Good grief. They’re all at it now. David Laws would also have his picture upside down here except that I am yet to be convinced that people know what he looks like the right way up. The Guardian (who of all papers should know better), has this headline – teachers are failing pupils. NO. Teachers are teaching and nurturing and caring for pupils, as they are paid to do and trusted to do by many, many people.

This is more cheap political nastiness from a close ally of the Lib Dem leader who has mainly broken his promises on education. David Laws has only been in government for a month (plus the 17 day stint he did in 2010, back in the day when we hoped the coalition would actually, well, coalesce), and he has the nerve to talk about this.

Let’s look at the content, because the headline can be put down to David Batty’s sensationalism.

  1. The byline tells us that Laws says (remember, this is a newspaper, so he may not have said anything like this at all!) that children are told in schools that good universities and successful careers are beyond them. What is a successul career? Why do we make the stupid assumption that to be a doctor or a banker (a banker!) is a better course of action than to serve people in a supermarket or be a teaching assistant or take care of the elderly (especially the elderly that successive governments have generally neglected)? What is a good university? Are we swallowing the current line of thought that the Russell Group universities are “better” than others? How do we know? Have we really looked at the diversity of courses on offer? Have we not seen that, for instance, if you want to do subjects related to education, you would be better off going to Oxford Brookes than you would going to Oxford University? To be a writer, you would do better at training at UEA rather than Cambridge?
  2. He said: “Teachers, colleges, careers advisers have a role and a responsibility to aim for the stars and to encourage people to believe they can reach the top in education and employment. That’s not happening as much as it should do at the moment.” Again, why are we encouraging people to think that reaching the top is better than settling for a satisfying and servant role in society elsewhere? Why this manic passion for ambition? As Ken Robinson famously observed, being a university professor is not the high water mark of European civilisation. Nor, apparently, is being a government minister, if this is the sort of drivel that drools from their mouths from time to time. Of course they are frustrated, of course they want to change things, but blaming careers advisers seems to me to be shooting the wrong people altogether.
  3. Laws said that outside London many young people believed that careers in law, journalism or banking were effectively closed to them. “Even in my own constituency, Yeovil, which would not be regarded as one of the deprivation blackspots of the country, most young people would regard going into investment banking as almost leaving the country, because it’s a different world,” he said. “They will often be encouraged to think it is beyond them.” Why this obsession with moving people from Yeovil to London? It seems to me that the government have done very little to encourage levels of employment in country districts and the shires, and the drain of talent to the South East is continuing apace. They can’t blame schools for not mitigating the effects of a London-centric employment policy. And investment bankers? Why would you even want to be one? So you could hurt the poor?

Underlying all this is the old Victorian adage – get out, get on, get up.

How about if we thought seriously about: stay local, nourish the community that nurtured you, stay close to family, learn to serve Christ in the community he has placed you, add to what your forefathers built, stay close to the land, don’t add damage, don’t pursue money for its own sake, honour and respect the teachers and parents who brought you to this point, live free, don’t get in hock to corporations.

If we do this for our children, as teachers, we have served them as fully as they need. Their own sense of vocation will do the rest.


About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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  1. […] the palaver over David Laws frustration at the way some schools are not encouraging children to aim “high enough”, Libby Purves […]

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