Paul Kett is Director General for Skills Groups at the Department for Education. Here he reflects on being a Policy Leaders Fellow (2019-2021) and how engaging with CSaP's network has helped inform his policy work across government.
I am a policy adviser; my role covers responsibilities for further education, higher education, the wider adult-skills system - broadly the post-16 education and training system in England. I work with a wide range of people within national and local government, and in particular leaders in the education and skills sector, including college principals, senior leaders across universities and senior business leaders and those leading representative bodies.
Certainly, earlier in my career I would be wrestling with a policy problem and would think, who can I talk to in academia? Who has got some expertise on this? And it could be very difficult to make the right connections. Through CSaP, I have learned that – inevitably(!) - no one person is holding the answer to complex cross-cutting public policy issues. Yet the network the Centre provides can bring multiple disciplines together, and a wide range of perspectives and expertise, which enhances a ‘systems thinking’ mindset.
All the interactions I have had through the Policy Leaders Fellowship programme I have found valuable. Sometimes it was simply providing a bit of intellectual curiosity, learning something new about the world or the opportunity to meet some interesting people. Other times, it was because the conversations I was having were directly relevant to my day-to-day role.
A particular set of interactions which stood out to me was a series of one-to-one meetings I had in Cambridge with academics and experts who had undertaken research or practice in pedagogy and in teacher professional development. I was talked through really interesting research and evidence about investment in more systematic Continuing Professional Development (CPD) practices for teachers, which was leading to them both choosing to stay in the profession for longer and improving effective education practice. That insight had quite a tangible impact and the input I gained really helped shape the policy development I was leading at the time. The teams I was leading were able to draw on this expertise and use it to inform policy work to design a more rigorous system that supports and embeds teacher professional development, rather than ‘the ad hoc approach’ which was previously in place. This also led to my teams being able to follow up and pursue their own research in the area.
When I look back on this example of impact, one thing I have personally learned is the power of having a more enduring network with academics and the importance of ongoing collaboration between academia and policy makers. This is important for impactful research into public policy.
In every single interaction I have had with CSaP there has been a significant takeaway. It has helped me to approach policy issues from various angles and to better understand how public policy challenges are all interconnected.