Policy Exchange announces new education and social reform team

Policy Exchange is delighted to announce the appointment of a new education and social reform team to continue their agenda setting work in this area.

All three new team members are practising teachers, who will bring a quarter of a century of frontline experience to Policy Exchange’s work. John Blake will be the new Head of Education and Social Reform and joins us from the Harris Federation. He will be supported by Mark Lehain, Principal of Bedford Free School, and Tom Richmond, a sixth form teacher and former government advisor, as Senior Policy Fellows. Policy Exchange’s State and Society Research Fellow, Rebecca Lowe Coulson, will also be a member of the team.

Early priorities for the team will include exploring the role of an effective, knowledge-rich curriculum and well-constructed assessment in improving pupils’ education and reducing teacher workload. They will also be developing Policy Exchange’s recent work on further education, skills and apprenticeships, especially in light of Brexit, and asking serious questions about the role and effectiveness of universities in fulfilling their responsibilities to their students and wider society.

Underpinning the unit’s work is a conviction that whilst much has been done to deliver a world-class education system, too many children, especially outside London, do not yet have access to the best, and the way forward will require a grasp of the “lived reality” of our schools, which the unit is well-served to provide.

Biographies of the new team
John Blake – Head of Education and Social Reform

John Blake has been a history teacher for a decade and currently works as a History Consultant and Leading Practitioner for the Harris Federation, one of England’s most successful multi-academy trusts. At Harris, John leads on assessment and curriculum for Key Stage 3 History, runs the Federation’s GLA-funded Primary History Hub project and is History Course Lead for Harris’s initial teacher education programme.

Prior to that, he was an Assistant Head at the London Academy of Excellence, the first sixth-form free school, and served as a head of faculty, department and subject at Plashet School in Newham, Parliament Hill School in Camden and King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford.

John is an active contributor to education policy and politics debates: he founded and co-edited Labour Teachers from 2011 to 2014 and is currently a member of the Advisory Councils of NAHT Edge and the Parents and Teachers for Excellence campaign. He writes regularly for TES and others on history and education. John was educated at state comprehensive schools in Lewes and Basingstoke, before reading Modern History at the University of Oxford. After working as a Classroom Assistant at a community school in Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, John completed a PGCE at the Institute of Education in London. John also holds an MSt in Advanced History Teaching from the University of Cambridge.

Mark Lehain – Senior Policy Fellow

Mark Lehain is Founder & Principal of Bedford Free School, one of the very first free schools approved in England.

After attending his local comprehensive as a teenager he studied Economics and Politics at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Graduating in 2000, Mark initially worked in the City before returning to Cambridge to do his teacher training. He held a variety of roles in local state schools before setting up BFS, and in recent years has advised and supported a number of other groups in setting up their own schools.

He has written and spoken extensively about school reform and the neotraditional movement in education. He sits on the Advisory Council for Parents & Teachers for Excellence

Rebecca Lowe Coulson – State and Society Research Fellow

Rebecca is the State and Society Research Fellow, and edits the Policy Exchange Agenda. As well as continuing to write on issues of state and society, Rebecca will, from early 2017, be working within Policy Exchange’s new Education and Social Reform unit, with a focus on universities policy, the state’s role in furthering opportunity, and political aspects of social reform.

She is part of ConservativeHome’s editorial team, where she writes a fortnightly column, and has written for various other mostly online publications, including Prospect Magazine, The Spectator, the Daily Telegraph, and Newsweek Europe. She studied at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and Birkbeck, University of London, and has worked for various political research organisations, and as a parliamentary researcher.

Having previously worked in the arts, she founded and directed the Caritas Ensemble — a professional chamber ensemble, which raises funds and awareness for charitable causes. She also taught pupils from nursery-age to A-level within various schools and other institutions, and privately. In the 2015 general election, she was a parliamentary candidate for City of Durham, where she gained the sixth biggest increase in the Conservative vote, nationally. Her research interests lie in the intersection between policy, practical politics, and political theory, with a particular focus on the role of the state, and its obligations to society.

Tom Richmond – Senior Policy Fellow

Tom RichmondTom Richmond is a teacher at a Sixth Form College. Before re-entering the classroom in January 2016, he spent almost a decade working on education, skills and welfare policy. From 2013 to 2015, he was a senior advisor to Skills Ministers Nick Boles and Matthew Hancock on vocational education and skills policy, including advising on the development of Apprenticeship policy during this time.

Prior to joining the Government, he worked in policy development and research across different sectors including roles at Pearson, G4S Welfare to Work, think-tanks such as Policy Exchange and the Social Market Foundation and a leading professional body.

Last year Tom co-authored ‘The skills we need, and why we don’t have them’ for Policy Exchange.

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