One of the nice things about twitter is how quickly ripples of dissent and disgust propagate through the twittersphere when our beloved SOS (Silly old secretary) opens his mouth! Mr Gove only has to draw breath and hundreds of people actually qualified in the field of Education are sharpening their metaphors and adjectives, dusting off a few negative superlatives and flexing their sarcasm muscles. Incidentally, my specialist field is Engineering, ICT and DT so apologies to all the English teachers currently guffawing their Tuesday night cocoa through their noses at my atrocious grammar.
I can’t help but feel that there is something very wrong in our country, at least where education is concerned. How have we enabled a journalist politician to become so dominant in driving the learning and futures of tens of thousands of our children? Parents I speak to are also concerned, despite what Gove says, few seem to agree with his ideas or his methods. At least not in the reassuringly normal part of the world I live in. Imagine him back in his Journalist days working for the Times – would anyone have used only his opinion, then, on how the nation’s education system should be changed. Of course not – it is ludicrous to allow one inappropriately qualified individual to make decisions of that magnitude, and yet that is what we do.
Surely it is common sense to allow those who are trained and skilled in the field of Education and pedagogy to drive the agenda? Following the news would have you believe that the only people qualified to discuss education in our nation are Gove and Toby Young! Neither hold significant capital in our professional sphere and their actions and pronouncements highlight just how divorced they are from the true discourse of educational development and improvement that exists within the education system.
When was the last time you heard or saw internationally respected academics and practitioners like Tim Brighouse interviewed on the news or part of a televised discussion about education? Yet they offer genuine, tried and tested ideas on system improvement. London outperforming the rest of the UK – why? Well it certainly wasn’t because of a restricted vision of what curriculum and attainment should be, promoted as a means to protecting and reproducing the ingrained advantages that our culture gives to a small elite of wealthy people and their dependents. No, it was because of experts like Tim who drove the London Challenge which was, effectively, a system led and responsive, localised system of improvement which drew on collaboration and mutual support in order to benefit all the capital’s children. It wasn’t perfect and there are aspects that would perhaps be done differently now – but it served its purpose well, at least in my opinion as an interested observer.
Look at this from another perspective. Let’s imagine that David Cameron appointed a new Minister of state for Defence. Perhaps he had previously been an Ice Cream man – nothing wrong with that, salt of the earth, very important morale boosting socially responsible job! I am not criticising frozen dairy marketing and logisitics in any way, but it is not the same as Macro-management of national security and defence. Well, not unless year 9 hear the van coming anyway.
Now let’s imagine that the man – we’ll call him Mike -takes up his office at Point and Shoot Buildings. If we were to follow the education model, he would spend the next few weeks telling the forces that they have been fighting all wrong, that there are more efficient ways to fight using private contractors and that he will start by forcing conversion of the armed forces to privately run militias as, even though there is limited and strongly contested evidence of their effectiveness, he believes it is the best solution. Also, he is keen to point out, that it is the model they use in small, (unrepresentative) countries where international comparisons show they have a much higher kill rate (the fact that the people they kill are unarmed and tied up is considered irrelevant data and not included in the comparison analysis). He forces the whole military machine to change its proven methods to his own, ice cream man standard military strategies, as he firmly believes that Generals and trained military personnel can’t be trusted to make decisions regarding the art and practice of war. Mike also directs OfBANG to inspect the new militias to ensure that standards are maintained. Standards, in this respect, means whatever number of ‘kills’ Mike thinks is probably doable at any particular moment in time and he isn’t afraid to change the targets after the end of the measurement period. OfBANG simply have to make sure that the militias are all pointing their guns in the same way and have killed the right number of people – however, the militias are different sizes, some don’t have guns, many haven’t had the money to train their staff to shoot straight and only 50% have even been in a situation where shooting people is considered acceptable. This matters not to Mike and OfBANG – not being at war is considered an excuse and failure to shoot people results in militias being sold to G4S for a pound. Those who try to point out the insanity of the policy are branded as reactionary trotts who are deniers of dead bodies and are sneered at in the Daily Mail.
This is, of course, absolutely ridiculous – the stuff of Goon Show-esque satire (I am available for TV and Radio work) and should be seen as a nightmarish vision of what could happen in a crackpot dictatorship – it is, however, what is actually happening to our Industry for real and more importantly, to our precious learners who will only get one shot at childhood education. I find the thought that what they will experience is the diseased imaginings of an ideologue, deeply depressing.
The newly launched Heads Roundtable group on Twitter is a fantastic opportunity for us to fight back, to start to convince the electorate that Gove is sucking the hope out of system and show how much better it could be if we were allowed to improve the system from within. It is my passionate hope that the Heads will listen to the wider views of their colleagues and represent us all honestly and aggressively – we can’t afford for splinter groups to pop up and dilute the message. If this works, not only could we be seeing the birth of an effective counter to the GoveMail misinformation and mismanagement machine, but perhaps – could we dare to dream; the genesis of a practitioner led College of Teachers?