January 31, 2003
Children not involved

BEdBlog readers may be interested to know that a large slice of the speech I heard the other night by Damian Green is now up and readable at education.guardian.co.uk. As some of us have already explained, the Adam Smith intro was a bit sneaky, but the guts of Green's talk was not half bad, by which I mean half good. And since the good half is what he is saying should now be done, that's good enough for me, given that this man is a front bench politician.

Sample quote:

But this process of centralisation has now gone much too far. The tide of centralisation in education policy which Jim Callaghan set off in 1976 is doing more harm than good. We need to spend the coming decades setting schools free, and giving more choice to everyone involved in education, from teachers to parents. This is certainly the central thread of Conservative policy-making. The key is to ensure that these new freedoms do not lead to another lapse in basic standards, and to do that we need a combination of simple but effective outside monitoring, and genuine parental choice.

But, spot the undeliberate horror. That's right: "… everyone involved in education, from teachers to parents." I remember gasping internally at that last Tuesday. What, the children aren't "involved" then?

The truth is that for the great bulk of the people at whom Green is aiming his rhetoric, the children are indeed not involved. They are to remain the object of a process, not people in their own right who are to have any influence over the process being done to them. The complaint of middle England is not that there is anything fundamentally wrong with process all these children-as-objects, merely that the processing should be done more efficiently. The freedom of mere children is a problem to be got around, rather than any sort of animating principle. Schools must make our kiddies stop wanting to be pop stars and footballers and should turn them instead into doctors and dentists and merchant bankers or, if all else fails, computer geeks. If they're too thick for any of that, at least keep them out of jail and stop them having babies too early and going off to live in caravans or squats or under bridges. That's the attitude. And I don't completely disagree by any means. I just think things could be so much better than that.

In Brianschool, the idea will be that what the children want to do, so long as it isn't criminally nasty, will be the starting-out axiom. Footballer? Fine. Pop star? Great, go to it. Which is why the thing will get very few customers to start with, or probably ever.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:45 PM
Category: Free market reforms