Monday, 29 November 2010

Is the Secretary of State for Education a dangerous zealot?

Last night, sitting by the fire contemplating the winter chill and the bleak political landscape, I was visited in my head by an imaginary Tory. Whether some inner debate function had failed to close, I don't know. Maybe redundancy makes you hear voices. Anyway, it appears I had provoked the imaginary Tory a day or so ago with my disparagement of Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, who in my opinion is a dangerous zealot.

IT: Are you anti Michael Gove just because he looks a bit funny and sounds keen?
AT: He does come across a bit bonkers, yes. And there is something about him that by-passes my intellect. But there are non-Tories who have the same effect.
IT: Tony Blair? Hazel Blears? Nick Clegg?
AT: Spot on. The first two seem so long ago now.
IT: And would there be an element of class consciousness in your reaction?
AT: Possibly. It's certainly a collective failure that this country is still divided on class lines, to the disadvantage of very many.
IT: Good God, I thought Marxism was dead! But you see Michael Gove isn't the Tory toff you imagine. He was adopted, and he went to public sector and independent schools. As for you, you went to a grammar school and got a grant to go to university free.
AT: So there is a file on me somewhere. But no, it's not where people come from but where they are now that I care about. Too many people in politics (and education management and other top jobs) have a poisonous sense of their own entitlement and rightness on no qualifications, or direct experience of ordinary people's lives.
IT: Michael Gove is 100% genuine in his convictions.
AT: They often are.
IT: But look at his ideas. Don't you want the dead hand of New-Labour-inspired bureaucracy lifted from education? You were on about it only the other day. What's wrong with the idea of people being able to set up their own free schools, or with providing extra lessons for poor kids on Saturdays? For heaven's sake, don't we need to take education away from Local Education Authorities, and let the ordinary people you say you champion have the choice of not going to the rubbish local school where kids get stabbed?
AT: A kid got stabbed in my grammar school. My friend shot someone in the bum with an air pistol in chess club.
IT: You know what I mean.
AT: Yes, freedom from bureaucracy, but you don't have to dismantle publicly provided support for education to give teachers more say, any more than you have to privatise the NHS to give nurses less paperwork. In fact it's all just a screen for the right's dislike of anything provided publicly. You want someone, preferably your own supporters, to own it so that shareholders and entrepreneurs decide education (or public health) priorities. Because ultimately you want the populace to keep its head down and go to work for as little reward as possible instead of asking questions. You don't want the status quo challenged by people educated to ask pertinent questions any more than Tony Blair and his zealots did.
IT: So you want LEAs rather than the people to run schools?
AT: I want good education provided publicly for all. So I don't want people with a their own private agendas getting funds that would have gone to nearby public provision. Calling such schools 'free' is not honest, because they are a state-funded opt-out.
IT: So LEAs are good then?
AT: They are an agency of local government (and I thought you people liked government to be local). They are thus imperfect and prone to generate too many initiatives and too much paperwork. But when Hardacre Collage came out of LEA control and went corporate - the bureaucracy rocketed. Any management, public or private, that has no direct experience or involvement in the education itself and has a vested interest (e.g. a high salary, a political, religious or commercial position) to protect or promote will always fail to understand well what learners and their teachers really need. Unfortunately, the right  - and New Labour too - have exploited anxious parents' readiness to believe a set of urban legends about their local schools, and a dark strand in this is class and race.
IT: But schools do fail, and succeed.
AT: They do, though no one ever seems to question the targets. And, giving funding to so called 'free' schools, buddying 'failing' schools up with 'successful' ones, and providing lessons on Saturdays to keep proles out of trouble doesn't begin to address the issues.
IT: But you still think Michael Gove is a bit weird. Even though he thinks music should be on the curriculum for everyone?
AT: I do. Beer?
IT: Have you got a malt?
AT: Sloe gin do?
IT: Yes, that would be interesting. Bottoms up.
AT: Not top down.
IT: So we do agree about something then.
AT: I doubt it.

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