Recommended Books on Education Policy

A few people have recently asked about the books I would recommend to get an overview of education policy making. Below are the ones I have found most helpful. I would love for people to add their own recommendations in the comments as I’m always looking to read more on this topic.

Reinventing Schools, Reforming Teachers – John Bangs: This was the first ‘overview’ book I read. Bangs ran research programmes at the NUT so some might argued that he’s biased however I found this an absolute tour de force of a book, looking at policies over the last 20 years from several different angles and highlighting the processes that go on ‘behind the scenes’. If you want to understand education policy from 1997 onwards this is where I would start.

Education Policy Abbott, Rathbone & Whitehead: This reasonably thin book reads like a university textbook taking us from 1945 through to the modern day. It profiles each Education Secretary, their policies, the politics of the time, and it also takes sideways steps to look in detail at other groups – e.g. unions, LEAs, curricular groups, etc. It’s quite expensive so you might be disappointed when it arrives and it looks thin but it has lots of detail and is well laid-out. Its simple chronological order makes it a great reference point when someone says “but back in 1973 we did….”

Education, Education, EducationAndrew Adonis: I’ve mentioned before that this isn’t my favourite education book but I put it here because everyone else bangs on about its brilliance. Adonis does a good job of describing what was going on in the 2000s with Labour policy, particularly academies. If you’re interested in finding out how a person pushes through a specific policy which is meeting lots of resistance then it’s a good read.

The Great City Academy Fraud Francis Beckett: The antidote to Adonis’ relentless positive view of the academies programme is Beckett’s detailed timeline into the policy and his investigations about cost. This is not a simple book – you have to pay attention. But for someone like me who didn’t really know much about what was happening with academies during the 2000s it was good for getting me up to speed. Now that academies are commonplace in the secondary sector it’s worth knowing this stuff.

Does Education Matter? – Alison Wolf: On matters of vocational and higher education Wolf is my absolute recommendation. This book is sensible, pragmatic, extensively evidenced and was a precursor to the government’s vocational reforms. It’s also ludicrously difficult to buy as new – I can only presume this is because it sold out and no-one who does own it will part with their copy.

Doing Politics – Tony Wright: Finally, this book isn’t about education policy, it’s about the way the House of Commons works – e.g. what an MP does, how Select Committees function, etc. I found it a useful way of getting my mind around what politics looks like and what it should look like. Wright has been a relentless advocate for changing Parliamentary structures to make MPs work harder on policy scrutiny, and he does a great job of explaining those structures to a lay audience.

3 thoughts on “Recommended Books on Education Policy

  1. I’d add two more..

    1. Thinking Allowed on Schooling, Mick Waters.
    Mick Waters takes us through the history of political interference in education, laying bare the bones of how self interest and short term thinking have led to contradictory and potentially damaging tactics in schools. He explores the economic principle of ‘game theory’ as a way of understanding how Ofsted and the exams system have driven unethical practices in schools, leading to a lack of integrity which has potentially sold children short. It is a non partisan account of how the system, as it currently set up, works and it offers solutions as to how it might be made better.

    2. Kieran Egan – The Future of Education. Re-imagining Our Schools from the Ground up.
    Egan offers a view from Canada, which is pertinent to other countries too and which attempts to return to the origins of Western education systems, questioning what education is for. He argues that both traditionalists and progressives make false assumptions about what is possible from an education system and asks that we reconsider what we want. He sets out a possible new model based on an imagined future – so the book is set in a time period spanning from 2010 (date of publication) to 2060. It’s not an easy read, but it does get the imagination going!

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