A Tale of Two Knights and their Call for Changes to Education

Is UK education now in an “age of confusion”?

Education confusion

According to Sir Tim Brighouse it is.

His speech at the Arts and Media School in Islington made it very clear that education is in the midst of a turbulent time – not exactly news to thousands of teachers and educators. Yet Sir Tim’s speech indicates a real sense of urgency – and a notion that we have finally reached a tipping point.


He said,

“I can find no trace of any national agreement as to the broad purposes of schooling or education for the UK. I can find differing purposes in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. Isn’t it time again  to affirm what is our common purpose? . . . . . . . What we need is an agreement in broad brush of what we would want for our future citizens.”

Another “knight” of education appears to have come to the same conclusion – that the status quo cannot be maintained, that a tipping point has been reached, and a fundamental review of education is needed.

In his speech at CentreForum Sir Michael Wilshaw said there is confusion and neglect in our education system. So after all these years of political direction, media scrutiny and Ofsted monitoring there is . . . confusion? Neglect?


He said,

“The great comprehensive school headteacher knows that a ‘one size fits all’ model of secondary education will never deliver the range of success that their youngsters need . . . At the moment, we have a confusing and ill-defined system of oversight and intervention”.

This is alarming, to say the least. HMCI has only now woken up to this reality?

Sir Tim offer five solutions or starting points for change, Sir Michael – three.

Recommendations for Changes to Education in the UK
Sir Tim Brighouse Sir Michael Wilshaw
1.       Avoid isolation in and between schools and focus on partnership for “Professional Learning” and “School Improvement”. 1.       Clarity and consistency in accountability and oversight.
2.       Adopt a shared language of school improvement. (*8 processes for this) 2.       Review the way all schools work together – providing a truly comprehensive system.
3.       Agree 5 or 6 “experiences” common to all pupils. 3.       Improve leadership, especially leadership of teaching.
4.       An explicit “2nd timetable” for learning outside school or off-timetable.
5.       Pride in achievements past and present in every school.

(* 8 processes include – leadership, management, review [all aspects of school life], environment for learning, focus on learning, promoting staff development, involving students, involving parents.)

On one level, Sir Tim Brighouse and Sir Michael Wilshaw are in agreement.



They both reckon that education has to change. They’re both committed to raising achievement and levels of literacy. They both acknowledge that the less academic pupils have been massively undervalued and ignored by a system committed to high-stakes tests and standards tables (though Wilshaw – for obvious reasons – doesn’t necessarily blame the system). They’re both committed to improvements in vocational education. They both state that strong leadership is integral for change and progress. They both talk of inclusivity and of the importance of assessment. Yet there is far more than a cigarette paper of width between their solutions, and their philosophies on education.

Sir Tim mentions health and wellbeing as an integral part of learning and achievement. Sir Michael doesn’t mention wellbeing at all in spite of the fact that “Personal Development” is now a judgement in the new Ofsted Framework. Sir Tim talks about parental and pupil involvement. Sir Michael doesn’t. Sir Tim embraces educational thinking from the last century. Sir Michael dismisses it.

“If you look through Michael Wilshaw’s annual report of last autumn, or a sample of OFSTED reports on individual schools, as I did of those published in the last week, you will find no mention of for example, Music, Art, Drama, Dance or outdoor education or residentials. . . . . . .  Instead you will find a relentless focus on the basics of literacy and English ( though not as it is spoken) and on numeracy and mathematics backed by a concern with “progress” on these measures.

Of course we want them to be literate and numerate, to be aware of and inspired by the rich inheritance of our own and other people’s cultures in the broadest definition of the word culture, and to feel a growing sense of capacity to contribute to that culture  . . . . . We also want them to grow up healthy . . . . . We might for example decide that it would be desirable to have an accountability system where achievement as well as attainment is assessed, where there is an overt attempt to assess the progress of children in terms of their health and wellbeing, how they are able to be team players especially in solving inter-disciplinary problems which are the hallmark of the modern world. . . . . . In such a system, assessment and accountability would need to change and access to schools would need to be fair rather than the competitive scramble it is now.”
Sir Tim Brighouse 

Tim Brighouse implies that the strict concentration on exam attainment rather than broader achievement has had a massively detrimental effect on learning. Sir Michael Wilshaw continues to bang the accountability drum as one would expect him to do – and that accountability appears to be far more about “standards” than the less-measurable outcomes of learning. Sir Tim says we should adopt change in spite of government priorities and diktats. Sir Michael says we should work with governments to accommodate change:

“We have to address the lingering damage caused by the botched reform of our schools in the ’60s and ’70s. But the ideologues who drove the comprehensive agenda confused equality with equity. They took it to mean that one size should fit all . . . As a consequence, there was a wholesale dumbing down of standards. It meant aggressive anti-elitism . . . The most able are not being stretched. The options for those who struggle are limited. And too few children have access to a curriculum that prepares them for the workplace. . . . .  The fate of the most able pupils in non-selective schools is particularly depressing. Some 60,000 youngsters who achieved the top levels at Key Stage 2 did not achieve an A or A* in English and maths 5 years later. Indeed, only a quarter achieved a B grade.

“We need national politicians to step up to the plate and we need local politicians to take more responsibility for education standards in their area. It means we need joined-up accountability and school partnerships that cater for the needs of all pupils.”
Sir Michael Wilshaw

Sir Tim Sir Michael

We are highly unlikely to get full consensus between these two “Sirs”. But it might help if we start from a place where there is agreement.

Sir Michael Wilshaw made some valid points throughout his speech, which we will review in another post. His assertion that the “one size fits all” education system is failing children is absolutely correct, as is his point that we must stop talking about addressing vocational learning and do something positive, constructive and transformational about it.

However, he has to acknowledge Sir Tim Brighouse’s criticism that our stringent attainment measures have impacted negatively on vocational learning as well as the broader aspects of learning associated with health and wellbeing – and on lifelong learning.

There is agreement about the need for teachers and schools to work collaboratively, and about teachers being able to work across phases as well as subjects. They also agree about meeting the needs of the individual child, and agree that one single approach to schooling, and certainly the existing one, doesn’t begin to deal with the needs of each and every learner.

Over the last few years, there’s been plenty written about education and the need for change.  Almost two years ago, we wrote our own review and critique of education – https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/rearranging-the-deckchairs/

In 2014 Compass and the NUT jointly carried out an extensive education inquiry. Couldn’t this be used as a starting point for discussion? Plus the CBI’s well-argued report in which it calls for radical change that will benefit teachers and learners as well as employers.





As Sir Tim says, we need to bring an end to the “age of confusion” and move towards an age of “ambition and partnership” – a view that is broadly reiterated by Sir Michael Wilshaw.

The means by which we do this is up to us – collectively and collaboratively.  One thing is clear. We shouldn’t wait for government to do this. We should make that change now. A reinvention of education requires a clear vision, with clear aims and objectives. Educators should take the lead in this endeavour, not politicians. The focus should be on the personalisation of learning, and meeting the individual needs of all learners. Other countries are ahead of us in this enterprise. England needs to catch up.


Memo to Sir Michael: Re “Preparation for the workplace”. There is no single workplace. Workplaces that are around today may not be around in 10 years time, or even less. And even if there was “a workplace” our education system should be preparing young people for living productive and fulfilled lives, in the course of which they may have several shifts in career or profession. If this sounds a little bit challenging or ambitious, then perhaps our nation needs to raise its sights and take on higher aspirations for its young people, and indeed resource education properly to enable it to achieve those ambitions.


About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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