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April 04, 2003
They're starting to shout

I don't know what this story proves

It is time to get "completely ruthless" and "take out" headteachers who are not up to the job of raising standards in their schools, the education secretary, Charles Clarke, said yesterday.

Far too many comprehensives were not doing as well as they should, he insisted, urging local education authorities and school governors to "take out" incompetent heads as soon as possible.

Mr Clarke spoke not just of schools in urban parts of England, but also of outwardly successful schools that were content to coast along. "I don't think you can say [the problem] is particularly the cities or particularly the areas of poverty, or whatever, I don't think that's true. In fact, I think some of the more pernicious complacencies are in schools which are relatively OK, in areas where they are relatively unchallenged but they don't do well enough for their children," he said.

"You've got this big, big group in the middle of schools who feel they are OK, but I'm not certain that they are driving forward as hard as they need to."

Even though the number the number of seriously incompetent heads was small, Mr Clarke stressed, they could not be allowed to remain in post. "Where the issue is the head's the problem, they must not be allowed just to go along."

... but what I think it proves well, illustrates is that New Labour education policy is starting to become seriously unhinged. Prescottised you might say. It has entered its manic, neurotic phase. Normal, patient, sensible, quiet-voiced policies have all failed, or at any rate have not achieved the miracles promised, and are only making the teachers angry and cynical, and neurotic themselves. So now, out comes the ministerial Big Stick, the Chopper. Mr Clarke will Get Tough, Sort Things Out. He will, that is to say, shout more frequently.

The result will merely be that many schools that are now doing an okay job schools which are now "outwardly successful" will also now start to descend into neuroticism.

Some people, who favour policies that are the opposite of what Mr Clarke wants, will use his latest outburst to excuse the sacking of Head Teachers who are actually doing quite a good job.

It's just the same mess only louder. I can't remember when it was exactly, but not so long ago the Ministry of Education or whatever it's now called Department of (for?) Education and Training? was saying that Head Teachers needed more autonomy, freedom of action, etc. etc. Now they are to have freedom of action except that if Mr Clarke doesn't like them, he might try to have them fired.

But more portentously, it's the atmosphere, the tone of voice, the sense that the educational equivalent of Sir Humphrey is now starting to exchange meaningful looks with his colleagues when the Minister has one of his rants. That's what must be worrying everyone.

It could be that the newspaper stories which I rely on to learn about all these various initiatives (I don't read the original press releases maybe I should, God help me) exaggerate the drama of these things. But I thought these people were supposed to be Masters of Spin. Surely if they wanted a more low-key atmosphere, they could arrange it.

Well, of course, they can't. They have a command-and-control, Prussian model of education policy. Prussianism can't improve education policy any more dramatically than it can improve education itself. When their Prussianism fails, these people are at a loss. Their job is to make things better and the spotlight is still trained on them, but they don't know what to do. It's enough to make anyone shout.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:21 PM
Category: Politics

Can't they just "take out" the schools... all of them.... ?

(OK, vain fantasy, I know).

Comment by: Alice Bachini on April 5, 2003 10:47 PM

New Labour has always looked so sad, sleazy and tired compared to John Major's government.

I suppose the newest generation of New Labour voters never read the 'Emperor's New Clothes' story.

Comment by: mark on April 7, 2003 04:31 PM
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