Thoughts on Releasing the Political Grip on UK Education: Could the Haldane Principle Offer Inspiration?

The argument that the UK education system should not be thrown around on the tides of politics is frequently made and the extant situation bemoaned: every time a new minister for education or political party takes the helm, everything changes, and teachers and children suffer. It even affects educational delivery in other countries, as so many British curriculum schools exist internationally.

Activist efforts to reclaim pedagogy grassroots style are often made by teachers themselves (e.g. through teachmeets and conferences, in schools and even pubs – c.f. ‘#BrewEd’). More formalised efforts to remove education from the tight grip of political interference also come in the form of the Chartered College of Teaching, set up in much the same manner and with similar aspirations to the Royal College of Nursing – to create a professional body to oversee, nurture and lead the profession and to eventually regulate it no doubt.

Another example exists, from within education itself, which may also offer a model to consider for further innovation and development, perhaps aligned with the idea of expert peer review.

I refer to the manner in which research funding is allocated in the UK, based on ‘The Haldane Principle’: “the idea that decisions about what to spend research funds on should be made by researchers rather than politicians” –“named after Richard Burdon Haldane, who in 1904 and from 1909 to 1918 chaired committees and commissions which recommended this policy”[i]

“In 1918 Haldane’s committee produced the “Haldane Report”. The report suggested that research required by government departments could be separated into that required by specific departments and that which was more general. It recommended that departments should oversee the specific research but the general research should be under the control of autonomous Research Councils, which would be free from political and administrative pressures that might discourage research in certain areas. The principle of the autonomy of the research councils is now referred to as the Haldane Principle. The first research council to be created as a result of the Haldane Report was the Medical Research Council. The principle has remained enshrined in British Government policy”[ii].

Certainly, releasing education from political pressures would be welcomed by many.

What if an evolved version of the Haldane Principle were adapted for review of educational policy, practice and school inspection? Government officials influenced by politics would no longer be able to interfere and influence the direction of education. UK education may even become self-regulating. Imagine if your school was not inspected by Ofsted, but instead a local panel of headteachers representing a cross-section of regional schools, who were not ascribing a ranking or rating to the ‘inspected’ school, but instead providing expert peer review to be channeled directly into school improvement and recommendations for authentic and constructive assistance based on contextual need.







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