Michael Barber (educationist)

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Sir Michael Barber (born 24 November 1955[1]) is a British educationist and Founder and Chairman of Delivery Associates.[2] In the past, Barber served as a partner and head of the global education practice at McKinsey, advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair and a global expert on education reform and implementation of large-scale system change. He has worked for over 20 years in education and government reform and improvement.[3] In December 2014, he participated as a speaker on Voices in Leadership, an original Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health webcast series, in a discussion titled, "Leading to Deliver: Leadership to Ensure Successful Government," moderated by Dr. Michael Sinclair.[4] Barber currently serves as Co-Chair of Boston Consulting Group’s not-for-profit foundation, Centre for Public Impact [5][6]

Education and early career[edit]

Barber was educated at Bootham School,[7] York, an independent school with a Quaker background and ethos. He read History at the University of Oxford before training as a teacher. He taught in schools in Britain and Zimbabwe.

Barber worked in the education department of the National Union of Teachers. As a member of the Labour Party, he was elected to the council of the London Borough of Hackney, becoming chair of the education committee. In 1987 he contested for Labour the seat of Henley-on-Thames, then held by Michael Heseltine.[8]


Barber served as Chief Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education on School Standards during the first term of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.[3]

During Blair’s second term, from 2001 to 2005, Barber served as the Chief Adviser on Delivery, reporting directly to Prime Minister Tony Blair.[3] As head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (PMDU), he was responsible for working with government agencies to ensure successful implementation of the Prime Minister’s priority programs, including those in health, education, transport, policing, the criminal justice system, and asylum/immigration.[9] He wrote a book about his experience in the PMDU, Instruction to Deliver: Fighting to Reform Britain’s Public Services (Metheun 2008),[10] which was described by the Financial Times as “one of the best books about British Government for many years”.[9]

Barber is currently the Government's preferred candidate to chair the soon-to-be-established Office for Students.[11]

At McKinsey and Company[edit]

Following his time leading the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, Barber served as partner and head of McKinsey’s Global Education Practice.

Barber has advised governments in over 40 countries on issues of public policy and delivery. He published Deliverology 101[12] in 2011 to serve as a comprehensive guide to education system reform and delivery. Governments and large public organisations (from the Louisiana school system to the Malaysian government) adopted elements of the 'deliverology' approach. Additionally, a number of international organizations including the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, DFID, and the IMF have sought his advice and guidance.[9]

Barber served as co-chair of the Pakistan Education Taskforce[9] and continues to work on education system reform in Pakistan as DFID’s Special Representative on Education for Pakistan. Through his work in Pakistan Barber is serving as an advisor to the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, on his public education reform program called Punjab Schools Reform Roadmap with the goal of enrolling seven and a half million out school children and increasing the quality of education significantly.

While at McKinsey, Barber co-authored two major education reports: How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better (2010)[13] and How the world’s best-performing schools come out on top (2007).[14] More recently, he was one of the contributors to a book on management in the public sector.[15]

Education Delivery Institute[edit]

In the summer of 2010, Barber teamed with leaders from the Education Trust and Achieve to found the U.S. Education Delivery Institute. This Institute works with leaders of K-12 and higher education systems around the United States to adapt the delivery concept pioneered by Barber in the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit to drive American education reform efforts.[16]

Chief Education Advisor, Pearson[edit]

From September 2011 to March 2017, Barber was Chief Education Advisor at Pearson. In this role, he leads the company’s worldwide research and partnership on education policy, and learning methods, advises on and supports the innovation and development of new products and services, and leads Pearson's strategy for education in the poorest sectors of the world, particularly in fast-growing developing economies.[3]


Barber is responsible for Pearson's detailed research and experimentation on what works in education, and how to demonstrate the effectiveness of different approaches, services and materials. This initiative is a major component of the company’s global commitment to proven improvement in learning outcomes and applies across all investments and acquisitions.[17]

Pearson Affordable Learning Fund[edit]

Barber chairs the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund. Announced in July 2012, thThe Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) is a venture fund with $65M of capital that invests in private schools, education technology, and scalable services to meet the demand for affordable education in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. PALF seeks investments with market returns while demonstrating outsized learning outcomes. Currently PALF has 10 portfolio companies across 6 countries averaging 140% revenue growth in 2016. [18]

The fund's first investment is in an affordable Ghanaian school chain, Omega Schools, headed by Ken Donkoh and Professor James Tooley. In the first four months of the investment, Omega Schools expanded from 10 schools serving 6,000 students to 20 schools serving 11,000.[18]

Oceans of Innovation[edit]

In August 2012, Barber published Oceans of Innovation with Katelyn Donnelly and Saad Rizvi about the rise of Pacific Asia and the implications for global leadership and education.[19] They laid out the need for whole system revolutions in education, which combine whole system reform and systemic innovation.

The Learning Curve[edit]

In November 2012, Barber launched The Learning Curve. The Learning Curve was commissioned by Pearson from the Economist Intelligence Unit to work with some of the world’s leading education experts to review, research, and interview innovators from every continent about how best to achieve better learning outcomes.

It established the first ever open and searchable global education data bank[20] - drawing on the world’s best existing data-sets including the PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS studies. It is one of the most comprehensive and accessible sets of data on learning that exists.

An Avalanche is Coming[edit]

In March 2013, Barber published An Avalanche is Coming with Katelyn Donnelly and Saad Rizvi about the upcoming revolution in global higher education.[21] They described the 'unbundling' of higher education and called on university leaders to change

The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes[edit]

This publication, co-authored with Saad Rizvi, introduces Pearson's journey towards putting efficacy at the heart of the company, and the lessons learned in the process that anyone passionate about delivering outcomes or transforming a company can apply.[22] It describes the "Efficacy Framework," a way to evaluate and improve impact on learning outcomes, and sets out the company's strategy, initiatives and insights in applying it. It also outlines how Pearson will ensure that the efficacy is applied throughout the company, reviewing all investments and acquisitions over a value of $1m, reporting publicly on Pearson's impact and making it a central pillar of every major decision.

Asking More: The Path to Efficacy[edit]

This publication, edited by Barber and Saad Rizvi, brings together articles from some of the world’s leading education practitioners and business people to highlight the urgent opportunity for a global focus on outcomes in education. It explores how research and data collection can enable a revolutionary degree of rigour in measuring and improving the success of learning products and educational programmes. The authors consider priorities and barriers to learning outcomes and suggest possible solutions on the path to efficacy. Contributions by: Geoff Mulgan, NESTA, Barbara Chow, Hewlett Foundation, John Iwata, IBM, Vicky Colbert, Escuela Nueva Foundation, Rukmini Banerji, Pratham Schools, Michael C. Crow, Arizona State University, Andreas Schleicher, OECD, Sir Ken Robinson, education, arts and creativity expert, Peter Hill, former CEO of Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority[23]

Honorary degrees[edit]

Barber is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Exeter.[24]

In 2008, Barber received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University from Nottingham Trent University.


  • Instruction to Deliver[10]
  • Deliverology 101: A Field Guide for Educational Leaders[12]
  • How the world’s best-performing schools come out on top[14]
  • How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better[13]
  • Oceans of Innovation[19]
  • An Avalanche is Coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead[21]
  • The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes[22]
  • Asking More: The Path to Efficacy[23]
  • The Public Sector: Managing the Unmanageable (Contributor)[25]


  1. ^ "Sir Michael Barber: Curriculum Vitae". National Research University Higher School of Economics. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "Delivery Associates: Global leaders in public sector strategy and implementation". deliveryassociates.org.com. 11 January 2015. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Sir Michael Barber to Join Pearson as Chief Education Advisor". pearsoned.com. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  4. ^ "Leading to Deliver: Leadership to Ensure Successful Government". 
  5. ^ "Centre For Public Impact, a BCG Foundation". Centre For Public Impact. 
  6. ^ "20 things about delivery from Michael Barber (and 3 stories about a neglected American President) you really need to know". http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk.  External link in |work= (help)
  7. ^ Bootham School Register. York, England: Bootham Old Scholars Association. 2011. 
  8. ^ Wilby, Peter (14 June 2011). "Mad professor goes global". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Board of Directors". U.S. Education Delivery Institute. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "Instruction to Deliver: Fighting to Transform Britain's Public Services". Amazon.co.uk. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  11. ^ "Michael Barber selected to promote ‘choice and competition’ at OfS". Times Higher Education (THE). 2017-02-07. Retrieved 2017-02-22. 
  12. ^ a b "Deliverology 101: A Field Guide For Educational Leaders". amazon.com. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Mourshed, Mona; Chijioke, Chinezi; Barber, Michael (November 2010). "How the world's most improved school systems keep getting better". McKinsey on Society. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Barber, Michael; Mourshed, Mona (September 2007). "How the world's best-performing schools come out on top". McKinsey on Society. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  15. ^ Stevenson, Alexander (2013). The Public Sector: Managing The Unmanageable. Kogan Page. ISBN 978-0-7494-6777-7. 
  16. ^ "Delivery Approach". U.S. Education Delivery Institute. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  17. ^ "Efficacy in Education". Pearson. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  18. ^ a b "New Pearson investment fund to enhance education opportunity among the world's poorest". Pearson. 2 July 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  19. ^ a b Rizvi, Saad; Donnelly, Katelyn; Barber, Michael (23 August 2012). "Oceans of Innovation: The Atlantic, the Pacific, global leadership and the future of education". Institute for Public Policy Research. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  20. ^ "The Learning Curve". Pearson. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  21. ^ a b Rizvi, Saad; Donnelly, Katelyn; Barber, Michael (2015). "An avalanche is coming". avalancheiscoming.com. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  22. ^ a b "The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes". Pearson. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  23. ^ a b "Asking More: The Path to Efficacy". Pearson. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  24. ^ "Sir Michael Barber". WISE Summit, Qatar Foundation. 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  25. ^ Stevenson, Alexander (2013). The Public Sector: Managing The Unmanageable. Kogan Page. ISBN 978-0-7494-6777-7.