Realizing Skills Reform by Michael Barber


Sir Michael Barber is Little is known about what his job entails, although he served as a government adviser to the Prime Minister on implementing skills reforms in November. He tells Shane his Chauen about why he took on his unpaid role and what he hopes to achieve when he finishes next month.

The department was once again in the spotlight for a major overhaul when Prime Minister Jeremy Hunt announced in an autumn statement that he had appointed Sir Michael Barber to advise “on the implementation of our skills reform programme.” became.

He was brought in, in the words of the Treasury Department, to “help maximize the impact” of the government’s various skills reform policies. Specifically, T-levels, more advanced technical qualifications, lifetime loan qualifications, and skills his bootcamp.

Little else was said. In fact, Barber’s appointment was his only one in November. autumn statement I had to say something about FE and the skill system at all.

And it didn’t take long for industry lobbyists to start arguing what “Barber Review” had to say.

Was his appointment a smokescreen?

Barber’s appointment was frowned upon. It wasn’t personal, but in addition to boosting the school’s budget and bringing real funding back to his 2010 levels, the appointment of a new Skills Advisor helped raise similar funding for FE. Some thought it was a smokescreen to hide the lack of a solution to the problem.

But as Barber told the prime minister when asked for advice on skills reform just before his November fall statement, it’s clear the sector doesn’t need another review.

“I said I was happy to do it, very happy. But I didn’t want to write another report because every few years I had a report.”

he’s not wrong Here is a list of familiar names: Auger, Sainsbury, Wolfe, Richard, Foster, Reach.

“I said what you need is advice on how to bring to life all the agendas that are already in the pipeline.”

That’s why I don’t have a Skill Reform Barber Review to add to my collection. He has not even been paid for his advice and admits to agreeing to it only until the end of March.

“This is just a small part of my work at the moment. I don’t have an infinite amount of time because I’m doing it voluntarily, but I want to help get this right.”

correct a historical mistake

Barber’s specialty is “Delivery”. He has published several books on how governments do good policies and why they don’t.

He is known for setting up the first Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit at No. 10 to track progress towards policy goals during Tony Blair’s second term.

Even after leaving the government, his phone number doesn’t seem far from the government’s advice-seeking desk at the time.


In 2017, he wrote a report for the Treasury on achieving value money in public services, and in 2021 he was asked to advise on government service delivery in the aftermath of the pandemic.

So why did he say yes when the prime minister called two ministers asking for voluntary advice?

Barber makes it clear that he sees the skills agenda as correcting historical wrongs, rather than simply implementing some local policy reforms.

“For 150 years, we haven’t focused on the skills we should have.

A chance to do something “dramatic”

That sentiment will be familiar to those working in this field. Barbour’s experience with implementation shows that we now have a unique opportunity to get the reforms right.

“For the first time in history, we have a Prime Minister, a Treasury Secretary, a Secretary of State for Education and a Minister for Skills, all wanting to prioritize skills within the education sector and even across government.

This ‘vertical alignment’ is complemented by a ‘horizontal alignment’ of staff at No. 10, Treasury and DfE, and an ‘exciting’ policy agenda.

Throw all this together, and “it gives you the opportunity to do something dramatic,” says Barber.

His goals are set for the long term, but his emotions are immediacy. But you have to start, and now is the time to start.”

Barber draws parallels with the “transformation” of preschool education under Blair in the late 90s. “In 1995, England was one of the worst performing countries in Europe. By 2007, when Blair stepped down, it was one of the leaders in Europe. can be done.

“It’s not just about creating a government implementation plan, it’s about creating a movement that people in this sector believe to be part of a movement for change.

Barber is now 3 months old and may only have 5 weeks left.

He avoids questions about structure, referring instead to “improving the delivery mechanism”, making the current one work better.

It’s an insight that helps you understand the angle of advice he’s giving to ministers and officials.

DfE needs better (and readily available) data

He acknowledges that provider leaders are weakened by resource cuts, but argues that is not sufficient reason to support reform.

“It’s been a tough decade for FE. We see this all over the world. One of the things I want to do is inject faith and ambition, and for that I need a movement that people can push and get excited about.”

Funding, especially scarcity, has dominated the FE and skills sector narrative for over a decade. If you can’t find a teacher for your course today, how can a leader expect her vision ten years from now?

“With the pressure on spending, we can’t stop thinking about how we’re going to change the system in five to 10 years.

“I’m not saying we don’t need more money to execute our 10-year strategy. I’m saying let’s keep working.”

Data seems to play a big role in Barber’s thinking. The Department of Education releases a lot of data, but he questions whether it’s “good data” and claims it’s not coming out fast enough.

“Until recently, I used to ride my bike a lot. When you’re cycling, you can see your heart rate, cadence, speed, and power output. You can measure all of that in real time.

“After someone has finished his work, [skills] Boot camp, it takes weeks before anyone at the Ministry of Education finds out about it. It’s not that difficult.i am pushing them [DfE and Treasury] – They are getting some good data. But they need to get more stuff faster. ”

There are already some elements of annual performance tracking, but it’s primarily about checking the provider’s contract performance for fundraising purposes.

One of the problems with large government systems is that they tend to make blanket policies without a detailed understanding of what’s happening on the front lines. When we have good real-time data, we can make more precise adjustments,” he says.

“If the center is learning fast enough, we can make tweaks to improve the implementation.”

“I want you to tell us, we’ve got it right.”

Some may be disappointed that Barber’s brains and experience in public service reform haven’t offered him a more substantial or concrete job.

He concludes with a question for those giving advice. We can hold our heads high and say that what might not have worked in the nineteenth century or his twentieth century is working now. ”

Focusing on implementations, milestones, measuring inputs and outputs, “moving” and “tweaking and refining”, Barber’s reveals that drastic changes in skill policy and structure are not in his brief. Did.

Optimistically, this will open the door to a paced and gradual shift across government as we grasp what we know is actually working, what isn’t working, and what we don’t know enough about. may be opened.

Advice from experts such as Barber is a great cover for slowing things down, quitting, or ‘tweaking and improving’.

But no doubt there are those who take a more cynical view. In addition to the relatively large increase in funding for schools and the likely change in government, there is no saying anything about skills as people still believe that the government values ​​skills. I had to

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