Softly, softly: senior management development and the police

How do large public organisations decide how to train and develop their senior staff? For those of us who believe that skills development matters, and who fear that senior managers are often under-trained and poorly qualified, this is a critical question. It should also concern those who run large public organisations, who should be aware that many of their own staff, as well as the wider public, think their managers treat training and development events as perks and jollies.

Here’s a case that reinforces this damning stereotype. In February 2012, the Independent Police Complaints Commission reported on allegations that the Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police had wrongly claimed £11,750 for personal development training. The alleged wrong-doing was brought to light by journalists writing about the cost of coaching and mentoring programmes, who found that DCC Adam Briggs had claimed more than any other senior officer in Britain, despite receiving an annual allowance of £10,000 to cover the costs of training and medical insurance.

It looked to me as this episode might shed some light on the way that a major public organisation reached decisions about the training and development of its senior staff. Briggs’ letter of appointment stated that how he spent his annual allowance for training and medical insurance was entirely at the discretion of the post-holder. Moreover, the IPCC discovered that the spending was not auditable; all Briggs had to do, apparently, was claim his £10,000.

This was hard to credit. North Yorkshire Police is a large organisation by any standards. Its People Strategy’sets out an ambitious agenda for develop the skills and capabilities required, and identifies how progress will be measured. I therefore wrote to the North Yorkshire Police on 31 May asking for a copy of their policy on personal development funds, and for the guidance issued to senior officers on their management of these funds. Well over the limits specified in the Freedom of Information Act, I received a reply from North Yorkshire Police on 30 July, telling me that they were unable to find any such policies or guidance.

What Briggs claimed for, outside and beyond the training allowance that he had been given, was a programme of executive coaching and mentoring. To provide this he employed Steve Gorton, previously a manager in the pharmaceutical industry who claims to teach Masters’ courses for several universities, including the OU. After almost two years, the Force’s chief finance officer spotted the invoices, and asked why the contract had not gone through the usual procurement procedures.

So the employer was treating senior management development as a purely personal matter. Briggs refused to tell the IPCC whether and how he spent his £10,000 annual training allowance. During his time in North Yorkshire, Briggs received £31,647 for personal training, and we are still none the wiser as to how he used that money. Senior officers continue to enjoy a personal development allowance, and the Force has no apparent policy or guidance on how it is spent.

Of course, the whole episode tells us something about the North Yorkshire Police Authority. First, the IPCC reported that Briggs simply avoided questions by delaying his response; and that is pretty much how the Force handled my FOIA request. Second, although NYPA became aware of Briggs’ wrong-doing in July 2010, it tried to stop IPCC investigating the affair. When IPCC insisted, NYPA allowed Briggs to retire in February 2011, with his pension intact. His retirement meant that no action could be taken against him, even though the IPCC found behaviour amounting to gross misconduct. Third, despite the shenanigans of the last three years, NYPA apparently still has no policy governing the use of personal development funds.

From a skills perspective, what we learn is just how lacking in strategy some large employers are when it comes to training. It is suitably ironic that Briggs’ dodgy claim was for coaching by someone who claims to teach corporate strategy in MBAs. Yet his Force leaves its senior managers to decide how to spend their training allowance, with no guidance or auditing. For all we know, it might be spent on anything.

Is this how North Yorkshire Police treat training decisions for all staff? The answer is, of course, that lower down in the food chain, the NYPA is highly prescriptive about its training budgets. Its goal of creating an agile workforce’is underpinned by a cross cutting concern with Value for Money and a strategic concern with Improved Confidence (the upper case is emphasised in the relevant strategy papers). So there is a stark contrast between the NYP’s lax approach to senior management development and a more forensic strategy for skills and qualifications for the rest of its workforce. All this at a time of retrenchment in the Force’s budget.

I fear that this case is not unique, and that other large organisations treat senior management development as a private perk rather than a strategic organisational investment. Meanwhile, I imagine that the Briggs revelations have had a highly predictable impact on the way that senior management development is perceived within the Force and probably more widely. Trainers are used to dealing with a culture of cynicism, and such stories make their job harder.

Abstinence, the Olympics and the unemployed: a story for a summer’s day

Roger Protz, Britain’s leading writer on beer, has been getting angry about the poor quality stuff being sold to crowds at the Olympics. Real ale pumps are being torn out at cricket grounds, hoppy fragrance replaced by factory-produced sugar-water. But even the giant Heineken corporation is not getting its way at one venue.

Hadleigh Farm in Essex, home to the mountain biking competition, is famously ‘dry’. Hadleigh houses a rare breeds centre, a farm shop, and a conservation centre. It also runs a training programme for people with special educational needs in such subjects as IT skills, carpentry, and life skills. And it belongs to the Salvation Army, who opened it as a land and industrial colony in 1891.

To download a paper on British labour colonies and similar organisations before 1939, see: Booth, the Army’s founder, intended Hadleigh to be the British pinnacle of his Darkest England scheme. It sat between the local social work that the Army’s activists carried out among the ‘submerged tenth’ and the network of land settlement schemes that it planned in Britain and overseas. It trained the unemployed and poor, with a view to turning them into sober farmers.

Hadleigh was a huge enterprise, occupying some 3,000 acres of farmland and mudflats on the Thames estuary. The recruits represented a cross-section of London’s casualised poor, some sent by poor law boards and others by local Salvation Army groups such as the Prison Gate Brigade. All were male, and most were relatively young. They slept in dormitories, worked the land, and on Sundays they were expected to pray. As Booth put it, a colonist was expected to learn ‘the elementary lesson of obedience’, while earning his own bread.

Alcohol was, of course, completely banned. The Salvation Army blamed much of London’s poverty on drink, and the colonists had to pledge to abstain while in the colony. As it was less than a mile to the nearest pub, it comes as no surprise that large numbers were dismissed for drunkenness.

Over the years, Hadleigh adapted to new circumstances. It participated in government programmes to export the unemployed to the white Dominions in the 1920s. In 1936, it accepted Basque refugee children, and in 1939 it took in Jewish refugees. It provided residential outdoor programmes for young offenders in the post-war years, and developed its contemporary training function during the 1990s.

But while Hadleigh’s role has changed and developed over the years, the ban on alcohol has remained. Given the alternative – a corporate monopoly – I think that the Campaign for Real Ale should be quietly satisfied. Pint of Copper Pippin anyone?

Learning liberation: young men and the pedagogy of primitivism

The BBC has appealed for young unemployed volunteers to help it recreate one of Britain’s most imaginative work camps. Grith Fyrd, a radical communitarian alternative to urban industrial society, was launched in 1932 by the  Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, which can be best summed up as a group of radicals and pacifists who saw themselves as true inheritors of the scouting tradition. It opened its first camp in 1932, at the marvellously named Sandy Balls, near Fordingbridge in Hampshire. The BBC is hoping to recreate the second camp, which opened at Shining Cliff, near Ambergate in Derbyshire, in 1934.

Grith Fyrd – the name came from the Anglo-Saxon for Peace Army – recruited a mixed group for its camps. While all were men, some, like Glynn Faithfull, were young middle class radicals, interested in psychoanalysis, and keen to build an alternative society. For this group, the camps were simply the first stage in a much wider and longer term process of detaching oneself from the modern urban and industrial order, and building a sustainable communitarian order of settlements that traded by barter and lived by their skills, courage and wits.

The second main group of recruits were young unemployed men. They were all volunteers, recruited through their local labour exchanges, and allowed to retain their benefits while living in the camp (in practice, they handed over most of the money to help fund the camp). The Ministry of Labour approved of this, because it kept the men physically fit and ready for a job, and thus complemented its own schemes for ‘reconditioning’ men that it believed had ‘gone soft’.

Grith Fyrd took great pride in the primitive conditions of its camps. It claimed to be cultivating a ‘spirit of adventure’ which ‘sustains pioneers in the pressing ordeals of primitive conditions’ and ‘cultivates the endurance needed for any kind of successful economic settlement’. As well as building a new, sustainable order, it also saw primitivism as a way of drawing on male aggression and turning it to positive purposes.

This ‘pioneer’ pedagogy dominated camp life from the outset. When the first men arrived, they started by building the huts in which they were to live. After completing the bunkhouses, they then built their own kitchen, dining space and other recreation cabin. The novelist, pacifist and critic of mass society Aldous Huxley visited Sandy Balls, comparing it to ‘an American backwoods settlement of a century ago’.

Grith Fyrd was short lived. It placed great demands on its members, so that only the most hardy and committed stayed the course. It depended on the unemployed to swell its ranks and help pay its costs, so falling unemployment levels hit it hard. And the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry was a fractious group, arguing and splitting over everything from nudity to the essential quality of human relationships. Shining Cliff closed in 1937, and the movement was thrown out of Sandy Balls.

Why, then, should anyone bother to recreate such a short-lived experiment? The obvious answer is that there appears to be an insatiable public appetite for reality TV, so the BBC is more or less guaranteed an audience. But there is a little more to Grith Fyrd than that. I’ve been looking at Grith Fyrd as part of a chapter on work camps as a social movement in a book on British work camps before 1939, and I think it fully deserves its place.

After 1937, Grith Fyrd members went on to found the Q Camp movement (Q stood for ‘quest’), which ran outdoor camp communities for troubled young men, and in turn influenced later outdoor education approaches to young offenders. It also had an influence on adult education, mainly through the Braziers community, where Glynn Faithfull and others ran what was effectively an adult residential college (and brought up his daughter, Marianne). It had an influence on psychoanalytic approaches to the management of therapeutic communities. Finally, it was part of a wider network of people and institutions who have tried to develop sustainable communities and peaceful living between the wars, and therefore has a place in the history of British environmentalism.

 And you don’t have to look far to see continuing beliefs in primitivism as a way of engaging and educating men. It will be fascinating to see what today’s young adults make of the experience, however short term and sanitized it has to be in our own times.

Skills conditionality: can adults be made to learn?

Ofsted’s report on the Skills Conditionality initiative concludes that many local programmes did little to improve employment. Providers often focused on achievement of qualifications, and offered courses that did not extend to training that lead to job specific skills. Many were not offering jobseekers challenging enough courses that were likely to increase their chances of sustained employment. This sounds like bad news for a scheme that was designed to help long term unemployed adults find work.

I want to argue that this is a serious report, and should not be dismissed. It identifies serious failings in government as well as areas where providers evidently need to raise their game. While it is far from being a rigorous evaluation, it brings together a compelling body of evidence from providers and participants. And finally, it raises the question of what Workfare has to do with adult learning. First, though, a bit of background.

The Department of Work and Pensions introduced Skills Conditionality in August 2011. Under the scheme, Job Centres can require claimants to be referred to a training provider on a mandatory basis; if they do not attend, they are likely to lose their benefits.  At the same time, a small amount of adult skills funding was redirected to encourage providers to develop courses that would engage this group and help them into employment.

Ofsted based its findings on visits to 45 providers who included colleges, private training firms and adult community learning services. Originally, it had contacted 58 providers, but concluded that in thirteen cases there was insufficient activity to justify a visit. The inspectors also interviewed a sample of ex-participants and carried out focus groups with current participants.

The report is reasonably clear about some of the problems that providers faced, noting that recruitment was often challenging so that courses were not viable, or had to run with very low numbers. It recognises that the participants are often in circumstances that are going to reduce their ability to find work. It paints what seemed to me a plausible picture of current provision, drawing attention to some inspiring examples of good practice, and also identifying areas where more could be done. It makes a series of recommendations, both to providers and to government, all of which look eminently sensible to me. Ironically, many of them address issues that were raised by NIACE with DWP before the programme started.

Media attention focused, unsurprisingly, on the report’s criticisms. The BBC website, of all people, misleadingly carried a headline suggesting that the failings were all the fault of further education colleges. FE Week also ran with a headline claiming that ‘Ofsted slams FE for failing to address the unemployment problem’. So two early media reports clearly presented colleges as fall guys for failings in the system.

Some of these failings clearly lie with the providers – which include colleges along with other agencies.  In fairness, it isn’t clear to me that providers face strong and consistent incentives to pour high quality staff time into this area. From the providers’ perspective, the learners are likely to be highly demanding and in some cases will present behavioural challenges; the programme is high effort and recruitment is likely to be poor; and some might wonder whether Skills Conditionality in its current form is simply another short-term initiative, with no long term implications.

But there are also structural failings in the programme. Ofsted’s first recommendation is that BIS should ‘clarify the aims and objectives of the funded programmes’. Some might find it startling that the programmes were started without clarifying their purpose in the first place, but this is then followed by seven further recommendations to BIS on operational and administrative weaknesses.

What Ofsted did not comment on was whether there was a basic design flaw in the programme. There is a substantial body of research, internationally and in the UK, into the impact of active labour market measures. Broadly speaking, these show that skills training in isolation has a fairly limited impact on unemployment. The most effective programmes are those that provide improved skills as part of a package that, critically, includes access to employment. I thought the UK Commission on Employment and Skills had absorbed this message when it reported in 2010 on the integration of skills and employment.

Nor did Ofsted mention the rather larger issue of whether adults can be compelled to learn. Taking the long view, we have been here before. Between 1929 and 1931, for example, the Labour Government introduced mandatory attendance at training centres – some of them residential work camps, others local day centres – as a condition of benefit for long term unemployed young men. It was such a failure that it was abandoned as soon as Labour left power, and was recalled with horror by civil servants and trainers for the rest of the decade.

At the very least, mandated training presents a considerable challenge to the tutors. Can you imagine the suspicion and mistrust the first time you walk in the classroom? We all know that adult learning works best when the learner is motivated, and fails miserably when they are not. The first hours and days of any course involving mandated participants will require teaching skills of the highest order if there is to be any prospect of real involvement. Whether ‘workfare’ and adult learning can be reconciled at a moral level is another matter.


Ofsted’s report is available at:

Michael Gove and the future of educational research in Britain

How will the Government’s plans for teacher training affect research? Like a number of other countries, teacher training in England will involve an expanded role for schools. Michael Gove expects universities to work in close partnership with 500 designated teaching schools; he will designate a number of University Teaching Schools, which will combine teaching with teacher training and research. It also looks as though the Government intends to take an even closer role in setting approved numbers for initial teacher training, and meanwhile it is considering ending the requirement for lecturers in further education to possess a teaching qualification.

Almost everyone expects these changes to lead to significant reductions in teaching funding for university education departments. How else can the new partnerships be funded? And the new policies will be implemented in a context of austerity, where colleges and schools are looking to make savings in their training and development budgets, and where we are all wondering how potential applicants will view the new tuition fees. Finally, teacher education and development is already pretty turbulent: funded student numbers can go up and down, and one bad inspection report can jeopardise a whole programme.

Reductions in teacher training numbers, cuts in funding, and increased unpredictability: all of these will lead some universities to review their involvement in education. The most globally-minded have the least to lose in cutting education altogether; as they see it, the subject is volatile, poorly funded, attracts few overseas students, and does nothing for their global league table performance. Those universities that struggle to recruit at the best of times, on the other hand, may be keen to dance to any tune Gove calls, but are unlikely to fit his definition of excellence.

Elsewhere, there will be choices to be made, based on a range of criteria. I worked at a reasonably distinguished university that was deeply disappointed at the research performance of its education department, but took the view that links with a hundred local schools and their teachers were a valuable strategic asset. I know of other institutions where the decision will be much more finely balanced.

Even at best, we can expect many education departments to lose funding for their teaching. This will inevitably have consequences for their research. The reason is that hardly any university department, in any subject, can do decent research on the basis of its funding council grant for research. If it loses significant levels of teaching income, then the University will look to make savings. They can maintain research if the cuts are small, but if they are large enough, then they will have to cut back on core staff numbers.

Hence the impact on research. The recent fate of adult education research in British universities is a signal of what can go wrong. Most of the researchers were partly financed through the teaching grant, based either on their role in teacher education (mostly masters’ level courses) or in adult education (mostly part-time). Once the teaching went, the research income alone was not enough to sustain their activity. While there is still a body of research, it is much smaller than a decade ago – and much more fragmented, with much of it taking place outside education departments.

Should we care? There is a case for arguing that the education research community – expected to be the second largest discipline in the next Research Evaluation exercise – is artificially inflated by the presence of initial teacher education in the universities. The ESRC’s review of the health of the social sciences showed that many lecturers come from the field of teaching, and become active researchers at a relatively late stage of their careers. I have certainly heard it said that many of the late entry researchers have experienced a narrow and weak research training, and I’ve also heard it said that the discipline has a long tail of writing that is parochial, uncritical and lacking in rigour. So you could conclude that educational research is ripe for a cull.

Yet at its best, educational research in Britain is highly regarded. The latest QS world university rankings place four British (Cambridge, Oxford, the Institute of Education and King’s College) in the world’s top twenty. Nine come from the USA, three from Australia, and one each from Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore and Japan. This ranking is of course methodologically limited: it is often criticised for rewarding size, favouring systems with high levels of international staff, ignoring the ‘halo’ effect of prestigious universities, and relying on citations accounts that are biased towards English. But it is supported by other evidence suggesting that for its size, Britain’s educational research community is pretty strong.

Will the changes in teacher training damage this track record? Based on the recent experience of adult education research, I think it highly likely that it will lead to a significant erosion of research capacity. Whether this matters, other than to the individuals involved, depends of course on your view of what educational research contributes to the wellbeing of our society.

Measuring education and wellbeing

I’ve spent the last four days in lively discussions of adult education and wellbeing. Hosted by the University of Leicester, Britain’s annual adult education research conference was investigating the evidence, concepts and policy and institutional environments in which learning and wellbeing work out. A simple twist of fate meant that we were leaving Leicester just as the Office for National Statistics published its study of education and wellbeing.

ONS has been working on this subject for some years. Before 2010, the then Labour government commissioned a major study of Mental Capital and Wellbeing that made a number of recommendations on future policy directions. After 2010, David Cameron made much of his interest in measuring happiness, with the aim of producing an index of gross national happiness that would complement more conventional economic measures of national performance.

In fact, we already know a lot about how to measure wellbeing. I am particularly impressed by the work of the New Economics Foundation, who contributed to the Foresight report, and have since worked up a series of national accounts of wellbeing. Drawing on social attitudes surveys, for example, NEF has shown that young people in Britain have the lowest levels of trust and wellbeing of any European nation. Talk about storing up problems for the future!

What does the ONS report add to our knowledge? The short answer is not much. ONS has essentially brought a range of education indicators together in one place, covering the life course from early years learning to adult education. None of these is in itself new, but this is one of the rare occasions on which government looks at education across the life course in a consistent and systematic manner.

ONS also compares Britain with the rest of the EU on many of the indicators, and like much earlier research it shows that we tend to come above the average, but are well behind most of the small Nordic nations. In spite of the prime minister’s enthusiasm for happiness indicators, I think it highly likely that his education policies will bring us safely below the EU average, and enlarge the gap with the Nordic nations.

Meanwhile, what about the ONS’s measures? For adult learners, the ONS presents a number of indicators taken from different sources. The most important is the UK Employer Skills Survey, which is based on a telephone survey, and relies heavily on respondents’ subjective judgements; nevertheless, it is generally agreed to be a robust measure. ONS also draws on the annual NIACE survey to identify levels of participation and future intentions. It also makes use of the Life Opportunities Survey, which provides new evidence on barriers to learning, while the Labour Force Survey gives details of qualifications levels.

This is all important and plausible evidence, but its bearing on wellbeing is of course indirect. To explore the links between wellbeing and education, ONS draws on its own survey of wellbeing, which showed that life satisfaction is higher for those who have higher qualifications, and lower for those with no qualifications. This is a deeply disappointing, limited and frankly predictable finding, and it is desperately frustrating to find that once more, policy makers reduce people’s knowledge and skills – their ‘human capital’ – to a simple head-count of their qualifications.

We are fortunate that there is a growing body of work from academic researchers that shows not only that adult learning and wellbeing are related, but that there appears to be a clear causal connection. I have summarised this work elsewhere, and you can access it through the Academia website. In addition, as the SCUTREA papers showed, there is also an important body of qualitative work that explores the meanings of adult learning in people’s lives, and how they use it in improving their own agency (or ‘self-efficacy’) and that of the communities which they build and to which they belong.


The ONS report is available at:

New Economics Foundation’s work on wellbeing is reported at:

You can access my overview of research on lifelong learning and well-being at: