And the winner is…..

So the wonderfully gifted Bradley Wiggins has won the public vote and been crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Richly deserved, even with competition stiffer than Jeremy Hunt ‘s smile when in the same room as Rupert Murdoch. Remarkable and inspiring, a driven (although not literally, obviously) man with the air of a young Paul Weller. Not only has he helped generate renewed vigour in cycling but resurrected interest in a much undersung style from my childhood. Ah, the memories…..

Thinking about Wiggo (actually, I wanted Ellie to win, but not too upset) and another award winner – Dave Brailsford – got me thinking about the difference between true coaching for improvement and the borderline Bullying suffered by the teaching profession at the hands of Gove, the DfE and the minions of darkness, sorry – executive bodies. The sheer negativity of policy rhetoric aimed at achieving the complete deconstruction of public education in this country. This is nothing new of course, Stephen Ball has commented many times on the current policymakers’ continuation of the project started under Thatcher – but I do think that the venom with which the teaching profession is currently being vilified, is an outcome of Gove’s personal demons and his strong relationship with the press. Tell the electorate something often enough and aggressively enough, they’ll start to believe it! This excellent piece picked via twitter is a great analysis of the situation and all the more scary for being written in the States!

We all know that Brailsford achieves improvement through targeting small percentages, marginal gains. I imagine, from what I have seen and read, that this is underpinned by a tough but fair ethos which is positive in nature? (Of course, the irony is that ‘marginal gains’ may well be the opposite of what the coalition achieves in the next election!) Now, Imagine what it would be like if the Education system was led by him and not Michael Gove! Think what we could achieve if treated with respect, support, guidance and positive challenge – rather than contempt, ridicule and perpetual indifference. I mean, swap the education system for an individual employee in your workplace and imagine the same tactics being applied as Gove has used system wide. There would certainly be a case for a complaint of workplace bullying and, for some, a tribunal would find constructive dismissal a real possibility!

This got me thinking about my current research which focuses on the misappropriation of the education system as a tool for broad social policy implementation. I am looking at how Governments design nudge policies aimed at engineering their ideologically preferred version of society, and deliver them through us. It would be nice to think that, with free agency, we would be in a position to ameliorate the worst excesses of self-absorbed policy makers by refusing to enact the more damaging examples (EBC, anyone?!), but structurally, we are seriously restrained from doing so. This restraint is designed in the form of legislation to an extent, but mainly through the panopticon of policing (OfSTED, league tables) and, to put it bluntly – fear. Fear of losing our jobs. Fear of being unable to pay the mortgage. Fear of professional oblivion if the inspection judgement is bad. Then what is left for us? Just politics or a job with OfSTED, I suppose!

Take the policy on NEETs, for example. Is it an education policy or a social policy? Sex and drugs – health or education? You see, the point is that to enact social change (or repression via compliance with dominant discourse) education provides a one stop shop – cheap and efficient (especially when budgets are deregulated so the claim can be made that funding is already there). Set a target and they know it will be followed through – change 16 year olds from unemployed to NEET and make schools accountable for sorting it out! Drops in unemployment always sell well, even when false and they can deny responsibility when it goes pear shaped! With a complicit press ( you scratch ours……) to back it up and before you know it, it is another school failure story. Marketisation continues onward to the inevitable sticky end. Those in power standing by the Smithian concept of neoliberal reform are massively myopic when considering the impact such policies and ideology have had on us in terms of banking collapse. Why would profit driven education be any different?

I don’t believe schools should be used as conduits of social policy. I believe that the inequalities in our system are far more rooted in ongoing political interference than in problems with teaching and learning. It is down to Heads and Governors to take the battle to the politicians as they have done with the GCSE fiasco. Ironically, the very freedoms that Academy status can bring can also make it easier to fight such battles with (slightly) reduced risk. Working together can also help – Gove employs divide and conquer, we need to remember ” together we stand” and do exactly that.

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