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Lord Baker: “The next Education Secretary will have to overcome opposition to reform.”

Today headteachers and principals must be prepared to react to or instigate dramatic change in their school.

This includes changes to regulations, with Ofsted and the Department for Education currently reforming inspections in response to the tragic death of Ruth Perry.

School leaders must also keep up with changing demands from employers, who expect young people entering employment to be comfortable with new technologies such as artificial intelligence. Principals across the University Technical College programme are constantly and successfully adapting to the shifting demands of employers and order books.

Lord Baker

There are even changes to the structure of the school to contend with. Many headteachers and principals are having to grapple with the problems caused by RAAC and other legacy issues such as asbestos.

On a grander level, school leaders must be prepared to change how and what their school delivers to ensure their students are prepared for their next stage – be that education, employment, or training – and their life’s journey.

Dyson provides example of how to enact change

One of this country’s leading agents of change has been Sir James Dyson. Having built his success on innovative thinking and questioning established theories in manufacturing, he has recently turned his attention to reforming education.

Sir James’ donation of £6 million to Malmesbury Primary School to allow it to build new facilities including a science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths centre will be a boon for students and local employers.

I would like to think that Sir James’ donation follows in the same tradition as mine and Lord Dearing’s work in establishing the University Technical College programme. He recognises, as we did, how important it is that young people experience technical education at a young age, so they develop a mature understanding of their life options.

Much like us, however, Sir James is having to fight outdated thinking and entrenched bureaucracy to establish new STEM provision.

His donation depended on the school receiving permission from the Department for Education to expand its pupil numbers from 420 to 630. Wiltshire Council has opposed this because it may mean inferior primary schools in the area will close.

Thankfully, common sense has won through and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has greenlit Malmesbury’s expansion.

Yet this episode highlights that the best changes and the most vociferous agents of those changes will always come into conflict with received wisdom.

The next government must be an agent of change

The next government will have to make a great many changes to our education system. In early years, in schools, and in further and higher education, infrastructure and personnel are at the very end of their tolerances and the sector is in dire need of not just investment, but reform.

The Education Secretary in this new government, whether they be Labour or Conservative, will have to overcome opposition to reform the curriculum and improve both school behaviour and attendance. The urgent need is to provide employability skills for every student. I believe this means EBacc and Progress 8 should be abandoned to allow all schools greater flexibility to introduce technical, practical and cultural subjects – all of which have been in decline since 2010. Our schools and students deserve a 21st century curriculum suited to our digital and green age.

So, I would press them to be bold, not just in their spending commitments but in the scope of their ambition and in how vociferously they push change. We do not need tinkering around the edges, but changes on the scale of Rab Butler’s 1944 Education Act, to ensure students are enthusiastic and prepared for their future.