My week: Luke Johnson
The outgoing Channel 4 chairman plans for his future and looks forward to Halloween trick or treats with his children
On a grand tour of restaurants all over the Midlands and the North: a colleague is showing me his culinary empire, he wants capital to expand it further. Should we invest? We talk about ambition and dreams.
I worry that dining out is a discretionary item and that while consumers in London seem to be recovering their confidence, in the provinces prospects still appear bleak. The suburbs of Manchester are full of vacant shops and estate agents' boards and an apparent air of desperation.
Yet I've been arguing in relentlessly optimistic speeches and articles that everyone is entitled to a second chance in life. And to an extent I have found that the more I communicate a positive message, the more it lifts my mood.
At least in Lytham on the Fylde Coast in Lancashire, the restaurant trade appears to be booming. It is a genteel place which has preserved its seaside charm. I phone my dad – writer and historian Paul Johnson – from the sunlit front to tell him I'm in the town of his birth for the first time in my life and we plan birthday celebrations for him and my son in the coming days.
Meanwhile, I am becoming demob happy at the prospect of stepping down as chairman of Channel 4 after six years. It has been an exhilarating ride – plenty of fabulous programmes and films, lots of great people – and, yes, the odd cock-up.
We now have to find a new chief executive, but C4 remains an organisation with incredible esprit de corps, so I am sure we shall be spoilt for choice – unlike some of our competitors.
I give an interview from the boardroom on Friday to ITV, which is planning a hatchet job on our director of programmes about his salary.
ITV compares what he gets with what politicians are paid, but forgets that Channel 4 generates all its own revenue through advertising and has had no taxpayer handouts in its entire 27 year history.
I'm not sure they accept my argument, but I think I can see why ITV is struggling: there is a crew of six, where an indie producer would have shot the piece with two.
Friends ask me what I plan to do after Channel 4, but the truth is, being a part of the organisation that created Inbetweeners, Slumdog Millionaire, Deep Water, Red Riding and Green Wing will take some beating.
I meet a decent bank manager I have known for a numbers of years. I explain that a company we own has a few local problems, but the longer term looks bright and can he be lenient about the money he has loaned us? Please.
No doubt he hears this tale several times a day from all manner of characters. In the good times, money was sprayed around like confetti – now the banks want to make sure they are going to get paid back. His attitude is very reasonable under the circumstances.
This type of stuff – backing real industry with finance that generates jobs and wealth – is light years from the madness of the investment banking universe that has caused such profound losses and resentment.
Financial services must restructure, and separate the utility elements of banks from the casinos, and make it clear the latter get no implicit state guarantees. (Though at least the crisis spawned my favourite quote of the year: Rolling Stone's description of Goldman Sachs as the "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money".)
We have so far rescued three failing firms this year – they are almost the only deals one can do in this climate, because no one except forced sellers is making disposals. Inevitably, turnarounds are high-risk, high-reward ventures, but very satisfying when you achieve a proper recovery. In February, we bought out of bankruptcy Baker & Spice, a specialist patisserie. After a certain amount of trauma following our takeover, the business is now prospering – despite the downturn.
At a dinner party at home – I'd read that dinner parties are dead, but that doesn't stop my wife, Liza, from throwing them – helped along with some Baker & Spice catering, our guests' verdict is that the meal is a success. Especially the biscuits. I hope they are being honest, not just polite.
To Hall Green greyhound track in Birmingham. The occasion is a charity fund raiser for the Royal Society of Arts Academy school in Tipton. I'm chairman at the RSA and the school uses our pioneering "Opening Minds" curriculum. I back the winner in the first two races. but draw a blank for the rest of the night. No one can really follow the form but the names of the animals are wonderful and the service is equally brilliant.
Conversation focuses on Tory plans to eviscerate many local education authorities, so creating huge opportunities for social entrepreneurs to come in and reinvent how schools are managed.
The track bookmaker refuses to take bets on the outcome of next year's election, but Mick the headmaster and I agree that many more schools in the years ahead will need the RSA treatment and that a change of government may reveal all sorts of possibilities. I foresee an exciting new project to get stuck into in 2010.
The weekend is preparation for trick or treat with our children Felix, two, and Daisy, four, on Saturday night. I can see why dressing up and sweets are popular, but I still hanker after fireworks.
When I was young, Guy Fawkes was what mattered – no one cared about Halloween – and penny for the guy was an important cash generator for budding entrepreneurs. Moreover, it was all vaguely based on the concept of anarchists blowing up the Houses of Parliament, which has always held a certain fantasy appeal. Even if it's not really a very sensible idea.#
New term, new start in Labour's academy schools revolution
The government this week launched more than 180 new schools around England, including 47 privately-sponsored academies. Some of these schools are involved in a controversial and radical rethinking of how to educate children in the poorest areas of the country. The Guardian obtained exclusive access to three of the new schools to see the reality of New Labour's school revolution
At the best of times the first lesson after the long summer holidays can feel unending. But at the RSA academy in Tipton that feeling may be more justified, because the lessons are three hours long.
Three-hour lessons, a longer day and school year and 90 pupils to a class makes the RSA academy sound like boot camp. But it has also scrapped homework, subject areas and streaming and is using a curriculum designed to train pupils in the skills that will serve them in life, before they learn the facts and figures that will get them through a GCSE.
"Our pupils become more competent learners. They will be much more well-rounded, not just better at exams but better at understanding the world, their community and about tolerance," says the school's principal, Michael Gernon.
The lessons are based on a curriculum called Opening Minds developed by the school's sponsor, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).
Three-hour lessons mean they do a project in a morning, instead of over a week. Pupils rarely sit still for long and textbooks are rarely used. Instead, they learn skills in communication, managing themselves, working in teams and understanding their responsibilities.
Tipton's children are largely white, working class and poor. The West Midlands school abuts a large estate known locally as the Lost City. With only one road linking it to the rest of the world it's easy to lose yourself in its labyrinthine streets.
"People who grow up here don't leave. There are long-held attitudes. Education isn't a priority and we need to change that," says Gernon.
On the first day the year seven pupils are putting together a learning calendar where they will record their aims and achievements through the year. They learn to take digital photos and produce individual calendars. The 90 pupils in the class take turns to do tasks and have three teachers present at all times. One teacher, Rebecca Richardson, says the large classes are not a problem. "You've just got to have good classroom control. You could teach 120 in a class if you wanted."
The year eight pupils love having no homework - a slightly longer day means their evenings are their own - and point out that three-hour lessons mean they don't spend their days traipsing from one class to another. They even like the new school term arrangement, admitting that the six-week summer holidays got boring. The academy has five terms, interspersed with two-week holidays, and four weeks in summer.
One year eight girl says: "Everybody wants to go here now. People think you're dead posh because you come from a privately run academy but really we're not." It was exactly this sentiment that the Blair government wanted academies to inspire, and the RSA academy is more Blairite than most. Its chief executive, Matthew Taylor, was Tony Blair's chief policy adviser until 2006.
Gernon says it is not a political institution but it does have high ambitions. "Our role is to create a blueprint for a new educational system," he says.
"We want to start a different way of learning, which breeds success but still meets all the accountability measures, so we can prove you can break out of the shackles of the national curriculum and get away from the fear of league tables.
"It's a big statement, I know it is. But that's our mission."
Inside three new academies
A look at the radical approaches of three of the 47 new academies, which include three-hour lessons, no homework and a private school sheen of which Blair would be proud
- Esther Addley, Polly Curtis and Martin Wainwright
- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 September 2008 15.51 BST
- Article history
Pupils on the first day of lessons at the Evelyn Grace Academy, in Brixton, London. The school is one of a record number of academies to open this year. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi
The government this week launched more than 180 new schools around England including 47 privately sponsored academies. Some of these schools are involved in controversial and radical re-thinking of how to educate children in the poorest areas of the country. The Guardian obtained exclusive access to three of the new schools to witness the reality of New Labour's school revolution.
Esther Addley: Evelyn Grace Academy, Brixton
"Excellence, endeavour and self-discipline" are the buzz words on this, the very first morning of Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton, south London. Just to remind year seven, filing into the brand new assembly hall in their oversized blazers and fat, new ties, large posters displaying the motto have been hung around the hall.
It is barely 9am, but already the 170 students have been instructed on these key virtues, along with sitting up straight, maintaining eye contact, standing in poker-straight lines, sitting only when told to do so and maintaining absolute silence. Crooked ties and non-regulation socks are not permissible in the hall.
It is a demanding set of standards for these small 11-year-olds, who only moments ago were hovering shyly next to their parents at the school gates. But for head teacher Peter Walker and his team, the ethos of "100%" — another Evelyn Grace motto — means enforcing every one of the school's lofty principles from the very first moment.
Situated next to one of south London's most notorious sink estates, the school aspires to be a haven of order, aspiration and strict discipline. And peering in at the gates, parents repeatedly declare themselves impressed by its tough love. "I'm from the old school," says one. "The more boundaries the better."
Evelyn Grace is sponsored by Ark, a children's charity that this week doubled its tally of London schools to six. A further two are in development.
The charity is the creation of the billionaire hedge fund manager Arpad Busson, and the beneficiary of lavish annual fundraising galas that in recent years have hosted Sting, Bill Clinton and Stevie Wonder.
The charity, which stands for "absolute return for kids", applies its City values of targeted investment and high expectations of return to deprived children in India, South Africa, eastern Europe – and, from this week, Brixton.
Present at this morning's opening is the fund manager David Gorton, who, thanks to an eye-watering seven-figure personal donation, is the school's "sponsor and key governor". "Work hard, make good friends, have fun, and smile!" he tells the students. No one has mentioned fun before.
It is thanks to Ark funding that Evelyn Grace can offer its version of value-added education. The school day runs from 8.30am to 5pm, appreciated equally by parents, mindful of security, and, perhaps surprisingly, the students themselves. The hours after 3pm will be devoted to sport, music and academic catch-up sessions.
Teachers will receive additional support from specialists working across the Ark family. Meanwhile the permanent buildings for the new school are already under construction – designed by Zaha Hadid.
It's an impressive, and enviable set-up. But isn't there something faintly unsettling about very rich people setting the terms by which poor students are educated?
"I see this as an opportunity to actually create something in a local community where there is a need for a good school," says Walker, previously the director of the government's secondary schools' strategy programme. "I think there are issues about ... ignoring the opportunity to use people who want to put their money into something." While he might have difficulties with some academy groups, he says: "With Ark there is an educational vision that I feel comfortable with."
That vision might be summed up as small-scale schooling. With Walker as overall principal, the academy has been divided into two "small schools", each with its own head (eventually there will be four).
Students are organised into learning groups of 10, each headed by an adult leader whom they will see every day and eat lunch with twice a week.
Such levels of contact will allow the management team to give any student who struggles the support they need, he believes. And what will make this school a success? "We want all children to achieve five Cs at GCSE, including English and Maths." Every child? "Yes."
In the culture of 100%, nothing less will do.
Martin Wainwright: Oasis Academy Media City UK, Salford
Something changed in Salford this week, as the usual gaggles of school students headed past Buile Hill park on the first day of term.
Last year they were white-shirted or maybe with the black sweaters of Hope High school looped round their waists.
From now on, the gear is black blazers, trousers or skirt, red tie and a breast pocket badge saying Oasis Academy Media City UK.
"It is a bit of a mouthful," admits the new academy's principal, Dave Terry, before briefing staff on their latest ride on the roller coaster previously known as Hope. "But now we have certainty. That is the great thing. Now we can accelerate improvements. That's what the academy has given the community, our students and staff."
Terry couples the word "community" with the school on every possible occasion, aware that academies are sometimes portrayed as "different" and therefore at odds with other state high schools. He guarantees "absolutely no selection on ability", although the academies have a limited right to do that, and no exclusions either.
There were 15 two years ago and one last year (for a criminal offence). In future, he says, there should be none.
The medium-term outlook for Salford's Oasis is stunning. In three years' time, the 650-odd pupils move into state-of-the-art new buildings on Salford Quays, the "MediaCity" of the school's new name. Their neighbours, and partners in work experience and interactive teaching, will include the new northern base of the BBC and dozens of freelance media firms.
It will be a 1.8 mile hop, but Terry intends to take his mixed, and in part very challenging, catchment with him, adding new pupils to fill the extra space, with a sixth form for the first time. Meanwhile, he gets most pleasure from the transformation of tatty old Hope's existing buildings, which are half a century old and looked it – until this term.
Outside, academy status is little more than bright new signs and some flags, but through the classroom door it is a different matter. Room after room is bright with fresh paint, student work on the walls alongside aspirational slogans and, most important, stacks of IT gear which a modern media company would envy.
"We needed investment, finance and resource in these buildings, now, to give the community faith in us," says Terry, who was appointed head of Hope three years ago, when it was on Ofsted's failing school list. Six weeks after he started, a planned PFI new-build was dropped by Salford council. The roller coaster either had to crash or go up.
It went up. First by Terry fishing in every available budget pond, then through the work of a reinvigorated – but little-changed – staff. One of them, Paresh Shah, takes his new year sevens through GCSE results: 32 per cent got A-Cs two years ago, he tells the class with a long face; then up it went to 55 last year (a bit of a smile). What's the target next time? Up shoots a perky lad's arm: "75 to 80 per cent, sir." "Yes," (with a big beam).
"I've been here a long, long time now and this has refreshed me," says Shah. "The IT and learning facilities are fantastic. I've taught in this classroom for a good while, and everything's new. The vision is great. It's going to be a good year. We're going to have fun."
Fun and faith. Oasis, which has ten academies up and running or planned, is a Christian network founded by Steve Chalke, an evangelical Baptist in the religious tradition of getting stuck in to social problems. The group's subtitle is "community learning".
"They are people who want to concentrate on making things better in this part of the world," says Terry, who is not a believer but has met no problems on that account. "Faith for us means faith in people. Whether your faith comes from God or humanitarianism, the outcome is what matters."
Polly Curtis: RSA Academy, Tipton
At the best of times the first lesson after the long summer holidays can feel unending, but at the RSA Academy in Tipton that feeling is even more justified because the lessons are three-hours long.
Three-hour lessons, a longer day and school year and 90 pupils to a class makes the RSA Academy sound like a boot camp. But they've also scrapped homework, subject areas and streaming and are using a progressive curriculum designed to train pupils in the skills and competencies that will serve for life before they learn the facts and figures that will get them through a GCSE.
"Our pupils become more competent learners. They will be much more well-rounded, not just better at exams but better at understanding the world, their community and about tolerance," says the schools' principle, Michael Gernon.
The lessons are based on a curriculum called Opening Minds developed by the school's sponsor the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). Three-hour lessons mean they do a whole project in a morning, instead of over a week. Pupils rarely sit still for long and textbooks are practically banned. Instead they learn skills in communication, managing themselves, working in teams and understanding their responsibilities.
Tipton's children are largely white, working class and poor. The school abuts a large estate known locally as the Lost City, because with only one road linking it to the rest of the world it's easy to lose yourself in its labyrinthine streets. "People who grow up here don't leave. There are long-held attitudes. Education isn't a priority and we need to change that," says Gernon.
On the first day of the school year seven pupils are putting together a learning calendar where they will record their aims and achievements through the year. They learn to take digital photos and produce individual calendars from the piles of mini notebooks around the room. The 90 pupils in the class take turns to do tasks and have three teachers present at all times.
Their teacher, Rebecca Richardson, says the large classes are not a problem. "It's fine. You've just got to have good classroom control. You could teach 120 in a class if you wanted."
The year eight pupils love having no homework – a slightly longer day means their evenings are their own – and point out that three-hour lessons mean they don't spend their days traipsing from one class to another. They even like the new school term arrangement admitting that the six-week summers got boring.
One year eight girl says: "I really like going to a private academy. Everybody wants to go here now. People think you're dead posh because you come from a privately run academy but really we're not. People think it's like a private school."
It was exactly this sentiment that the Blair government wanted academies to inspire and the RSA Academy is more Blairite than most. Its head, Matthew Taylor, was Blair's chief policy advisor up until 2006.
Gernon says they are not a political institution but they do have high ambitions. "As far as we're concerned our role is to create a blueprint for a new educational system," he says. "We want to start a different way of learning, which breeds success but still meets all the accountability measures so we can prove you can break out of the shackles of the national curriculum and get away from the fear of league tables. It's a big statement, I know it is. But that's our mission."
Our decision to sponsor a city academy (Letters, November 15) accords well with the aims of the RSA since its formation in 1754. Five manifesto challenges guide our work today and all are shaping the development of the RSA academy: encouraging enterprise; moving towards a zero-waste society; developing a capable population; fostering resilient communities; and advancing global citizenship. Tipton will have a state-of-the-art building and a curriculum based on our Opening Minds competences, which we believe will help equip young people who attend the academy with the skills and abilities to prosper in the 21st century. The admissions policy will reflect that, with the first priority being looked-after children. The suggestion is that we should be helping many schools instead of just one. Opening Minds is doing exactly that: about 100 schools in England are using the programme and we are working to substantially increase that number by 2010.
RSA head of education
Brave new world: Traditional classrooms, lessons - and even homework - have been expelled
Tony Blair's vision of academies as innovative and free from state control became a reality last week.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
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The Duke of Edinburgh smiles, looking a tad bemused at the job he is undertaking – opening a school that is pioneering a radical new approach to learning. Just about everything that the Government has imposed on schools or encouraged over the last decade is being thrown out to make way for a skills-based curriculum called Opening Minds.
The national curriculum has been torn up, except as a broad framework, as have normal timetables and classroom walls. Lessons last an amazing three hours. Class sizes are big and homework is no more. Welcome to the school of the 21st century.
This is the latest of the Government's 131 flagship academies, a new school devised by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) of which the Duke is the President. The children say they feel honoured that he has come to visit Tipton, a sprawling residential area near Dudley in the West Midlands. "If you're posh, you wouldn't live in Tipton," explains a pupil.
This new school – the RSA Academy – is being overseen by Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector who united the education world with his plans for an overarching school leaving diploma, only to see it rejected by the Government. Now he has the chance to put some of his ideas into practice. Big changes in the way the school is organised are being introduced and in two years' time the buildings will be demolished as children move into a £30m new structure on the site of Willingsworth High School, the 11-16 comprehensive it is replacing.
"We have set out to do something different," says the principal, Michael Gernon. "We want to be a pioneer." It will be nearer than most academies to the Blairite vision of an innovative, private state school, able to run its own affairs. Significantly, chief executive of the RSA is Matthew Taylor, Tony Blair's chief policy adviser when he was in Downing Street.
The national curriculum has been the first thing to go, although maths English and science have been kept, making way for five areas of life skills or competencies. Subject departments have been rearranged into three broad "schools" or areas of knowledge. The 30-lesson-a-week timetable has been replaced by eight lessons – each lasting three hours. Classroom walls have been removed to provide large spaces for lessons of up to 90 with team teaching and breakout activities.
In the brave new world of the RSA Academy there are no bells or children jostling in corridors because they are moving lessons every hour. There's no homework and no after-school clubs. Instead, there's a slightly longer day and two half-days a week devoted to enrichment activities for everyone, not just for those able to stay after school.
"The most common comment we hear from teachers and students is that three hours isn't enough," says Gernon, who transformed another local comprehensive before a spell with the DCSF and a job with KPMG, the consultancy firm. Other breaks from the past include a five-term year, mixed age tutor groups, which meet for 30 minutes a day, and free breakfasts for staff and students who eat together at staged intervals during the morning.
"Our approach to teaching and learning is unique and is based on the Opening Minds curriculum," says Gernon. "This is a set of competencies and skills that challenge students in their ability to think and to learn. It helps them to manage people, information and situations, all of which will lead them towards being good citizens capable of influencing the world in which they will live."
He has big plans for the school. Subject departments have been rearranged into three broad "schools" – maths, science and technology; arts, humanities, sports, and leisure and language and communications. Teachers work together across subject boundaries to deliver the competencies – learning, citizenship, relating to people, managing situations and managing information.
"We pick out those bits of content that we feel are relevant and we couple those with key competence areas," he says.
Haven't we heard this somewhere before? Wasn't the failure of discovery learning, themed projects and cross-curricular teaching in the Sixties and Seventies the very reason the national curriculum was brought in, to ensure that children received the same basic entitlement, wherever they were educated? Today's young people can get knowledge at the click of a button, says Sally Weale, the acting head of the former school who is now the deputy principal. What they need are skills and confidence. "Students are enjoying learning more now," she says. "It is not something being done to them."
In fact, they are getting more actual subject teaching because staff don't have to go over things repeatedly, she explains. "I teach English. In the past, if I wanted students to compare two poems we would have to read one on a Tuesday and the next on a Thursday and the following week when you said they were going to compare the two poems they'd ask 'which two poems?' You'd end up spoon feeding them just to get through it. In three hours, you can do the whole thing."
What do the pupils think of their new school? Without exception they welcome the end of homework and the two half-day enrichment sessions. All but some of the younger ones who find it tiring, praise the three-hour lessons, saying they get much more done.
For Aidan Smith, 14, the academy has transformed his life. Three-hour lessons make it much easier to get things done, he says. "In business studies, we learn how to use the resources of the internet and do our own research and we learn how to work as a team and about what it means to be a leader.
"These are life skills that we can use outside school. We used to work together in groups but we didn't work as a team with all of us having different roles to play like we do now."
Maths is no longer boring, he says. Indeed, now it's fun because you don't simply sit in the classroom. "We've got a fantastic maths teacher who took us outside and showed us how to use a clinometer to measure the height of the tower block, and the gym and the reception area. That's a life skill. You tell me how many people could stand there and work out the height of a tower block?
"Today's been the best day of my life. I've met the Duke of Edinburgh and because I was doing a presentation my mother was invited and she met him as well. It's been strange to see royalty in Tipton. But you know what I'm thinking? Now I'm at this academy I might be Prime Minister one day."
Man on a mission: Can Matthew Taylor fix our schools?
Matthew Taylor used to advise the Prime Minister on strategy. Now he has turned his attention to schools. He tells Hilary Wilce why
Thursday, 22 March 2007
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There's a new kid on the education block. He comes hot-foot from Downing Street, and he's intent on dragging Britain's schools into the 21st century.
He plans to set up schools with radical new approaches to leadership, discipline and the curriculum, and to create a major national hub for what he calls "the new schools ecology".
And he plans to do it fast. Until recently, Matthew Taylor was chief adviser on political strategy for Tony Blair, but he has now taken over as chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts - and he is going all out to push this benign and somewhat bumbling body to the cutting edge of key social issues. One of these is the future of schools.
His interview with The Independent is shoehorned between a journey back from Brussels and a meeting with David Miliband, but it's put on hold while he tracks down a website quote for his father, the broadcaster and academic Laurie Taylor, to use in his radio programme that afternoon. "I'll ring you back," he tells him, "if I can think of a joke about economists."
Taylor, 46, ran the left-leaning think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) before joining No 10, and is the consummate inner-circle New Labourite, well connected and media-savvy. Lean-jawed and unsmiling, he is keen to make an impact.
He plans an ambitious drive towards a new model of social change led by citizens, not government - an ambition that is often outlined in the kind of familiar Blairite phrases that make it plain that, while he left No 10 four months ago, No 10 is taking its time working its way out of him.
The Royal Society of Arts, in contrast, has few such well-honed edges. It was set up to encourage the Arts, Manufactures (sic) and Commerce, and from its Georgian home just off the Strand it administers 26,000 Fellows - successful, often eminent people in fields that span the arts and sciences - and a wide-ranging programme of events on subjects from childhood risk to string theory. Its heart is good but its brand is fuzzy; it is often confused with the Royal Society or the Royal College of Art.
Its programme of projects embraces the environment, enterprise, skills, communities and global citizenship. Taylor intends to take these and root them firmly in practical action, with the aim, he says, of shifting public debate on anything the RSA gets involved with.
"In education, there is a whole range of new providers and new forms of governance, and my vision is for us to act as a hub in this new schools ecology.
"There used to be a sort of great and good who oversaw education policy in Britain, but we are in a different world now, where it's not just about education officers and senior advisers. What we can offer here, in this building, is good events, discussions and networks to promote innovation." And they will be able to do this with authority, he says, because the RSA will be getting its hands dirty running schools.
For some years, the society has had a school curriculum for KS3 pupils, based on building skills in broad areas such as communications and relationships. It has been taken up by about 80 schools.
Now, the RSA is to sponsor an academy in Tipton in the West Midlands, and will become an education partner in two other academies in King's Lynn and Nottingham. "We've also been approached by other schools who are interested in working with us on trust status," Taylor says.
Some RSA Fellows objected - they thought this was too political, or were opposed to academies in principle - but most are behind it, and Taylor is keen to expand the work. "I'm a late convert to the idea of school diversity. When I went into No 10, I spent some time fighting it, but I came to understand how difficult it is to drive innovation and improvement in public services."
However, he worries that having diverse providers does not necessarily lead to diverse kinds of schooling, and he fears that many academy sponsors, although cash-rich, could be ideas-poor and unprepared for the long, rocky ride of school improvement.
"We could end up having all the pain without any of the gain. The thing is that schools need to move on all fronts together to be effective. There has to be a story going on around governance and leadership, and one around behaviour and discipline, and one around the curriculum. Then there's the extended school agenda. Most schools are good at doing one or two of these, but fall down on the others. We want to look at how they interlink, and how they could, together, lead to a very different model of schools."
This new model is likely to foster all those things that employers say school leavers are so short of - communication skills, emotional intelligence and team working - and to encompass other fundamental changes such as behaviour policies set by pupils themselves, and a curriculum they see the point of. After all, he says, the whole nature of knowledge is changing, yet we are still teaching pupils ephemeral bits of this and that. "My son says, 'Why do I need to learn about the Great Barrier Reef? If I need to know, I can look it up on Wikipedia.' Yet when boys are training for football, they will happily do the same thing over and over because they understand why they need to do it."
The new school will also find fresh approaches to involving parents. This is a passion of Taylor's, as it connects with his belief that the effective social shifts of the future will stem from those involved (whether as parents, patients or residents) rather than be imposed by political leaders.
"I think we missed something here. When education was all about educating the elite, we didn't have to worry about parental engagement, but when we tried to raise standards among a much wider group, it included many of those whose parents had had bad educational experiences. Under such circumstances, parental behaviour becomes hugely important, but we didn't see this, and now we're learning after the event to have to think about how to do it.
"But parents are all very different. Middle-class parents only need doors to be opened and then they will walk through. Working-class aspirational parents need to see that the school values them and takes them seriously. And then there are a group of challenging parents with whom you need to work much more intensively. However, most schools treat parents as an undifferentiated mass, because they're nervous about any approach that makes clear such differences."
Taylor, on the other hand, is not at all nervous about sensitive issues, nor afraid to ask the kind of questions that other people might think but not voice. Why, he wondered recently, had the internet turned out to be so good for "wankers, gamblers and shoppers", but not for citizens and communities? And why have we lost all sense of etiquette so that we wear offensive T-shirts and swear in public?
He is also willing to criticise government policy, wondering whether, in the area of skills training, offering incentives for learning without trying to tackle the basic issues of attitudes and motivation isn't "trying to insert an aspiration that just isn't there".
Being out of No 10 gives him new scope to voice such views freely, which, he says, is "liberating".
However, on his own admission, he is no educationist, neither has he seen much of it on the ground. "I spent five brilliant years at the IPPR and three fantastic years at No 10, and I am very proud of those years, but I have one huge self-criticism and that is that I didn't spend a day a week going out and talking to real people doing real things.
"And I should have, because it is such an insight. I'm doing a fundraising lunch for the academy next week, and I've absolutely got to go to the school before the launch. I've completely run out of capacity to sit in rooms talking about things I haven't smelt and felt."
By doing this he will, he hopes, manage to avoid the kind of hubris that says: "Here is a plan. This is the way to do it."
And with two sons (aged nine and 13) both attending state schools in London, he does at least understand how hard it can be to turn schools around. He was a governor at his elder son's school until recently when it went into special measures and had its governing body disbanded.
As a protective parent, Taylor doesn't want to recount all the details of what happened, but it was clearly a bitter and eye-opening experience. "So I am very aware of the challenges of school improvement, and just how difficult it can be."
Family Partner and two sons.
Lives South London.
Education Emmanuel School, south London; Southampton University, sociology degree; Warwick University, MA industrial relations.
Career November 2006-present: Chief executive, RSA.
2003-06: Chief adviser on political strategy to the Prime Minister.
1999-2003: Director, Institute for Public Policy Research.
1994-98: Assistant general secretary, Labour party (during the 1997 general election he was Labour's director of policy and a member of the Party's central election strategy team).
1990-93: Senior research fellow, University of Warwick.
1988-90: Director, West Midlands Health Service Monitoring Unit.
1985-88: Set up a research unit at the teachers' union, the NASUWT
Interests Running in this year's London Marathon; likes to encourage his sons' football; supports West Bromwich Albion. HW