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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Wednesday October 26 2005

For old times sake, and also because I happen to have been paying some attention to the argument about the latest educational “reforms” in connection with this nice Mr Cameron being the opposition spokestoff on the subject, I googled “Education”, and got to this letter in some aspect of the Guardian:

Your incisive commentaries on the education white paper by Peter Hyman and Phil Revell (Comment, October 24 and 25) contain more sound sense than a coterie of government ministers could muster between them, with the former’s advocacy of genuine curriculum flexibility and a move towards smaller, more human schools, and Revell’s prescient questioning of the ominous sounding foisting of “parent power” on to a generation of parents with little or no interest in the direct running of schools.

Even more disconcerting is that after a decade of demoralisation, due to the deprofessionalisation of teachers’ work through relentless government micro-managing, teachers now face the depressing prospect of continually looking over their shoulders to field parochial, egocentric concerns from parents whose understandable remit is their own children, rather than the complex needs of all pupils. Just how many crass policy-making errors will it take before politicians finally realise that the most effective way to “drive up” standards is to create the conditions for a trusted, relatively autonomous teaching profession, in which the living, creative art of teaching is nurtured and intrusive surveillance is kept to an minimum?

Dr Richard House
Roehampton University

What the above letter says to me is that education is now a nationalised industry in an advanced, post-Soviet state of derangement.  The full nationalisation phase is over, defined as the period when lots of people actually believed in nationalisation.  This is followed by two contradictory and when combined, utterly chaotic processes: micro-management from the top (the top having lost confidence in its own chain of command), and pseudo-market “reforms” imposed from the top (ditto).

As for parent power, a pervasive confusion is imposed, where the difference between parents running a school is muddled up with parents running away from a school they don’t like.  Choice within, at taxpayer expense, is, as Dr House says, a hopeless muddle of clashing personal agendas.  But the right to choose which school to start with t would work very well, if only parents and teachers were both abandoned by the state and left to get on with it amongst themselves, with the government supplying no money and no management beyond the occasional visit from the police when crimes are committed or reasonably suspected.

The “most effective way to ‘drive up’ standards” by creating “the conditions for a trusted, relatively autonomous teaching profession, in which the living, creative art of teaching is nurtured and intrusive surveillance is kept to an minimum” would be for the politicians to give up completely, and treat education the way they used to treat advertising, namely as sordid and immoral, but legal, and above all, because so sordid and immoral, nothing to do with them.

(Now the politicians both consume advertising on a vast scale and, more and more, they also micro-manage it, perhaps because the two professions are now so much closer than they used to be, and the politicians all have opinions on the subject, the way they used to only about laws on account of so many of them being lawyers.  But those are different stories.)

What Dr House himself thinks his prescription means he does not clarify.  Hurrah for apple pie, he says.  But how do you bake the apple pie?  Total autonomy for him and his colleagues at government expense?  (I.e. the good old days.) I fear so.  A genuine free market, in which he earns his money only from his customers, with maybe a bit more thrown in by charitable donors, old boys and old girls, etc.?  Maybe, but I doubt it.