Review - Education, Education, Education by Andrew Adonis, Biteback Publishing - A third way to transform schools

7th September 2012 at 01:00

In the 15 years since the mantra "education, education, education" was used to describe Labour's priorities for government, a lot has happened. Andrew Adonis has been centrally involved in education policy throughout, as Downing Street adviser, education minister and now as an influential Labour peer. His account could only have one title, and it makes enthralling reading.

Adonis' book is part memoir, recounting his experiences as a child in care who was sent to a progressive boarding school before winning a place at Oxford: a progression that shaped his commitment to high-quality education as a tool for creating opportunities. It is part educational history, with Adonis claiming to identify structural flaws in the comprehensivisation of the 1970s and 1980s. And it is part political history, describing fascinating Whitehall battles over academies policy after 2000, as Tony Blair and Adonis sought to overcome opposition in local authorities and, often, within government.

The book is compellingly written - before he worked in Number 10, Adonis was a gifted journalist - but it is also a political manifesto for further radical education reform. Four major themes underpin Adonis' vision. First, he argues that universities should be brought into the management of the school system so that every university and Oxbridge college takes complete responsibility for the governance of at least one school, as University College London and the University of Nottingham have done.

Second, he wants state and independent schools to work together to challenge inequality and underperformance, with independent schools managing academies, as Wellington College does.

Third, he sets out a coherent vision of an academy system in which dynamic headteachers drive improvements.

And finally, he wants to transform teacher education into an employment-based, higher education-supported system.

He ends with a detailed reform programme - enough to fill the legislative agenda of a future government beyond a single term.

There is a lot to debate. Adonis emphasises the undeniable successes of some city academies, but overlooks others that have struggled. He rightly celebrates outstanding success under dynamic leadership, but does not focus enough on the causes of school failure. Yet this is an important book, and a powerful reminder that between the forces of marketised deregulation and statist management there is indeed a third way of educational transformation and improvement.

Chris Husbands is the director of the University of London's Institute of Education.

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