What does education really need: revolution or rebrand?

Revolution merchants are ten a penny in education - but it's better than superficial rebranding, writes Tom Starkey

Tom Starkey

Change is needed in education, and while a simple re-brand is easier, it doesn't fool anyone, says Tom Starkey

Education needs to change! In fact, let’s change the change! "Change" is old hat. "Change" is sooo last century. What we need is a revolution! Let's all have an education revolution! Yes! That's what we need! We need a revolution! My God, why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? This is great! I’m going to bring about a revolution! I will be the hero of the education revolution! (But of course, it’s not about me – it’s about the learners). What form is this education revolution that totally no one has ever thought of before going to take? In what new and improved way is this revolution going to come to pass? 

Wait...what’s that? "Change is hard"?

Oh. OK. Let’s just have a rebranding instead. Excellent. That’s lunch. 

News: Government announces plans to rebadge level 4 and 5

Opinion: 'Here's to those working with the most marginalised'

More from this author: Put pensions at the top of your to-do list

Tell people what's what

Revolution merchants are ten a penny in education, bless 'em. Crusaders for widespread change that's usually in the form of some perceived school-based childhood slight or test they failed or some such egotistical nonsense that I then have to suffer through a TED talk about, where they tell people what’s what (with the necessary pauses for effect). But as annoyingly egotistical as they are, at least they’re committed. It’s a load of self-righteous hoo-ha but at least there’s a desire to actually do something (no matter how ill informed or misguided it is).  

On the other hand, we have change that isn’t really change at all. A ventriloquist’s version of change where the words are coming out but the mouth isn’t moving. A rebranding, or – in a meta-tastic attempt to rebrand the word "rebrand" – a rebadging like the one announced by Damian Hinds this week where CertHE and DipHE will undergo a revolutionary rebadging/renaming/relaunching/re-whatever that will mean people will become instantly aware of their existence and hop on to the courses in droves.

The emphasis on the rebadging is predictable and wholly tiring. The concentration on a name change rather than looking at some of the underlying issues to do with parity and recognition is such a trope that it could actually do with a rebrand itself. 

Name change is easy

Changing the name of something is easy – it’s looking like you’re doing something without really doing anything. But changing the name of a thing is not changing the nature of a thing. Rebadging, rather than trying to tackle wider issues, is like whacking a new coat of paint on a wall filled with asbestos. It looks pretty, but it’s still filled with asbestos. 

If recognition is an issue, and status is not forthcoming, one of the sure-fire ways to better the situation is through funding. Placing prestige status on technical qualifications in their own right and emphasising that prestige right the way through in all sectors of education is where it’s at. That’s what I’d do my TED talk about (I’d even have slides of forests or something for extra gravitas). Might be an ego trip, but then why not? 

What I wouldn’t do is 15 minutes on how calling something by another name magically transforms that thing. Because that would be lazy and embarrassing.

Thanks for listening.   

Tom Starkey is an education writer, consultant and former further education lecturer

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