Gove adviser admits schools' policies were incoherent

Ex-aide to controversial education secretary says that no policy was 'properly evaluated' when he was at the DfE

John Roberts

A former adviser to Michael Gove has said his policies, as education secretary, were rolled out without being properly evaluated

A former adviser to Michael Gove when he was education secretary has admitted that his policies were introduced without being properly evaluated and highlighted a lack of coherence with the department.

Sam Freedman has written about his time at the Department for Education working alongside controversial adviser Dominic Cummings, following the latter's departure from Downing Street last month.

In his article, he highlights how Mr Gove's commitment to rolling out academy freedoms was at odds with the department's "prescriptive" approach to the curriculum, which insisted on primary schools teaching pupils about "fronted adverbials."


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Both Mr Freedman and Mr Cummings worked together as advisers at the DfE for Mr Gove when was he rolling out his reforms as education secretary in the coalition government at the start of the last decade.

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In the article for Politics Home, Mr Freedman writes: "For all his [Dominic Cummings'] demands for a scientific approach to government, not a single policy either of us worked on at the DfE had been properly evaluated through, for example, a randomised control trial, because they were rolled out nationally without any piloting.

"In technocrat utopia, a major policy like the introduction of academies would have been phased in such a way as to allow for evaluation.

"In the real world huge amounts of capital (real and political) were spent arguing academies were the way forward, so the suggestion that they might not work couldn’t be countenanced."

Mr Gove carried out radical change of the school system during his time at Sanctuary Buildings, including establishing the free-school programme, a massive expansion of the academies programme and major reforms to school assessment and exams.

In his article, Mr Freedman suggests that some key policies within the department over the past decade have been incoherent because different ministers within it disagreed over the importance of school autonomy.

He writes: "Not only are policies typically driven by political imperatives rather than evidence, but they’re not even internally coherent within departments, let alone between them.

"Again, this is not a function of civil service failure so much as incompatible ministerial agendas.

"Cummings’ old department (and mine) has been arguing for a decade now that school autonomy is so critical to success that academies shouldn’t have to follow the national curriculum, and at the same time all primary schools should be teaching a national curriculum so prescriptive that it insists children learn about fronted adverbials: because one minister believed in autonomy and another very much didn’t."

Mr Freedman is now chief executive of the Education Partnerships Group, an international not-for-profit consultancy that works with governments to support their education systems.

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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