is more important than class sizes or technology.

Thirdly, what is important is great teaching.

“We uplift the people we serve by uplifting the people that serve them” – Prof Andy Hargreaves

The jurisdictions that perform well focus on:

  • great initial teacher training, with recruits from a range of academic backgrounds
  • strong career routes for teachers, and not just into leadership
  • embedded professional development with time for reflection, feedback and collaboration
  • collaborative teacher networks
  • strong leadership of teaching

This is encouraging for my work at TES.  Our collaborative teacher network for sharing resources is growing all the time. Our  Courses are proving popular and are pioneering a new socially based online professional development.  I continue to think about how we might further develop those but also what more should be done on ITT, on teacher careers and leadership development.

And finally here is Taylor Mali performing at Oppi

2015-05-16 11.01.55 from Jim Knight on Vimeo.

2015-05-12 07.31.14

Too many unknowns – the Labour leadership

The Labour Party is less than a week from a shattering election defeat, and already the leadership election appears to be in full swing. Soundings are being taken, domain names registered, and backers recruited. But is the party in a position to choose the right candidate to lead it to victory in five years time?

What do we know about the 2020 election?

It will be held on 7th May 2020.

The world and the country will be a very different place five years on. Politically, we will have had the EU referendum. If we vote to leave there are huge political implications, not least the potential for Scotland to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU.

We also know that by 2020 there will be a new leader of the Conservative party, and therefore a new Prime Minister with a new leader bounce.

Plenty more will have changed. What will be the state of our economy, our public services, our security? If Labour needs a new leader to appeal beyond former coalfield areas, university towns and London, can we predict now the politics of coast and country five years out?

In any other walk of life the new leader would be appointed for around three years. She or he would stabilize the party, lead an effective Parliamentary opposition, and build a good electoral platform through the Scottish elections, the London mayoral elections and the EU Referendum.

There is much to do in terms of listening to neglected parts of the country, raising money, succession planning and changing the party structures to reflect the fragmentation of British politics.

When Tony Blair won in 1997 he had been leader for three years – not a full Parliament. John Smith had done vital preparatory work such as OMOV before he tragically died. This made Tony’s job and reforms considerably easier.

My political friends will call me naïve. But I would love to have a candidate declare that he or she will do the job we need doing for the next two or three years and then will open up a new leadership election. He or she may run again and can be judged on a record of reviving the party’s fortunes, and in comparison with the likely new Prime Minister.

The upside is that those who are dismissed as experienced but too associated with the past, have the chance to use that experience and maybe redefine themselves as leaders for the future. It would also give a chance for candidates that offer a break from the past to build experience and prove through campaigning around the country that they are the one to win in 2020.

The downside is if it became a three-year feeding frenzy for journalists. Potential leaders would need to know they would be judged on their discipline, their positive record and their ability to work with colleagues.

This is not a proposal for a caretaker leader. It is a proposal for a renewable fixed term contract. It is counter cultural, but with the known known of the next General Election and the very many known unknowns of the next five years, I think it may work.


Is Democracy Good for Learning?

As the UK woke up to the political earthquake of the General Election, I was in Berlin listening to the OECD’s education guru Andreas Schleicher. As the architect of PISA test and the TALIS teacher survey he regularly gives great new insights evidenced by data.

Andreas told us some of the things that work in the best performing school systems such as Singapore and Shanghai. Here there is significant investment in teacher capacity, rewarding them well, giving them time for preparation and training funded by larger class sizes, and running a longer learning day with more self directed learning.

He has clear evidence that this focus on teaching capacity works and yet these important findings are not applied in most Western jurisdictions. Incidentally, he also finds more evidence of innovation in the leading Asian systems.

It would have been inappropriate for him, as an OECD official, to point out that the successful Asian jurisdictions were less democratic. However he added a couple of other things. He said that short electoral cycles can be a problem and that politicians are more likely to do what is urgent than what is important. He also pointed out that school choice tends to make no difference because many parents are interested in more than just academic performance – such as school neighbourhood. Andreas was speaking at the inaugural world education summit organised by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The previous day I also took part in the 13th Education Fast Forward debate which discussed the challenge of developing 21st Century skills in schools (such as creative, collaborative, & presentation skills). Both discussions were coming to a similar conclusion.

Howard Reingold strikingly suggested in the EFF13 debate that there is a growing conflict between education and learning, that our qualifications and schooling are hampering the development of learning. He suggested that whilst in times of stability the older generation should be passing on what it knows to young people, at times of rapid change – like now – the older generation should be passing to young people the skills to direct their own learning.

This sentiment was reinforced in Berlin by speakers from Australia, India, the U.S. and Asia.

We can carry on trying to improve the system we’ve been tinkering with for the last 70 years, and nothing will really change. Or we can design a new system based around great teaching that at its heart coaches learning.

And so I came full circle in my mind. This change in teaching may be the right thing to do that ignites the fire of learning that we need for our children to thrive. If so it is really important. But implementing the change would take much longer than a five year electoral cycle and parents, employers and teachers would all need to be persuaded to support it to sustain it.

Meanwhile countries who don’t worry so much about democratic consent are just getting on with it and gaining a competitive advantage.

But I am first and foremost a democrat. Coming back to the UK, I have to accept our election outcome.

I congratulate Nicky Morgan on being re-appointed as Secretary of State for Education. My advice to her is to focus on what is important. In this case it is both important and urgent to address teacher capacity, especially recruitment and development. Here she can build on her record, learn from the best in the world, and many of us on the left of education politics will happily work with her on that vital agenda.


This is for Dot Everyone

This evening I was lucky enough to be invited to the Science Museum to hear Martha Lane Fox’s Dimbleby Lecture. It was engaging, interesting and beautifully delivered, as I would expect. More significantly Martha used the occasion to launch the vision for a new national institution she has christened Dot Everyone.

Martha and I share a passion for digital inclusion. We regularly meet to ensure the organisations we each chair – Go On UK and the Tinder Foundation – are complementing each other in our shared aim of ending the digital divide in Britain. I am also a huge admirer of the work she did as the UK Digital Champion, and subsequently, in influencing long overdue change in the way government embraces digital technology.

It is therefore no surprise that she has used the honour of delivering the Dimbleby Lecture to re-focus on the next challenge so that:

Britain can “leapfrog every nation in the world and become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed on the planet.”

Martha’s analysis starts with the proposition that the power of the Internet is defined by the balance between private companies and public bodies. The dynamism and dazzling pace comes from the private sector but they must operated in an environment regulated for the public good.

And she is right to say that the civic side of the equation needs a boost.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the Olympic 2012 opening ceremonyThe digital revolution could and should be “for everyone” as Sir Tim Berners-Lee defined it in the opening ceremony of London 2012. But the dominance of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook over the net, risks civic society becoming powerless as a very few in California get richer and richer. Governments are then left as bystanders whose role is only to cheer when those that run them are generous enough to turn to philanthropy.

I want a digital society that is defined by the cultures of sharing and co-creation, not increasing control through decreasing privacy.

In her lecture Martha wants her new institution to initially focus on three things:

  • First, how we improve our understanding of the internet at all levels of our society
  • Secondly, how we get more women involved in technology, and
  • Thirdly, how we tackle the genuinely new and thorny ethical and moral issues the internet has created

The first and third go hand in glove.

There are huge security issues around the asymmetric threats caused by cyber terrorism. There are opportunities to impose surveillance on our online activity, for example to guard against grooming by both paedophiles and terrorist groups. But few senior civil servants, ministers or Parliamentarians have sufficient understanding of the infrastructure of the net to know how best to do this.

And few also see the downsides of invading our online privacy.

These are really difficult judgements and need an informed Parliamentary debate that is informed by the public. Right now it is hard to see much public debate. This is a huge failing by politicians and their friends in the media.

Dot Everyone is a bold idea to keep that debate at the forefront.

And should we worry about the paucity of women in tech? Of course we should – if we want the internet to be more collaborative, more inclusive and to grow the culture of sharing online.

I work with some brilliant women in technology – Helen Milner at Tinder Foundation, Rachel Neaman at Go On UK, Louise Rogers at TES Global, Annika Small at the Nominet Trust, Debbie Forster and Iris Lapinski at Apps For Good and Emma Mulqueeny at Young Rewired State. But I also see how imbalanced the sector is as a whole and know that Martha is right to want this fixed as a priority.

There are plenty more questions to ask about Dot Everyone. Are these the only priorities? What about inclusion? Should it be global or national? How should we find it and safeguard its independence?

But by finding myself asking these questions I know I have already accepted the need for it to exist. Which leads to the question I hope many of us will be asking:

Well done Martha – now how can I help?

PS. Visit Martha’s Doteveryone site and sign up to her perition


Internet of Things – an opportunity for Government?

When the world’s mobile telecoms movers and shakers gather in Barcelona next week they will inevitably be thinking about the next wave of the technology revolution. The Internet of Things and Machine to Machine have been talked about for a while and there will be an impatience for the commercial impact to really be felt.

Aside from commercial judgments, what about how governments should exploit the potential of digital to solve today’s challenges. In Barcelona I will be discussing with ministers how we can realise the potential of this new technology across the public sector.

A starting point is the urgent need for governments to do things differently.

The old ways of delivering public services were forged in the post war industrial economy. They are no longer affordable. By contrast, communication with citizens has never been more affordable thanks to social technology. And the problems are now so complex that the only practical way to solve them is collaboratively with citizens.

So this is the right time to argue for a new mindset, learning from the commercial world and finding new models of service delivery. The Internet of Things offers some interesting examples.

I have been using wearable technology to monitor my health for 18 months and know it changes my health behaviour for the good. In doing so I am conscious of the trade off in terms of that health data also going to a third party. If we can find a way of building public trust in the use of their data there is huge potential in public health to save on care and on chronic diseases like diabetes.

There is plenty more. Driverless vehicles can help with congestion, and smart meters can help with affordable heating and tackling climate change. Prof Stephen Heppell has been doing very interesting analysis around the ideal learning environment – the right levels of light, heat, sound and air quality for learning – a smart school can deliver these things. There is also the great learning potential from analysing the huge amount of data created by the Internet of Things.

But I must also sound some warnings.

I have already touched on the growing concern about personal data. Connecting objects appears to be all about creating more data points. Some of that will be data about me that I may not want others to know. If my smart meter is hacked into, could thieves then surmise when my home is normally empty? How safe is my health data and my shopping data?

The technology revolution is creating economic growth but it is not evenly distributed. Recent reports suggests that the richest 1% now own 99% of the wealth. That is not sustainable. The rise of extreme politics and terrorism has to be related to a sense that the status quo is not delivering for many, and so people are looking for an alternative. Will this next technology wave of the Internet of Things lessen or exaggerate that problem?

As a schools minister in the UK, I was responsible for a huge spend on classroom technology. Unfortunately the element of the budget for training got stripped out and so we had a limited return on investment. We had become so be-dazzled by the potential of technology enhanced learning that we had forgotten about the people.

People must be at the heart of this new technology. And here I am impatient to see genuine attempts to design co-creation into public services.

In the commercial world we have seen the technology journey from producer efficiency to consumer personalisation, to now co-creation.

So the challenge is to combine the ability to connect things, with people generated design. Ministers in Barcelona would be wise not be too dazzled by the Machine to Machine technology until the loop is closed of people to machine to machine to people. Then they can get the consent and to harness technology to deliver what the people want from their public services – more for less.