Wednesday 20 June 2012

Education is their toy

Here is a perfect example of how the problem with education is not so much in the 'what' but in its structure:

This is the story that there is a strong possibility that schools will return to the old 2-year A-levels system rather than the AS (for the first year) and A2 or A-level for the second.

There's a pattern here: ministers get into secretive huddle with hired trusties. Working with faceless, nameless bureaucrats they work up a new policy. They put it out to 'consultation' for a short period and then foist it onto schools. Many people argue about whether this or that element in the new policy is good or not; the policy stays in place for just about a generation of pupils and then the whole process starts again. No one takes the rap for either imposing this flawed policy in the first place, a layer of advisers and policy-writers make quite a nice living out of it all but are in no way accountable. It is ruling without any responsibility. Another layer at the local level rush round 'delivering' the policy having had virtually no input. Teachers then pick up the documents and try to make them work.

At the heart of this is a major flaw: the structure. Because the policy hasn't emerged as part of how teachers and researchers work, education in this model is a political toy.  So, under Blair-Blunkett, we had a regime that figured out that if they behaved like Tories but more so, then they were Teflon-coated. No one could reproach them for being 'liberal' or 'egalitarian'. So their era of playing with the toy was to spend millions on things like the National Literacy Strategy. This had a profound effect on a generation of teachers and children, changing both what was taught and how. Gangs of advisers helped write the stuff and it dominated schools for a generation of pupils. What happened to it? At the end of Labour's regime, the toy-makers said, 'Er...actually, it's been abolished.'

What? A regime announced itself to be non-functional? That its whole rationale was invalid? So who was accountable here? Who had to present themselves in front of any kind of democratic group to be asked, 'What was all that about then?' or 'Why did you tell us that was all so essential but now it's not essential?'

Absolutely nothing. The main architects of it were not even known to teachers and they've slipped away into consultancies.

How ironic that in a trade (education) which prides itself on accuracy, getting things right and proper, sticking to the rules, with high-minded stuff about what education does for you, their central policy-making process is run by cabal and diktat and when it suits those in power to change something, the old policy is disappeared and new one turns up.

There's nothing the policy-makers and those who are powerful in this system like more than for us to pore over the details and argue that this or that element is nearly right, or a little bit wrong, or could be tweaked. It plays perfectly into their hands because implicitly it cedes power to this useless structure. Without meaning to, it means that we end up acknowledging that this system has the right to do these things.

I suggest not. Even within the terms of this present society, it is a non-democratic anomaly. Because education is such a sensitive institution involving what politicians are certain is the micro-tuning of the next generation's imaginations, attitudes, 'skills-base' and 'knowledge-base' and because they think that what they say and do about education is so 'vote-sensitive' (get it right, win a million votes), they take control of the institution and play with it. 'Look at me, I play with it better than you. I've stuck this little twurzel on it, and now it's better.' And then along comes someone else who says, 'Look at me, I've taken the twurzel off and put on a tweezle.'

Then they hand it to us telling us that this is the way it's got to be.