E-mails and comments welcome from teachers and learners of all ages.  
December 24, 2002
The dog pack gets its kill (and the public sector becomes a tiny bit more impossible to run)

Most of the people reading this story are probably thinking either "good riddance to the mad PC-obsessed hag" or "paedophiles are a real problem - she shouldn't have had to resign".

This is the story:

A headteacher who banned photographic equipment from a nativity play for fear of the images being manipulated and circulated on the internet by paedophiles has resigned.

Pamela Nunn, of Homefield first school in Bradwell, near Great Yarmouth, said the decision, made with the school's governors, to ban cameras from the church hall in which the children were performing, had caused such a row with parents that she had decided to resign.

She announced her resignation to parents after the performance on Friday.

But for me this next one was the key paragraph:

She told the Eastern Daily Press newspaper: "I have seen too many colleagues finish their careers with stress, and feel I owe it to my family to go now."

So what do I think the story is?

I think it's the same as my December 21st story about that "death threat", namely the way that the media, including such things as blogs, now wield a disproportionate amount of power over state education. It's not the mere fact of any old Tom, Mike or Brian being able to read the story or what we suppose to be the story that is doing the damage by itself. Nor is it the inherent absurdity of the public sector that sector where no one is really in charge and where the lines of responsibility and accountability are liable to turn to mush under any sort of stress or during any sort of crisis. It's the combination of the two.

Yes. (The word "yes" during a blog posting signifies that things are actually being learned by the blogger even as he blogs, right there somewhere during the previous few sentences.)

So: yes. Blogs are the lowest form of media life that there are. They are the media equivalent of the single cell organism. Nevertheless when you run a blog, and especially a "specialist" blog devoted to discussing "serious issues", like this one, you become a definite part, however small, of the media.

And what I have learned by being a blogger is why the public sector has stopped working, not from the moment it got started in its modern form, but since "the media" got into their stride and became serious expressions of popular interest and enthusiasm rather than just aristocratic hobbies or government bureaucracies. The public sector was always a bit of a shambles. Now, insofar as it is allowed to be public at all (which is not all of it by any means) it is a public shambles.

This wretched head teacher woman is nagged by some hyper-worried parent into banning video-ing of nativity plays. That sets off the other parents, who then feel that they are themselves being accused of being in league with the paedophiles.

The hacks smell a row, and pile in, and stir it shamelessly.

If it looks like it's about to die down they ring around all the potentially quarrelling parties and get them back at each other's throats by asking them loaded questions and quoting the answers totally stripped of all the qualifications and back-trackings, first to each other, and then in their newspapers and radio and TV reports. Because why? Because the media might succeed in getting A Result. In this case if they keep it up, they might get That Woman to jack it in or be fired.

And guess what? That Woman has jacked it in. She isn't paid enough. She doesn't, ultimately, have enough invested in her school. Bottom line: it's not her school. It's The Community's school. It is owned not by any recognisable person or persons, but by that swirling, howling abstraction, The People, who in this case might as well be a dog pack. At any moment, this dog pack, in the form of the governors, the local politicians, even, if you please, the Minister of Education himself, might decide that "she has to go" and start issuing hostile press releases against her, in other words some mighty respectable beasts might join the dog pack at any moment.

No individual has the power to stand against these forces. That's what makes them so evil.

There is no one who can face the mob and say: "To hell with you all. This is my place. I run it how I run it. If you don't like it you can say what you like and you can keep your children away from it and tell everyone else you know to do likewise. But you won't get rid of me or change my way of doing things, and if you carry on with your dog-packing in my corridors and outside my front door then I'll call the police and have you beaten back with wooden clubs. End of story."

No one can say that. Which means that the story never ends until there's a kill.

There are two answers.

The wrong answer is to shut down the media (including now the blogs), disinvent the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughts, and hand the world back to a self-perpetuating aristocracy of self-perpetuating aristocrats who can do what they like, unchallenged, unmocked by the journos, no matter what they do.

The right answer is to clarify property rights. Get it sorted who owns what. That way, when the dog pack starts to howl there will be people doing education who can shout it down and subjugate it, as and when.

The first can't happen, so the second will. People will simply refuse to take these impossible jobs in the bits of the public sector that really are public. I recall reading not long ago that an idyllic little primary school in Wales was advertising for a new Head. But it couldn't find one, and it was going to have to close. This time the dog pack took the form not of insane media people, but of insane civil servants deluging the wretched incumbent with insane forms to fill in which is a sort of institutionalised version of dog pack rule, if you think about it. "Make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again!" etc. etc.

The result may (or may not) be a new private sector school springing up, just as soon as the locals can get it arranged (or for as long as they can't be bothered). If that happens, the people running this school on the one hand and the local journos and bloggers on the other will be able to square up to each other on equal terms, and solicit support from locals either for the school or for a big local row about it. Sorted. If nothing, then nothing.

As for the "public sector" as a whole no such single solution beckons. If the Minister of Education himself were to resign, there would be a huge mob of people all desperate to replace him, however insane the job might prove to be. So the public sector of education will have to crumble away bit by bit, and fail to improve blank cheque by blank cheque. And it is. Pity, but what can you do?

A Happy Christmas to all my readers.

Tomorrow and Boxing Day (as we Brits call the day after Dec 25) will be treated here like a weekend, as will the day after that. And the two days after that really are the weekend. During all these days, I may put things up, but I may not.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:26 PM
Category: This and that

I think there is an assumption here that the private sector is in some way more insulated from this sort of thing. I am not sure this is true. I am sure there must be countless examples of the private sector being bullied in just the same way the public sector is. Nike would seem to be a prime example (I think).

I think it's that the private sector is better at avoiding getting into trouble in the first place.

Comment by: Patrick Crozier on December 25, 2002 12:20 AM
Post a comment