For Hannah Foxton (MPP 2019), an Oxford English literature graduate with a background in teaching, the Master of Public Policy is opening new perspectives on old subjects.
"You have to specialise so early in the British education system, so coming to the Blavatnik School and studying such a range of subjects has been liberating. I hadn’t done any maths since I was 16 – I always thought I was terrible at it and couldn’t wait to give it up. As part of the MPP we started doing statistics and I realised that I do enjoy maths. It’s an important part of learning about how to scrutinise evidence and argue your case."
Before starting the MPP, Hannah had a broad idea of wanting to help tackle the inequality she saw around her, and the MPP is a way for her to make tangible steps towards achieving this. “I didn’t have a concrete plan and felt that my lack of mathematical background or relevant specialism meant a policy-related career was not an option for me."
"The MPP is giving me the chance to develop a solid foundation across a range of subjects, and the summer project will help me get my foot in the door of a more policy-related career."
After completing her undergraduate degree, Hannah spent two years as an English teacher in a secondary school (for students aged 11–18 in the UK) in Hull, Northern England, as part of the Teach First Leadership Development Programme. Teach First aims to close the attainment gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students by recruiting and training teachers on this programme. Hannah’s Teach First experience allows her to approach the MPP with an understanding of the gaps that often exist between policymakers and those who work ‘on the ground’. "As a teacher, people are often coming to you from above with ideas for solutions to problems. You’re told to do more cumbersome things – in addition to your everyday workload – and there is a belief that this new idea is the one that will work. There may be good intentions behind this, but it’s easy to underestimate the expertise of the people who are doing the work – perhaps already implementing interventions – and the amount of failed policies that they have already gone through."
Despite a passion for education and education policy, Hannah is making the most of the multidisciplinary nature of the MPP to branch out into new areas of study.
"What really excited me about the MPP is the opportunity to cover topics I might never get the chance to study again; for example, I’ve applied for optional modules in housing, taxation and new economics."
Studying a variety of modules also allows for a greater appreciation of how policy issues are often interlinked. "Having worked in education, and especially in a school with very high levels of deprivation, I realised that there is a myth around the education system in the UK which says that school alone can turn people’s lives around, and that with education people can get out of poverty. It’s a corrosive idea because it feeds a national narrative that blames people for the challenges they face, rather than looking at all the different factors that keep people in poverty, such as inadequate investment in housing and transportation, and a lack of professional opportunities."
Returning to Oxford has been a markedly different experience for Hannah this time round.
"Coming to the Blavatnik School feels like a professional experience. You interact with people on a much more cerebral level than at undergraduate level because everyone has such different experiences."
This interaction with people with different perspectives extends to the School’s faculty. "I’ve really enjoyed my lectures with Tom Simpson – he holds political views that are very different to my own, but he was very considerate during discussions in the classroom and was interested in what other people had to say. There are a lot of times where things he’s said have shifted my perspective a great deal."
While academic work keeps her busy, Hannah still finds time to play an active role in the life of the School and in Oxford city. She is an MPP student representative, acting as a liaison between students and staff, and regularly undertakes shifts at The Gatehouse, a local drop-in café for homeless and vulnerably housed people.
For Hannah, being awarded the Clarendon Scholarship has made all of this possible.
"I am very grateful for how hard the School’s admissions team worked to support me in my scholarship application. I would encourage everyone who is concerned that they won’t be able to afford the tuition fees to apply anyway and explore the funding opportunities available."