Mick Waters was recently appointed as Professor of
Education at the University of Wolverhampton. He works with the
Black Country Children’s Services Improvement Partnership in
raising aspirations and influencing teaching and learning for
children and young people in the region through initiatives such as
the Black Country Challenge.
He was previously Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications
and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and took a lead role in national
reviews and helping schools to rethink their approach to curriculum
design. Before that, Mick was Chief Education Officer for the City
of Manchester and worked in Birmingham Local Education Authority as
What does your work at the University of Wolverhampton
My role involves working with partners to raise aspirations in
the community and the leadership of schools, through the Black
Country Partnership and Black Country Challenge. I am also
hoping to help on the Initial Teacher Training programmes and
possibly get involved in the research profile of the
What do you enjoy most about the role and find most
I have been impressed by the enormous professionalism and energy
of the people in the Education Partnerships team. They are
absolutely committed to making things better for young people in
the Black Country. I have been in to some schools in the area and
have been impressed by the efforts being made to give youngsters
better life chances and provide a rich and rewarding education. I
have also got to know a little of the University and recognise what
an important asset it is to the local community and the tremendous
depths and strengths of the academic Schools.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
In my career I have been around the education block a few times!
I have been Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and
Curriculum Authority (QCA) and I have had significant posts in two
of the biggest education authorities. Some people would think my
biggest achievement is getting people to think afresh about the
curriculum at QCA, and some would think it is school improvements
in big cities. I think it is probably maintaining professional
optimism and challenge in every job that I do and keeping young
people at the heart of our work.
You work with the Black Country Challenge – why do you think it
is important for universities to work with schools in the
Good universities are a central part of the community they
share. They influence the belief of people in their own community
and they influence the local economy. The University of
Wolverhampton is working incredibly hard to help people who live in
the region understand the value of education and gain the most they
can from it throughout the rest of their lives. It is natural that
the University should be a key player in the Black Country
Challenge and one of the key things it can do is help local and
national businesses understand the role they can play. The
University has a key role in informing regeneration and strategic
thinking as part of the renaissance of the Black Country.
What are the major challenges facing the education sector
The challenge is helping young people to see that we have got to
work together to create a better world and that they can develop
the skills and the desire to make a difference. If we want a
better world children need greater skills and better understanding
than they have ever had before. This is difficult when people’s
perception of schools are often planted in the past. We need modern
schooling with a forward looking outlook to prepare children for
How do you think curriculum reforms have helped children to
increase their opportunities for the future?
What happens to policy at a national level is not as important
as where learning meets the child in a school. Discussion about
curriculum reforms helps people to think about the fundamental aims
for learning and what children need in a developing society. A lot
of people think curriculum reform is about which artist, poet or
battle children should learn about when really we need to think
about the importance of art or history to society and to a better
world and the benefits of these subjects to the individuals
What are the key factors for making education attractive and
interesting for children and young people?
All learners need to see learning as a natural activity. Just
look at older people in art galleries, museums, parks and historic
houses. They just want to find out more and understand more.
Schools need to build on the natural inquisitiveness of people and
help youngsters see why learning matters. Learning is not always
easy and we have to work at it, but overall children learn more
when they are engrossed, when there is a real purpose and when
there is an audience that matters to them.
If you were at University today, what subject would you like to
study or research?
That is the sort of question we should be asking children from
the age of about eight years onwards, so they gradually understand
that university and the range of opportunities to study are
enormous. I might like to study the history of art, or physics or
psychology. In the end I think I would end up in the School of
Education trying to find the answers to some of the things about
learning that still perplex me.
Which famous people do you admire and why?
I like pioneers. Christian Barnard carried out the first heart
transplant amid criticism of his ethics and 40 years later millions
of people across the world have benefited. I like unsung heroes
like Colin Murdoch who invented the disposable syringe and the
animal tranquiliser dart or Ray Rowe who came up with the first
mini roundabout. I like people who create beauty like Jane Wernick
who helped design the London Eye and the aerial walkway at Kew.
Do you have ambitions you still wish to fulfil?
I have never really had ambitions but I have always had belief
and passion for learning things. I am a realist and know things
will never be perfect, but that is not a reason for not making
the best of whatever you are trying to do. I’d like to be able to
play the piano though!