Somebody commented to me that my absence from this forum over the past two weeks has been “refreshing”. I am glad. Actually, I have had tons to think and write about but little opportunity. So, much must go unsaid, which is exactly how it should be.
But of course there is huge uncertainty politically at the moment, both in the UK and Europe and trying to keep up with the sales talk of the various political entities, whilst trying to ignore the undiluted manure that they chuck at each other has taken a lot of thinking and effort. In the background, there has been the sane view of Tony Judt in Ill Fares the Land and Postwar which has helped me refocus on what I really believe in politics and the absolute necessity of creating a system that minimises inequality and gives a proper role to the state that can care for and provide for its people rather than farming it out to the “private sector”.
Education has of course been at the forefront of much of the debate. Why this should be mystifies me, when all three major parties (are there only 3?) in England (there, I have qualified it – but is this still the case?) have virtually the same approach. It goes approximately like this:
“Schools are, for the most part, not to be trusted, and certainly do not recognise what is best for children, so we will have to tell them that standards are not high enough and that despite us throwing millions of pounds at them, there is more they can do, on probably the same budgets as last year. Schools’ only purpose is to provide fodder for the workforce so “the economy” can grow (not as baldly put as this, but nearly) and so more testing/inspection/school meals/early years support is required (the balance of this to be decided by each political party) so that we can ensure that we can make it to the top table of nations, hold our heads up high, close the gap (whichever gap is currently being looked at – there are a variety), get good PISA scores and make sure our party (and not the others) gets the credit for the improvement. Amen.”
That is pretty much it. Only the Greens and Plaid Cymru seem to differ from this narrative, whilst the SNP is in a stronger position than most of us to talk about education.
Two blog posts, published today and yesterday, address this from two different angles. The first is from Stephanie Northen from the Cambridge Primary Review and is a lesson in how to express frustration cogently whilst also revealing the common feeling that nobody really knows who to vote for. The second, written from a depth of anger and revolt at all that the Conservative party have wreaked upon education, is this heartfelt cry from the author of the Disappointed Idealist blog. Both are worth reading. There will be others and I am not going to expound further here right now.
Simply to say that we are in extreme danger of letting down a whole generation of children by pursuing assessment and testing as a proxy for deep learning. Fear of the electorate, or parents or the “competition” prevents politicians from seeing this clearly. As John Hattie said recently, politicians in general are not silly people, but they do silly things for silly reasons. I wish it were otherwise, but it is not. We simply have to find practical ways in schools of defending children from the likely numerous dire outcomes of this election and the politicians and departments who will implement them.
A postscript to this post comes after reading this survey of headteachers’ opinions of the current education policies of the major parties. The frustration of this is that in this area, as in so many other areas of policy, the major parties are simply formulating policies of irrelevance to most voters. For my colleagues genuinely to feel that the best we can say of any party is that one in five support Labour education policies is a mark of how little we feel understood by those who are “leading” education in the UK.