Place learning at the heart of the prison experience

The challenge that a progressive government needs to address.

The prison population is overly-defined by the demographics of educational and societal disadvantage.

Thus, our prisons are disproportionately populated by those who have origins in the care system, by those from the most economically disadvantaged minority ethnic groups and, critically, by those with low levels of educational attainment and, specifically, low levels of literacy and numeracy, something that is ordinarily coupled with the absence of accredited workplace qualifications.

A statutory entitlement to education for all but those on the shortest sentences ought to be a signature policy for any progressive government, with educational progress a key component in the decision-making processes for parole and release.

In particular, this entitlement ought to feature literacy and numeracy development and apprenticeship or Higher Education access.

In effect, incarceration without education – especially in terms of basic skills and readiness for employability – is incarceration without the prospect of rehabilitation. No progressive government should tolerate that.

The proposed policy response

Establishing a pilot project across a limited number of prisons ought to be an achievable goal within the next Parliament and could be part of the broader transformation of criminal justice policy.

Within a decade, learning ought to sit at the heart of the prison experience, and education a practical demonstration of the state’s commitment to rehabilitation.

Recast vocational and technical learning as professional education

The challenge that a progressive government needs to address.

Too often, those who end up on ‘vocational’ courses, do so reluctantly as a result of a lack of success on ‘academic’ study programmes.

In some cases, programmes of so-called ‘work-related learning’ are designed specifically for those who have been excluded from, or marginalised within, mainstream education, typically because of ‘challenging’ behaviour.

As always, those concentrated in such provision are drawn largely from generationally disadvantaged families and communities, many with particular (diagnosed or undiagnosed) educational needs. In short, vocational and technical courses are those that too many learners end up on rather than aspire to.

As long as this remains the case, the academic-vocational divide will remain a chasm that is unbridgeable – and throwing the naughty child a car engine as a behavioural fix will ensure that all manner of vocational, technical or otherwise work-related learning never gains serious traction as a viable choice for academically successful and socially advantaged middle-class learners.

In such a scenario, the UK impedes itself in generating the cadre of top-end engineers that it needs to thrive in a globalised (and still globalising) mid-twenty-first century economy.

The proposed policy response

The policy response for a progressive government needs to be five-fold:

(1) that those struggling with the academic curriculum (and notably the core skills of literacy and numeracy) need to have those needs creatively and determinedly addressed (and not simply displaced by some other kind of notionally ‘work-related’ curricular content);

(2) that vocational, technical and work-related courses need to be designed for all and not simply for those struggling to address or who have been displaced from the mainstream curriculum;

(3) that the National Curriculum ought itself to be remodelled to ensure that all students experience vocational, technical and work-related learning, at least at Key Stage 4 and potentially earlier, as an ordinary part of their mainstream education;

(4) that the terms vocational, technical and work-related learning are replaced by the terminology of professional learning;

(5) that the language of professional learning (which ought to span law, medicine, the full range of STEM careers and those across the arts) is placed at the heart of a campaign to attract the middle classes and the educationally successful into areas of learning and work that, too often, are considered the preserve of their educationally less successful and/or socially disadvantaged peers.

Smooth the transition from secondary to further education

The challenge that a progressive government needs to address.

For those proceeding from GCSE to A level in a school that has a popular and flourishing sixth form, the transition from pre- to post-16 education is often unproblematic.

However, for those who have not achieved the GCSE grades required to make such a transition, for those who wish to pursue A level courses (or packages of courses) that are not available in their current secondary school, or for those who wish to progress to other forms of education and training (often within the Further Education sector), they face a cliff-edge, a cliff edge that demands quick decisions in the wake of sometimes disappointing GCSE results.

This is challenging for both young people and their families, and those families with the lowest levels of education system-specific cultural capital are those for whom this cliff edge is most daunting.

Part of the answer must lie in softening this cliff-edge by adopting a model of “longer-form transition”. In such a model, the lens cast on entry to secondary school is not – given the now embedded extension of the educational participation age to 18 – is 11-18 not 11-16.

The school’s task is to lay the foundations for a child’s education to 18 (that is the end of Year 13, not the end of Year 11), embedding this during the GCSE options process, usually delivered during the course of Year 9, whether or not the school delivers the provision in Years 12 or 13.

The proposed policy response

In practical and policy terms, this means five things:

(1) A greater investment in Careers Education and Guidance across and beyond the secondary phase;

(2) Careers Education and Guidance programmes that engage students and their parents, within a broader family learning framework;

(3) Greater knowledge in individual schools of the post-16 options available to young people across the local area, rather than just within the school’s sixth form;

(4) The creation of local fora that enable providers to share this knowledge;

(5) Funding models that incentivise collaboration between providers – especially between schools and FE colleges -something that existing models largely militate against.

Rebalance the relationship between inclusion and attainment

The challenge that a progressive government needs to address.

When the education apparatus is characterised by system-wide underperformance, a focus on raising standards against clear metrics, such as test and examination outcomes, makes sense, but as progress is made, diminishing returns set in.

After rapid improvements in the performance of a then underperforming system in the 1990s and early noughties, this has been the story of the counter-productive impact of too many education policy interventions for the past two decades: teachers driven to burnout by a relentless focus on standards and performance coupled with a concentration on young people from those cohorts and communities that the system has failed for generations.

And, of course, where this challenge is greatest – in under-resourced coastal, rural and urban communities – the rewards for success are the lowest and the hardest to claim.

It is in these “career damagingly difficult schools” where recruitment and retention difficulties at all levels are at their most challenging and where pupils and their families are short of the kinds of cultural capital valued by the system.

A part of the answer is to flip schooling policy on its head and to focus on “inclusion-first” rather than “attainment-first” strategies. In such a model, a premium is placed on enabling all to access education, rather than on some (more often the already advantaged) to excel at it. This will not only enable the under-resourced to take gains from a system that has failed them generationally but will open up access to those with SEND and to those for whom a purely attainment driven and highly competitive system only compounds challenges around neuro-diversity, mental health and wellbeing.

In such a scenario, a battery of good grades (alone) gets mistaken for a good education. Moreover, a reality emerges in which the more successful we are with the 60,70, 80, 90%, the more excluded the 40, 30, 20, 10% become, with the emergence of market failure and what Ofsted itself identifies as a group of ‘stuck’ schools. In short, one dimensional attainment-first strategies contribute to the exclusion of the most vulnerable in the system, whether this vulnerability is socio-economic or not.

The proposed policy response:

In terms of policy responses, what does this mean in practice? These five steps might help us on the way:

(1) A Schools Premium funding stream for those schools that serve the most challenged communities;

(2) Pay and conditions incentives for those prepared to lead and work in such schools;

(3) A deliberate focus on development support rather than inspection for a defined period in these schools;

(4) A focus on family learning strategies to engage parental communities;

(5) Governance Action Zones to attract the most talented in our school governance communities to become engaged in these schools, possibly encouraged by some remunerative support, especially for leaders of governance.

Top of the class: educational priorities for a progressive government

Tony Breslin announces the launch of a new series of election year blog posts from Transform Education, Breslin Public Policy and our partner organisations

This Spring, under the title Top of The Class, we’re launching a new series of election year blog posts, setting out a range of educational priorities for a progressive government and suggesting how, in terms of policy and practice, these might be addressed.

The series of blogs on this site, initiated by Transform Education and Breslin Public Policy Director, Tony Breslin, will aim to address education across the phases: from pre-school to university, across apprenticeship and professional development programmes, and in the spheres of adult and community education, further education and lifelong learning. They will appear on our Transform Education website and the Breslin Public Policy website.

We’re also sharing the Top of the Class concept with other organisations, including the Fabian Society Education Policy Group, encouraging others to set out their own “educational priorities for a progressive government”. We will republish a selection of those posts here and we may also invite guest bloggers to set out priorities close to their heart on this site.

In short, we’re seeking to both spark and host a debate about the future of education, especially in a context framed by the recent experience of lockdown, an enduring cost of living crisis, the potential offered by emergent technologies and pedagogies, including AI, and the possibilities offered for such debate in what is likely to be an election year.

The intention is to open up a discussion, rather than to establish a ‘party-line’, so expect these posts to be eclectic in their range. What unites them is a progressive ethos and a shared concern about the nature of teaching and learning as we approach the middle decades of the twenty-first century. What kind of change do we want and need to see in our schools, colleges and universities, in childcare and adult education settings, in pupil referral units, alternative provision and special education, and in training and development programmes, and how can professionals, learners and other stakeholders, such as parents and employers, in these settings own these changes and help to shape them?

To this end, please give us your feedback on the pieces that are posted and contact us if you’d like to join the debate by offering a post yourself. In particular, we’re keen to capture the voices of professionals, practitioners and service users – those so often ignored in policy debates.

And if you are based in an organisation that is interested in launching its own Top of the Class strand, do get in touch. We’ll be happy to support you in doing so by making suggestions about format and pitch and by publicising your efforts through every channel that is open to us.

One step forward, two steps back? Why the end of hybrid voting is a loss for Westminster

In this adaption of a piece originally published by the influential Scottish online newspaper Midlothian View, Midlothian MP Owen Thompson reflects on Parliament’s “rash, reckless and irrational” retreat from online voting.

The Palace of Westminster marked an important milestone in its long history this year. After hundreds of years of dragging people out their sick beds to vote through a physical head-count, it got a system of remote voting off the ground. Ironic perhaps that it took a plague-like disease to finally move out of the dark ages, but we’re there now – or so you’d think. Unfortunately the UK Government, led by traditionalists like Jacob-Rees Mogg, have decided to put remote participation swiftly back in a box marked ‘dangerous new ideas’ and clamped down the lid. From June 2nd, despite the ongoing lockdown and need for social distancing, the Government has withdrawn the use of virtual technology which let us all work safely from a distance.

Hybrid proceedings have worked well so far. They allowed my colleagues and I to do our bit to stop the spread of the virus, while still being present in meetings locally, nationally and internationally. Every MP was able to participate, on an equal footing, while sticking to guidance to protect communities. Over the last few weeks I’ve asked questions of Ministers, I’ve worked on committees, I’ve spoken in debates and I’ve voted on important issues like the Immigration Bill. I’ve also been in regular contact with the Council, voluntary groups, constituents and businesses based here in Midlothian. It took a lot of juggling but I got through a lot more work than I could do from London.

This begs the question, why has the UK Government withdrawn the right for MPs to participate from a distance? Why are they forcing 650 MPs to travel hundreds of miles to take part in proceedings in a chamber that can safely hold 50? Communities across the country will lose their voice in Parliament, simply because conservatives want to get the baying back-up around Boris in the chamber again.

Since Public Health England ruled out MPs crushing back into the division lobbies to vote, this decision left the poor Speaker in an impossible position, having to find a solution which suited the needs of those beholden to the old physical ways, but which allowed MPs to stay two metres apart. So the embarrassing spectacle known as the “Mogg Conga” was born; a half mile queue of MPs, snaking all the way from the courtyard outside the Palace, zig-zagging up and down Westminster Hall, along through the central and member’s lobbies and into the chamber. When they finally reached the front of the queue, baffled-looking MPs took turns to stand before the Speaker like naughty schoolchildren, saying their name with an ‘aye’ or a ‘nay’. The whole cringeworthy charade was streamed live and made for fascinating TV viewing, but it does not make good governance. Unfortunately the Mogg Conga is the ‘new normal’ in the progressive world of Westminster, despite achieving nothing more than global ridicule and the potential spreading of disease.

I have written to the Speaker on the ending of the hybrid Parliament as I believe by taking this course of action the UK Government are wilfully impeding our ability to participate in democracy, which could be in contempt of the House. It is certainly in contempt of the devolved settlement and the Scottish Government, whose rules about non-essential travel Scottish MPs should continue to follow. Even the advice from the Prime Minister himself has been that anyone who can work from home, should work from home, and we have clearly demonstrated this is absolutely the case for MP’s. Mr Rees-Mogg may continue to argue for his fetishistic vision of physical-only votes but there is no evidence that it improves the quality of outcome. Across all opposition parties we will keep arguing for common sense and public safety, and hope concessions will still be won.

It’s not just Scottish MPs who have raised concerns about this. Senior Tory Robert Halfon MP accused the government of ‘euthanising’ vulnerable MPs by trying to force this return to ‘physical only’ too early. The cavalier approach of the UK Government to the safety of others is appalling. But this isn’t just about MP’s. The return of MP’s to Westminster saw over 650 staff in Parliament, plus an increased police presence. While many will have been working in support of the hybrid parliament, when there were only a handful of members present the risk is far less.

The need to stick to social distancing is critical to prevent a second wave of this virus which would be devastating for our exhausted NHS and the UK’s economic recovery. We all have personal responsibility to enable this to happen; by not travelling when we don’t have to, we keep everyone safer, including those essential workers who have no choice but to go out to work. Around London the public transport system can’t cope with more than 15% of its usual volume to remain safe. What kind of standard are MPs setting if they ignore guidance and add to the throngs of people crossing the city?

There are times when MP’s will need to be in London as the virtual Parliament hasn’t yet been able to cover all elements of our work, but the reinstatement of some virtual proceedings does mean we can do most of our job from home. The return to a ‘physical-only’ Parliament on June 2nd was a rash, reckless and irrational decision, especially when remote voting gives us a safer, and faster, alternative. I hope the Government will give consideration to further advances in virtual proceedings until such time as a fuller return to Parliament is possible.

The high street’s death came early to disadvantaged communities

In a letter published in The Guardian Tony Breslin reflects on how current concerns over the death of the High Street have come too late for many of our poorest areas, including Harlesden in North West London where he witnessed the exit of several major retailers in the 1980s.

Read the article in The Guardian HERE.

We need to extend governance literacy beyond the boardroom if we want to build diversity within it.

In a feature article for the February 2019 issue ICSA journal, Governance and Compliance, Tony Breslin and Cosette Reczek outline the thinking behind their plans for an all-sector Better Governance Commission and set out its three key objectives: to encourage cross-sector learning within our boardrooms, to develop governance literacy beyond our boardrooms, and to widen and diversify participation in governance in all sectors.

Read the article here.

Kenneth Baker’s lost clause?

In his debut article for FE Week, Tony Breslin outlines his reservations about the so-called Baker Clause, which obliges secondary schools to ensure that students are aware of opportunities beyond the school gates and the sixth form common room, arguing that collaboration must be better than regulation in the longer term.

Read the article in FE Week HERE.

Governance beyond Silos

Having already addressed the key players in the corporate sector through a paper in the journal Governance in September 2018, Tony Breslin and Cosette Reczek extend their appeal for participation in an all-sector Better Governance Commission to the voluntary and community sector through a paper in the January 2019 edition of Governance and Leadership.

Breslin first called for such a Commission in Recommendation 29 of his 2017 RSA report, Who Governs Our Schools? This spawned the emergence of the #R29 campaign in early 2017, launched through a series of roundtables delivered in collaboration with Ann Reeder at Frontline Consulting.

Read the paper here

Sober Breslin raises £10,000 for Macmillan in five years

Tony Breslin has thanked his many sponsors after completing his fifth successive Go Sober for October for Macmillan Cancer Support, raising £2,003.50 (plus Gift Aid) this year, and a total of approximately £10,000 (including Gift Aid) over the past five years

Tony said: “Once again friends and relatives, and the parishioners at Sacred Heart Church in Bushey have combined to raise a terrific sum for a great charity doing vital work”.

This year 68,299 ‘sober heroes’ (as Macmillan calls them) raised a total of £3,817,252.

The Broken Promise of Autonomy

Tony Breslin’s debut piece in Schools Week explores the changing nature of school-based headship in multi-school settings and ponders whether the emergence of Trusts and Federations amounts to ‘a broken promise of autonomy’ for school-based leaders.

One school-based head has described the article as “a timely call to evaluate the role, scope and value of tiered executive management functions in schools and their impact in eroding the competencies and cultures that exist within individual institutions”.

Read the article HERE.

Breslin Social Impact links up with Permuto Consulting to launch new Transform Governance web presence

As work towards the establishment of an all-sector Better Governance Commission ramps up, Breslin Social Impact and Permuto Consulting have teamed up to complement the recently established Transform Governance twitter page @BetterGovCom, which already has close to 200 followers, with a new dedicated web presence, accessible from the websites of both consultancies, at

Breslin launches Transform Governance twitter page @BetterGovCom

Today, a new dedicated transformgovernance twitter account, @BetterGovCom, goes live, as the #R29 campaign for an all-sector #BetterGovernanceCommission, inspired by Recommendation 29 of Tony Breslin’s report, Who governs our schools? (RSA, 2017), gathers momentum.

This will be followed by a dedicated web space,, which is to be launched later this month, and which will be accessible directly, through the Breslin Social Impact site, and through the sites of Breslin’s various partners in this important initiative.

As such, transformgovernance joins the existing set of Breslin Social Impact Transform brands, including transformeducation, transformpolitics, transformcommunities and transformorganisations that the business has pledged to make its key interface with specific areas of activity in the period leading up to 2020.

Tony Breslin commented:

“We want transformgovernance, on twitter and on the web, to be a dedicated space for all in governance – whatever their role, setting or sector – and we want people to actively engage with it, especially those who are passionate about the need for an all-sector approach to governance and genuine cross-sector learning.

We see such an approach being articulated through the #R29 campaign and the Better Governance Commission that Cosette Reczek and I make the case for in our recent paper in the corporate journal Governance, A cross-sector approach to governance.

Subject to securing funding, we intend to launch the Commission in the first half of 2019. We have already had terrific encouragement from key individuals in organisations as diverse as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Institute of Directors, the Non-Executive Academy, the National Governance Association, ICSA: the governance institute, Campbell Tickell, the housing, regeneration and social care consultancy, and the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School.

We believe that such a Commission can achieve three things: (1) better peer-to-peer, cross-sector learning, (2) improved governance literacy across the public sphere, (3) widened participation and greater diversity in the process and practice of governance. Each of these offers a pathway to better governance and to a greater public understanding of what governance is, and why it matters”.

Sober for October

Well, it’s that time of year again, and I’m Going Sober for October for Macmillan Cancer Support for the fifth successive year. Inspired by friends and relatives, and in the knowledge that no family in the country escapes a battle with cancer, whatever the outcome two days to, it’s kind of become part of what I do!

And I’m not alone: at the time of drafting this towards the close of September, over 50,000 had already signed up to Go Sober, and they’d raised c.£750,000! So far, across the last four Octobers, friends have helped me to raise £6,289.06 for Macmillan which is worth £7,861.25 when Gift Aid is counted in, so if we can raise £1,500-£2,000 again, that will mean that Macmillan have gained c.£10,000 through my sobriety and your generosity.

Come on, let’s do it! Giving is easy, – as easy as any online purchase – and the cash goes straight through to Macmillan; we’ve already raised enough to provide a family with a Macmillan nurse for a month (and that’s without the Gift Aid)! Thanks for your support, and if you or your family have battled cancer – or are battling cancer – thanks for the inspiration! You can support my efforts to raise funds for Macmillan by clicking on this Go Sober link.

Improving School Improvement

We’re thrilled to announce a major new Breslin project, in partnership with Ian Keating and his colleagues at the Local Government Association, with the working title, Improving School Improvement. The LGA were our major funding partner on my RSA project, Who Governs Our Schools? and it is great to be working with them again.

Our objective is to develop proposals for a system-wide approach to school improvement in light of the forthcoming Department for Education consultation on the development of a more supportive approach to working with schools in difficulties, or schools that might get into difficulty. While we broadly welcome what feels like a tonal and substantive change, we still view the Department’s mindset as reactive rather than proactive. We want to encourage a more proactive view.

To this end, we are keen to involve influential and successful School Improvement Leads and National Leaders of Education based in MATs, Local Authorities and Teaching Schools in one of a series of focus group discussions to be staged in London, Birmingham and Leeds; we’ll confirm the London date shortly but our Birmingham( Thursday 11th October) and Leeds (Thursday 18th October) events are already in the diary.

As an outcome from these discussions, we want to develop a series of practical and deliverable proposals for what we are describing as a pro-active approach to school improvement and school support, and which are relevant to all players in the current landscape: school improvement leads in various settings, teaching school leaders, executive heads and other players in this emergent landscape, including those involved in inspection and quality assurance.

We want these proposals to be shot through with some key qualities and principles, in particular around how the need for support is identified and by who, how this support is accessed, how its impact is measured and by who or what, and how outcomes are shared to the benefit of schools, locally and system-wide.

To register your interest in these events or in the project more broadly, contact

New Modern Governor Module on Strategic Leadership written by Tony Breslin

Modern Governor publishes new module on the strategic role of governing boards, written by Tony Breslin

Today Modern Governor publish the first of two new modules developed and written by Tony Breslin, each supported by a dedicated web post that we republish here, with kind permission of Modern Governor. The first module, Strategic Leadership for Governors and Trustees: obligations, opportunities and pitfalls calls for a reappraisal of the traditional dichotomy between the operational and strategic domains, presenting this as much more nuanced and ‘messy’ than in much of the current leadership and governance literature.

The second module, The Curriculum and Beyond: what every governor needs to know, again accompanied by a dedicated blog post, will be launched during October.

R29 Campaign

R29 Campaign gathers all-sector momentum, as Tony Breslin and Cosette Reczek publish paper in Governance

Back in March, the Non-Executive Academy, with support from Frontline Consulting, hosted the launch of the R29 Campaign in Parliament. The R29 campaign takes its title from Recommendation 29 of Tony Breslin’s report, Who Governs Our Schools? Trends, tensions and opportunities (RSA, 2017) which calls for an all-sector governance commission to be established.

Today, after three subsequent roundtable discussions – hosted by the Institute of Directors, the National Council for Voluntary Organizations and the housing consultancy, Campbell Tickell – the campaign has moved up a notch with the publication of a paper by Tony Breslin and Cosette Reczek in corporate governance journal, Governance, which, with the kind permission of publisher Lesley Stephenson, we republish here.

Further roundtables are planned for Wednesday 26th September, hosted by the National Governance Association in Birmingham, and for Monday 5th November, hosted by ICSA in London.

To register your interest in these events or in hosting a future R29 roundtable or in otherwise supporting the all-sector Better Governance Commission that we are in the process of establishing, contact

Breslin to headline ICSA Academies Conference

Dr. Tony Breslin has been announced as a keynote speaker at the annual ICSA Academy Governance Conference on Friday October 5th in London, which this year takes as its theme, Delivering excellence in an age of accountability.

In his address he will reflect on the emergent realities of multi-school leadership and multi-school governance ‘on the ground’. He will also explore the challenges and opportunities that appear to be emerging, especially for school-based Heads, Heads of School and school boards, in terms of formal accountability and lines of reporting, and with regards to a plethora of other issues, including community connectedness, local autonomy, and governor engagement and retention.

Breslin Public Policy Limited has secured ten FREE tickets for the event; to secure your free ticket, click on the link and enter the code TONY10 when prompted to do so.

Why putting inclusion first doesn’t mean putting attainment second

Today the TES published my article on meeting the needs of children who have experienced trauma, Pupils with traumatic pasts need an inclusive classroom.

In it I argue for a rebalancing of the relationship between attainment and inclusion, suggesting that putting inclusion first does not mean putting attainment second, such that “building inclusion and acknowledging the post-traumatic and attachment needs of children adopted from care – and many other young people – is not an alternative to academic success, but a prerequisite for it”.