Whitehall has “too much power” over education, says ex Ofsted boss

Sir David Bell calls for more trust in teachers and schools – and for an independent body to set education strategy


By Samera Owusu Tutu

09 Jan 2015

Politicians and civil servants have too much power over schools and learning and are in danger of undermining Britain’s education system, former Ofsted chief Sir David Bell has said.

Ahead of a speech today to the Association of Science Education’s annual conference, Bell said: “The education department and government in general have too much power over the education system. We have nearly 400,000 teachers, 20,000 schools; I think we need to just trust teachers and trust schools to make the right decisions in the interest of the pupils that they teach.”

Bell, who is currently vice-chancellor of the University of Reading and also served as perm sec at the education department from 2006 to 2011, said that those at the coalface are better placed to advise on changes to the education system than politicians and civil servants, and recommended that “an independent body providing advice on curriculum, assessment and examinations” be set up.

“I’m not arguing that somehow government should remove themselves altogether from education, but if you think about the details of the curriculum, of examination, or the assessment, we can trust those who know first-hand the experience of children, those who work with them, to give better advice, so that we don’t just rely on politicians and civil servants sitting in Whitehall," he told Today.

He added: “When politicians, ministers, come to power there’s an immediate urgency to get things done. If you think about the amount of change that the education system has had over the past 30 years – more than 30 education acts – we have to ask ourselves: has that always been in the best interests of teachers, children and our schools?"


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