Introducing John Cridland

Tuesday this week saw the third annual Education lecture at Brunel,  given by John Cridland, Director General of the CBI. It was a brilliant lecture and a fantastic evening, with over 180 people attending in the Eastern Gateway auditorium. A link to a recording of the lecture will appear, sooner or later, on the Brunel website but in the meantime I’m posting my introduction to this years’s lecture here. It gives some sense of the way Education has developed, historically, at Brunel as well as giving the rationale for the Education lectures and our choice of John to give this year’s. (And yes, he did say what I say he did; it’s not apocryphal: in his view, the ideal graduate, from a business perspective, is ‘a numerate drama graduate’. Shocking – but in a good way).

The Independent newspaper reported the lecture here but didn’t capture much of what he had to say (and I am guessing that well over half of the audience were not academics, so the paper’s description wasn’t right either). 




Welcome to the third annual Education lecture, sponsored by the Department of Education here at Brunel University London.

I’m going to say a few words now about Education at Brunel – as well as education more widely – before going on to introduce this year’s lecturer, John Cridland CBE, the director general of the Confederation for British Industry.

Although Education might appear to be a new department here at Brunel, consequent to the Transformational Change Project, Education was one of the earliest departments established at Brunel as it became a university in 1966, formed from the old Brunel College. In fact, the first Vice-Chancellor and principal, Dr Topping, decided to add a Department of Education to Brunel at its inception as he saw it as integral to its overall mission as an expanding technological university. The other department Topping established around this time was Metallurgy and both were formal expansions of subject areas that had been taught at Brunel College. Of course, many of you will be familiar with the history of the incorporation of Borough Road, Maria Gray and Shoreditch Colleges of Education, partly through the amalgamation with the West London Institute in the 1990s, but it is important to note that Education was here at Brunel and on this campus as a separate department thirty years before the Borough Road legacy arrived with the West London Institute.

Borough Road College - opened in 1798 by Joseph Lancaster - and a predecessor college of Brunel University

Borough Road College – opened in 1798 by Joseph Lancaster – and a predecessor college of Brunel University

Vice-Chancellor Topping offered the headship of the new Department of Education at Brunel to John Vaizey, the economist of education (amongst other things), who turned the job down only to arrive a year later as a Professor of Economics. The first head of department was W.D. Furneaux who, working closely with Topping and the vice principal Dr G.C. Shipp, quickly achieved two things: first, the introduction of postgraduate and undergraduate teacher education courses in Science Technology and Mathematics (STEM) subjects that not only included teaching placements in schools but also industrial placements. This was a real innovation at the time and one that has not been sufficiently acknowledged since. Second, Furneaux rapidly established important research links with the Department for Education and other government agencies and was instrumental in gaining a steady stream of funding for educational research at Brunel from 1966 right through to the 1970s.

And during these first years as a new ‘plate glass’ university, as they were known, Brunel was notable for work in Education that emanated not only from the Education department but from the likes of John Vaizey in economics; from Maurice Kogan in government and politics (who did ground-breaking studies in higher education); and from Marie Jahoda who, supported by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation, had earlier produced what I think is one of the finest studies ever on learning in the workplace – The Education of Technologists – a study that is as perceptive now about the rich potential of industrial and professional placements and sandwich course as it was then. Jahoda’s Nuffield education research centre became Brunel’s first School of Psychological and Social Sciences.

Marie Jahoda

Marie Jahoda

The current department of Education, re-established after a long gap and now celebrating the end of its first year in a new guise, continues to develop many of the priorities Topping, Shipp and Furneaux set in the period 1965 – 1966. We are innovating in the field of initial teacher education with a new Master’s in Mathematics and Computer Science Education (the ‘MSci’) coming on stream in 2017 that will provide graduates with Master’s level STEM expertise as well as Master’s level work in education and a teaching qualification. This new programme has been specifically designed to address the growing shortage of specialist STEM teachers – a shortage that is predicted to grow even further over the next decade.

To address the persistent problem of teachers dropping out of the profession within the first few years, we have designed a ‘long thin’ Master’s degree for early career teachers that keeps them interested and thinking, a degree that draws on advanced pedagogical concepts in order to make a difference to the progress of the children and young people they are teaching.

We are also beginning a new professional-research degree at doctoral level for senior teachers and other educationists that we think will contribute to the aspiration of schools and teachers to lead their own profession rather than leaving it to civil servants or bureaucrats or people like me (or politicians for that matter). So here at Brunel , we will have continuum of teacher education available for the teachers and schools in the five London boroughs around us, the shire counties nearby – as well as for those who wish to travel from other parts of the UK or internationally.

The Halsbury Building - current home of the Department of Education

The Halsbury Building – current home of the Department of Education

We are also ramping up our research activity and building on the success of established projects such as the Urban Scholars Programme led by Prof Valsa Koshy – a successful research-based intervention that has had brilliant success in enabling bright young people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds to progress to university, usually the first people in their families to have had a higher education. Children and young people from all over London brave the Metropolitan Line to Uxbridge on Saturdays throughout the year to participate in this inspirational scheme.

Our research has also influenced policy, including that of the federal government in the United States, at the same time that it is currently making a difference to Mathematics teaching in 32 London primary schools thanks to funding from the Mayor of London’s Schools Excellence Fund. And at the moment, we are also experimenting with two ideas: providing training in improvisation techniques derived from comedy and theatre to teachers and children to see if learning how to improvise can help people find new ways of solving problems when they get stuck. And we are also introducing an adaptation of ward rounds from medical education into schools – an adaptation known as ‘Teacher Rounds’ – to see whether data-driven peer observation and collaborative discussion can make a difference to practice and to outcomes for students. This project grows out of our good working relationships with universities in the US, particularly

This genuinely collective effort on the part of our department has enabled Education at Brunel to rise in the league tables to become a top 10 Education department in the UK, according to both the Complete University Guide for 2016 and the Guardian Education Guide. Of course, being Educationists, we don’t like league tables. Unless we like them. And we do like these two so I hope you’ll forgive me for mentioning them.

And so to our annual Education public lecture. This is third lecture in the series and, as a department, we set them up as a way of stimulating a broad-based conversation about education, the type of conversation that perhaps doesn’t happen as often as it should and a conversation that breaks out from the confines of the university and of schools to engage the wider society. The sort of debate about education these lectures seek to foster goes beyond the professional interests of educators and beyond the policy (and, increasingly, narrowly party-political) concerns of legislators and elected representatives to include the questions and concerns of others who are often not listened to or engaged with. To that end we wanted to go beyond questions about structures (this or that type of school, for example) and beyond proxies for education such as international comparisons like PISA (the programme for international student assessment) and beyond the definitions of ‘effectiveness’ handed down to nations by supra-national bodies such as the OECD. We wanted to ask questions such as ‘what does it mean to be educated in the twenty-first century?’ ‘What sort of knowledge, skills and dispositions might be necessary for young people to participate in our democracy, to sustain themselves economically so that they can sustain themselves intellectually, emotionally and physically?’ ‘And how can you design an education that allows individuals to flourish as well as allowing the society to grow?’

Kieran Egan

Kieran Egan

Our first lecture was given by Professor Kieran Egan from Simon Fraser University in Canada. Kieran is one of the world’s leading philosophers of education who speaks directly to the kinds of questions I’ve just been asking. Kieran talked about the vital importance of the imagination in all human learning and development – not just in the areas we sometimes associate with imaginative activity (theatre, literature, music, and so on) but in all areas of human activity. Kieran Egan argued that we need education to help people ask and answer the ‘what if’ questions that characterize our creative and ingenious instincts – whether they are scientific, technical or aesthetic. He argued that there was little point trying to re-engineer our education system along the lines of those in south east Asia – systems who do well in comparisons such as PISA. Because they are busy re-engineering theirs to be somewhat different – taking from us the successful ways that the British education system (now and in the past) has prepared artists, leading engineers, entrepreneurs, Nobel-prize winning scientists. In Shanghai, for example, they have been considering whether to enter their school children again in the PISA tests because they are making their own measures of a successful education system they have called ‘the Green index’, a set of measures that includes those domains measured by PISA but that has another nine measures in the index. Shanghai will tell you they don’t want their city to be what they call a Foxconn economy (Foxconn being the company that makes the Apple iphone in China); they want an economy that thrives because it is designing iphones and the next generation of objects that have both instrumental and aesthetic value.

The second lecture last year was given by Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of one of England’s largest teacher unions, the Association for Teachers and Lecturers. Mary addressed some of the critical problems that afflict the school system in England and Wales, particularly, but also in other parts of the world. How can you develop and sustain a workforce of teachers into and beyond the first five years of teaching? How can you maintain their interest and commitment? Frankly, how do you stop them leaving teaching? Mary referred to the robust body of research evidence that shows that – like most domains of expertise – teaching requires deliberate practice. With practice you get better at it; the best evidence we have in England is that the peak effectiveness of teachers (in terms of the greatest difference they make to the progress of their students) begins around the eighth year of the career. For most teachers, this level of effectiveness can then be sustained up to around the twentieth year before it slowly tails off. The problem is, sadly, not what we can do for those teachers who have given twenty outstanding years to the profession. The problem is how can we keep good people in the profession long enough so that they reach that peak effectiveness and do the best for the children and young people they teach. Mary’s point was an important one and emphasizes one of the reasons why teaching should continue to be understood as a career rather than short-term missionary work. It is wasteful in all kinds of way to actively plan for a teaching workforce where so many drop out and so many never reach the levels of expertise where they can do the most good. In many ways, as Mary pointed out, this is a value-for-money question as well as a question of social justice.

Mary Bousted

Mary Bousted

And so to this year and tonight’s lecturer, John Cridland CBE, the director general of the CBI. John has been director general since 2010 and a deputy for ten years before that. He was awarded CBE in 2006 for services to business. I should say at the outset that John has not been invited out of any sense of having ‘balance’ in our range of speakers – a trade unionist one year and the key spokesman for British business the next. We have invited John because, for the last five years, he has had many interesting things to say about education, things that contradict lazy assumptions about what someone from the world of business and industry might say. He hasn’t always kept educationists on his side- such as the time he suggested that there might be too many universities in the UK and some might have to close. That didn’t go down well with the Million+ group. Unsurprisingly. But, more importantly, he has consistently questioned an approach to education that relies on proxies for education (for example, exam results) rather than addressing genuine educational questions. So – and here I am paraphrasing slightly – John has said that ‘everyone has A grades, what makes the difference is whether you have been part of a local theatre group or volunteered for community work’. In other words, education is also a question of character and personal dispositions. He has also spoken out consistently about the importance of getting the upper end of secondary education right – particularly now that we are expecting all young people to stay in education and training until they are 18. And, aligning his perspective in some ways with the Baker Dearing Trust and the university technical college movement, he has stressed the parity of esteem that should be accorded to vocational and academic education and the power of integrating them rather than seeing them as separate tracks. He has also argued forcefully for the importance of apprenticeships and work-place learning – and I believe his daughter has undertaken an apprenticeship. One intriguing quotation that is attributed to John – and it may be apocryphal – so perhaps he will confirm or deny this – and that is that when he was asked what the CBI’s ideal graduate would be, he answered ‘a numerate drama graduate’.

Confirmed or denied, I am very glad that John has accepted our invitation to deliver the third annual Education lecture at Brunel. I think he has already shown over the last five years in his tenure as director general that he is one of the most thoughtful contributors to the public debate about education and I am sure that you, like me, are very much looking forward to hearing what he has to say.