Wednesday, 18 January 2012

David Cameron: Books, Lies and Videotape

The front page of London's Evening Standard tonight shouted out:

"Cameron visits the school we're fighting to save and gives this message to parents: However busy you are, read to your children"

There are a lot of messages flying off the newspaper here:
1. We're brilliant, because we're saving a school.
2. David Cameron is brilliant because he's helping us.
3. David Cameron reads to his children. (He tells us later that  he does)
4. You should be like him and read to your children

Inside, we learn that the school didn't have a library but now it has, thanks to Selfridges who've come up with loads of dosh, and several publishers who've contributed loads of books.

So we can add some more messages:

5. If you can't afford a library, go and ask your local Selfridges.
6. If you haven't got any nice new books, ring up the publishers.

We also learn that, thanks to the Evening Standard, the school now has a team of reading volunteers who visit the school to hear the children

7. If you haven't got enough paid teachers to hear and encourage children to read, go out and recruit some unpaid volunteers.

We also here Cameron saying:
'I hope one day you will look back and think about this school and this great library and everyone who has supported it...because actually there is a huge problem with some kids not having access to books. And having a library like this, in a school like this, with volunteers like this, is a really great start in life.'

From which we learn:

8. Cameron is having a laugh. The 'huge problem' he's talking about is him and his cronies, whose actions over the last year have caused libraries to close and prevent children from having access to books. To which we could add the fact that the new enforced regime of phonics, requiring schools to buy expensive phonics' kits has taken money away from giving children access to books, and taken the energy and focus away from putting whole books at the centre of the school day and the centre of school life.

But, hey, shouldn't we welcome this wonderful intervention, this wonderful 'support' for books in schools?

Not a bit of it. This is Big Society Bollocks. It's precisely the piecemeal provision that old-style charity provides and with it the same old patronising you-should-be-grateful stuff that goes with it. What the Evening Standard has done is great news for that school. Not any other schools, because it can't. The kinds of money and attention pouring into this particular school can't be reproduced in every school. There aren't thousand of Selfridges queueing up to start up libraries in every school.

In other words, there is no substitute for universal provision.

Now, here's an ironic twist. When I was Children's Laureate, I was ushered in to see Ed Balls (then Sec of State for Education) and Jim Knight, then Schools Minister. I pleaded with them to start a proper universalised campaign for the reading of whole books in school and the provision through libraries of books in every home. I gave them the research on it, the articles on it, and my 20-point plan on how to create a book-friendly school and community.

I could see that I wasn't getting very far, so as a parting shot, I said, 'And you know what'll happen, don't you? The other lot will take this up, as part of their bid to stop looking like the nasty party.'

Balls thought that was very funny and that was it. I got precisely nowhere.

And guess what? It's happened. Balls is off perfecting how he is going to give the bankers the very clear message that he won't be supporting public sector workers now or at any point in the future.

Never mind, Ed. Cameron got his photo-opportunity, pimping off inner city children, presenting himself as Kind Politician Man while real progression towards universal provision and policy on the reading of whole books in schools and communities doesn't move one inch further forward.