IS THIS THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN EDUCATION?

Ollie Lane

Professor Alison Wolf’s credentials, connections and credibility are unrivalled: Reforms introduced on her advice will directly raise the employability prospects of millions of young people; politicians actually do what she says; and now she’s been nominated as a cross-bench peer by the Prime Minister.

She has advised the OECD, the European Commission, the Bar Council, and the education departments of no fewer than four countries.
She is already a CBE for services to education.

And politicians don’t just nod politely when Professor Wolf tells them what she thinks: her case for change in vocational education – articulated via her modus operandi of hard facts and evidence, alongside a charmingly brisk and disdainful situation analysis – was so compelling that Ministers agreed to implement every one of the recommendations in her 2011 review. It even received broad-cross party support – a rarity for a Government-appointed adviser.

Thanks to the reforms she demanded be made to exam league tables and the college funding system, millions of young people will over the next few years study courses that universities and employers actually value, rather than ones that have, as she puts it, “little to no labour market value”.

And thanks to her, no longer are young people able just to give up English and maths after age 16 in spite of achieving no better than a D in their GCSEs. They now have to carry on studying the subjects post-secondary school so that they can get up to the standards of literacy and numeracy demanded by employers.

These changes will arguably directly affect more young people, and have a greater positive impact on them, and their job prospects, than any of the other education reforms of the last few years.

Not content with that, Professor Wolf, whose day job is at King’s College London, is now the driving force behind the King’s Maths School, a beacon of high standards and aspirations, and an outstanding advert for the free schools programme.

And Professor Wolf – married to the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf – has appeal beyond academia, politics and the Establishment. Her recent book, The XX Factor, on the economic rise of women (and whose title betrayed a nice appreciation of pop culture), was described The New York Times as “foundation-shaking” and by The Guardian as “a crucial bible”.

Further evidence of the esteem in which she is held came just last week when she was nominated to the peerage by the Prime Minister – tellingly, as a cross-bench peer. For she has no political alignment and it is this refusal to play party politics – demonstrated by the manner in which her 2011 report was so warmly welcomed – that underscores her success.

All in all, it’s an enviable record that explains the influence she has – and it’s why Professor Alison Wolf might just be the most important person in education.

Ollie Lane is a PLMR Account Director. Prior to joining the PLMR team, he was Chief Press Officer at the Department for Education, leading on all schools issues and gaining positive coverage across the media for the Government’s education reforms.

Share this article