Setting a gold standard in how to govern

I’d like to offer a few thoughts from the chapter How To Be a Reformer in Andrew Adonis’s new book Education, Education Education. These  impressive conclusions, also culled from recent exchanges with him, are  based on his career as a historian, academic, journalist, Head of  Tony Blair’s Policy Unit  and the  Minister of State for Education for England who introduced academies to transform “ bog standard comprehensives” and remove them  from  local authority control. I’ll leave the CV and profile to the link. There are quite a few pennies here that ought to drop in Northern Ireland.

As a minister always have a carefully worked out plan if you’re going to have any impact

There are few undisputed truths outside the natural sciences. Reasonable people differ. But that is no excuse for not rigorously seeking out the truth and weighing honestly the relevant data.

Almost all solutions to big problems are simple.  Simple does not mean easy. It means getting to the heart of the problem and making the fundamental change that makes the fundamental difference.

Be bold but go with the grain as far as possible

Lead and explain, lead and explain. If you don’t the government machine simply stops.  

 Build a team, build coalitions not tabernacles.  “I spent little time on ideology.. “On reforming schools I was relentlessly practical to talk about people and their welfare not about ideas,  to keep party politics out of it as far as possible; to be prepared to meet almost anybody most of the time; to be as flexible as possible; not to make political capital out of your opponents agreeing with you ;not create unnecessary political dividing lines; and – this one appeals to me especially as an opponent of the tiresome old zero sum game of NI politics – to replace “or” with “ and.”

Reform is a marathon not a sprint

And finally, speaking as an historian, to learn lessons from the past but plan for the future.

Can any of our dear readers do better than that and apply it particularly  to Northern Ireland ?   The lessons are general but a review of  the book by Ken Baker a reforming Tory Education Secretary in the 1980s carries a particular lesson for academic selection under siege.

Adonis’s policy was not to bring back selection for academies since that would lead again to a morass of poor secondary moderns. The test was to make the all-ability school better. Michael Gove is essentially building on the Adonis foundation through his sharp increase in the number of academies, by getting good academies to takeover failing schools, and creating new academies as Free Schools and University Technical Colleges. This is the most significant of Gove’s reforms, and one which any future government would find to be irreversible.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London