The maestro conductor. Few figures have had Barber’s influence on schools or universities; he has recently been appointed chair of the Office for Students (OfS), the new regulator for higher education in Britain. A Quaker by background, he came to prominence as chief advisor to the education secretary in Blair’s government from 1997, before moving into No. 10 in 2001 as head of the PMs delivery unit. Barber put relentless focus on driving up standards across the state sector by working to improve school results. At McKinsey from 2005, he focussed on how school systems across the world improved their performance, notably in Pacific Asia. In 2013, Barber, when at Pearson, published An Avalanche is Coming, looking at the global revolution in higher education. Expect him to shake up higher education as much as he has schools. It needs it.

The Seldon List 2017


These 20 figures, ten women, ten men, encompass those who I believe are having or will have the most powerful effect on our schools and universities. Some are household names, many are not. They all should be. Education at every level is riven by major disputes, and now more so than ever. The list of 20 contains those with pungent views on these debates, which include: whether we should be educating young people to lead a good life or merely for jobs; whether a traditional academic curriculum is suitable for all and whether it is right that it fails a third or more; and whether the state or the market should be dominant in deciding the content and delivery of education.

Reducing the figures to just 20 was agonizing: a further ten at least were very close to inclusion. Next year’s table will drop 10 from here. The key factor in the selection is who is setting the agenda for education, whether leaders of individual institutions, politicians and administrators, or academics and writers.

As education affects all of us, far more than we may think, these 20 contain some of the most influential figures in the country today.

Sir Anthony Seldon

Sir Anthony is one of Britain’s leading contemporary historians, educationalist, commentator and political author. Anthony Seldon is currently the Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University. He was head of Brighton College and of Wellington College, two of Britain’s leading independent schools. He is author of over 40 books on contemporary history, including the inside books on the last four Prime Ministers, politics and education, is co-founder of Action for Happiness, honorary historian to Downing Street and a Director of The Royal Shakespeare Company.



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