It isn't about new ideas - it is about ideas that work

The debate last week in Parliament on the #LoveOurColleges campaign petition stimulated some, including me, to write about our optimism for how colleges might fare in the spending review due this year. Others, including Julia Belgutay and Andrew Otty, were less optimistic, rightly pointing out that MPs talking to each other about their support is simply not enough. I remain firmly on the optimistic side, but only just because of how Brexit is dominating debate, political focus and Whitehall efforts.The conversation about optimism and pessimism got me thinking this week about another spectrum that overshadows the work that the Association of Colleges does in Whitehall and Parliament: that featuring new and innovative ideas on the one side and the tried and tested on the other. Now, it might be because I have been around in this sector for too long, but I do seem to be seeing more and more so-called new ideas coming around for the second or even third time. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. If an idea has a chance of working then it is worth considering, but I wonder how many new ideas there actually are.I also increasingly believe that the test of a good policy proposal should be less on whether it is new, innovative and creative and more whether it has been shown to work or is working now in a similar context and conditions. I understand the attraction of innovation, in the same way that I can appreciate why people want the latest new car. The problem is, I drive a 10-year-old Volvo and cannot see the point in changing it. It works, it is perfectly functional for my needs and will probably chug on forever until someone intervenes and bans it because of its emissions.

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