Tuesday 29 April 2014

Bad grammar. Haw-haw.

There's a nasty little 'Award' which points out and sneers at 'Bad Grammar'. (I'm not going to provide the link.) Judges are selected to pick out what they regard as the 'worst' examples of what they call 'bad' grammar. This enables the people who invented the award, the judges and those who tut along with them to feel rather good about themselves. After all, they've spotted the 'bad' grammar - achievement in itself, surely - and then they've displayed their superiority in public. 

What this leaves out is that we all make mistakes. In most circumstances, it's no big deal. We get what the person intended from the context. As evidence of this, Toby Young, who is one of the co-founders of the award, wrote in a Daily Telegraph blog the phrase 'soul purpose' - and it wasn't a gag. He meant 'sole purpose'. It's the kind of mistake that I could easily make. It's the kind of mistake that millions of us could make, because 'sole' and 'soul' are homonyms. In our heads we 'hear' the sound, see 'soul' before, or instead of 'sole' and write it - probably at speed. At one level it goes on making sense because it sounds right. We can even proof-read things like this and the slip stays in. 

So, in my own unpleasant way, I pointed out to Toby Young on twitter that he could have included his own mistake in the 'Bad Grammar' awards that he had helped invent. To be clear, this is not to put myself in some kind of superior position here. To repeat: I frequently make these kinds of mistakes myself. 

Anyway, back came Toby Young on twitter: that was a 'spelling mistake' not a 'grammar' mistake. Well, fair enough, we might say...though 'sole' is usually an adjective, and 'soul' is usually a noun...though if you were doing a pun-like gag these distinctions would get blurred (eg you might headline an article on Aretha Franklin with 'Soul Purpose').

Then, I looked back at the 'Bad Grammar' awards and one of the awards this year is for a mistake with "your" and "you're". Yes, a homonym slip - just like Toby Young's; another little easily made error that slipped through the proof-reading that the Bad Awards judges are haw-hawing about. 

Spelling? Grammar? 
Grammar? Spelling?

Needless to say, I pointed this out to Toby Young in my next tweet. 

He hasn't replied yet. 

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Shakespeare's Birthday Insults Poem (first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 PM April 22)

Dear William

450 years to the good, do we see

In celebration thereof, have I offerings for thee.

Insults have I plucked from thy poems and plays

For use by tweeters, in these digital days.

"Thou cream faced loon"

"There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune"

"Thou art baser than a cutpurse"

"We know each other well. We do, and long to know each other worse. "

"Thou thing of no bowels thou." "Pied ninny!" "Scurvy patch!"

"Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch."

"Thou poisonous slave"

"Filthy worsted-stocking knave"

"Damn’d and luxurious mountain-goat"

'The gold I give thee will I melt and pour down thy ill-uttering throat."

"Thou art nothing better than a disease"

"His breath stinks with toasted cheese"

"Slanderous tongues"

"The food is such as hath been belched on by infected lungs"

"Braggart vile"

"Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of Nile"

"O you beast, o faithless coward, o dishonest wretch,

Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice?"

"It is certain that when he makes water, his urine is congealed ice."

"Go rot"

"Get thee glass eyes; and, like a scurvy politician, seem to see the things, thou dost not."

William’s works will live on where’er he doth rove

In spite of, methinks, not because of Mr Gove.

I sometimes fear...

I sometimes fear that people might think that fascism arrives in fancy dress worn by grotesques and monsters as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. Fascism arrives as your friend. It will restore your honour, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighbourhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt, remove anything you feel is unlike you...It doesn't walk in saying, "Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution."

Thursday 17 April 2014

Financial Times replies to my blog about Sajid Javid

Here's a response to my post about the appointment of Sajid Javid as Culture Secretary.

It comes from Janan Ganesh of the Financial Times.

My responses are in italics within the article:

During his years in investment banking, Sajid Javid was probably called worse things than a philistine. This must be why Britain’s new culture secretary is not locked in his office weeping hot tears at the sour reception to his appointment from the arts lobby – and especially the children’s writer, Michael Rosen. To have your taste doubted by the author of 'You’re Thinking About Doughnuts' and 'Little Rabbit Foo Foo' is a very rough thing, but Deutsche Bank probably does a nice line in thick-skin training.

I guess this is supposed to be a sneer. I think his point is that someone who writes books with titles like that is someone who isn't entitled to doubt someone's taste. There are a couple of problems with this: 1) I didn't call Sajid Javid a 'philistine'. It was his behaviour as a banker that I was concerned about. 2) I'm sure Deutsche Bank is thick-skinned. They've been fined for rate-fixing - while Javid was one of their head honchos. 

The question is why artists, especially those of a literary bent, are still invited to expound like this. There is little evidence that ordinary people care what even the mega-selling Ian McEwans and Philip Pullmans think about anything outside their work. 

Some 'ordinary people' do, some 'ordinary people' don't. 'Ordinary people' are generally not 'ordinary'. 

And the novelist’s life is almost custom-engineered to preclude intelligent commentary on the real world. They shut themselves away to write and live off their imaginations. 

Really? Is that what we do? Or is that just something that Janesh has picked up from having to 'do' the Romantic Poets?

Politics and business are rather more earthly than that. There is no literary answer to Vladimir Putin’s revanchism or a £100bn budget deficit. Yet writers are still consulted as some kind of extra-parliamentary political class. This can go badly wrong. On the second anniversary of 9/11, the journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft chronicled “Two years of gibberish” from the literary world in response to that atrocity. Reading it again after more than a decade, none of the guff he painstakingly quotes has improved with time. “Touch me,” one author begged. “Kiss me. Remind me what I am . . . the immensity of this event can only be mirrored in the immensity of what we are.” Such wisdom. If only George W Bush had listened.

We get the message: we should shuttup. We should leave politics and banking to politicians and bankers. After all, they haven't screwed anything up over the last 10 years, have they? Well, if you write for the Financial Times, perhaps you can kid yourself that they haven't. 

Thursday 10 April 2014

Gove-Wilshaw - latest wire-tap - Gove's new 'Big Idea'.

Wilshaw is on the phone.

Wilshaw: (tough) "No one tells my troops what to do. Just  kick the door in. Get in there and bloody tell them. They're only teachers, for god's sake...."

(puts phone down)

Gove (sashays in, clicking his fingers, whistling and humming)

Wilshaw: Bloody knock will you?  I'm just sending my boys into one of your pissy little free schools.

Gove: Don't care, Big Boy. I have a plannity plan. While you're mired in bumf and detail,
I'm just floating, man.
(still clicking his fingers, though now he's doing it under Wilshaw's nose.)

Wilshaw: I don't suppose I can avoid you telling me, can I?

Gove: Well, you may have missed my superb statement on the new CREATIVE GCSEs. (as he says 'creative' he clicks his fingers and wiggles his ass.) The Miller opportunity got in the way.

Wilshaw: Opportunity?

Gove: Oh 'FFS' (winks in a coy manner), one person's misfortune is another person's opportunity...y'dig?

Wilshaw: I don't 'dig' anything apart from my garden.

Gove: Anyway, did you miss my superb statement?

Wilshaw:  Yep.

Gove: Well what I said, out trends the trendies, outgrooves the groovers and gets down with the kids.

Wilshaw: (puts his head in his hands and groans)

Gove: They can't go on calling me Gove the Gradgrind. I'm Mr Mega-creativity Man. Oh yes. Now for the follow-up.

Wilshaw: Can you do that somewhere else?

Gove: No, you're going to listen to this, Big Boy. I am going to initiate a great new initiative. (he gropes in his pocket for a piece of paper. He pulls it out. It's a Pizza Express bill. He has written on the back of it. Gove reads from it. Though he struggles with the writing)

It's called - "Sing - Do it!" and every school in the country will-

Wilshaw - England. Not 'the country'.

Gove: Yadda yadda. Every school, every child will sing. They'll - "do it!" What do you think?

Wilshaw: They do already, don't they?

Gove: Says who?

Wilshaw: Says me?

Gove: And what do you know? Nada. This is going to be the Gove Sing - Do it! And they're going to sing British songs. Great British songs. It's going to be the Great British Sing. Every newspaper, every media outlet is going to be on to this. The whole country is going to Sing sing sing!

Wilshaw: Apart from those that don't want to. And apart from those who you piss off.

Gove: That's where you and your police force come into it. This is going to be...inspected!

Wilshaw: My boys have got enough to enforce without having to listen to a bunch of kids caterwauling in the school hall.

Gove: What is it with you? Why do you stamp all over everything I try to do?

Wilshaw: Because it's crap?

Gove: And everything you say and do, is a watered down version of the Gestapo. Or not so watered.

Wilshaw: What would be the matter if it was?

Gove: (shouting) Don't you worry, Big Boy. You're the day before yesterday's man. I'm going to launch this Sing - Do It! project without you, then.

(stamps his foot, runs out. )

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Open letter to Sajid Javid, the new Culture Minister

Dear Sajid Javid

We've never met, but that's because I work in 'Culture' and you have spent most of your adult life so far in banking.

It's very difficult to see from your Wikipedia entry or from the kind of information put before us by Huffington Post (see my previous blog) how you're qualified to do this new job at the Ministry of Culture.

My experience within the cultural field, whether as a writer, performer and broadcaster, or as a keen consumer, is that this country is very ambivalent about 'culture'. That's to say, it's very convenient for politicians to make loud noises about the importance of this or that big cultural figure - Shakespeare, Beethoven and the like - but very difficult for them to acknowledge or support the thousands of ways all of us create and consume culture in small groups, locally, and - more recently - in digital forms.

This is not just about money - though that is of course important - it's about an attitude to people. Either we think that everyone has the potential to produce art, or we don't. Either we think that everyone is entitled to have access to all kinds of art, no matter how pricey that art was to produce, or not. As yet, we don't know which side of this divide you sit.

But while we're on about money - this is a peculiar time, isn't it? You're an ex-banker who made millions during the fatal bubble of the early 21st century. You were at a bank that has been fined for rate-fixing. You know all about this kind of money.  The fact that people like you got up to all sorts of greedy lending and fiddling is why we're in the crisis.

And yet the party you belong to keeps telling us that the reason why we're in the crisis is because 'we' spent too much money on health, education, social services, benefits and - yes - culture. Anything that was paid for out of taxation seems to have caused the crisis, according to your party. Lies, all lies, but that's the sort of 'culture' we have to put with from your party.

So, I'm very curious about how you're going to explain why 'Culture' will have to take a hit from the Treasury even as you are someone who benefited from the false boom, the very same boom that caused the crash...and to continue the chain...which is what has given your party the excuse to slash public services and cut waged and unwaged people's standard of living....and further enrich the mega-rich.

Perhaps you're mad keen on culture. Perhaps in between making all that money,  you were hanging around galleries, theatres, cinemas, concert halls, comedy clubs, libraries, dance studios, painting classes. Perhaps you've seen how people manage on a shoe string, perhaps you've seen the awful conditions backstage in many theatres, perhaps you know about the crap wages that most people in the arts work with. Perhaps you know about the terrible crisis we have in libraries, depriving people of access to knowledge and culture.

If you do, you'll know it's a very, very different world from the outrageous, lavish, crazy world you lived in while you were at Chase Manhattan and Deutsche Banks.

No matter you are of working class origin and your cultural background is a million miles from the Etonian toffs, you are now part of the class (yes), that runs the ludicrous world of the mega-rich gamblers who have caused millions of people across the world to lose their jobs and welfare.

So I'm not holding out any hopes.

Michael Rosen

Culture Minister Sajid Javid, banking, 2005-2008, rate-fixing probby

Care of Huffington Post re our new Culture Minister:

"Deutsche Bank was recently fined by the European Commission for colluding with four other banks and a brokerage firm to fix Yen Libor and Euribor benchmark rates. Their investigation focused on the period of Septemnber 2005 and May 2008. Questions have been raised, as Sajid Javid held senior positions at Deutsche Bank during this period."

Latest wire-tap: Gove tells Wilshaw how good he was on the Today Programme.

Wilshaw in his office.

Gove bursts in, opens his arms and takes up a heroic stance.

Wilshaw: I didn't hear you knock.

Gove: Da-daaaaa!

Wilshaw: (ignores)

Gove: What do you think? How did I do?

Wilshaw: Mm?

Gove: On the Today prog. How was I?

Wilshaw: I wasn't listening.

Gove: You weren't listening? What are you talking about? Everyone was listening!

Wilshaw: I wasn't.

Gove: Then it was the nation minus one.

Wilshaw: Uh-huh.

Gove: I was sensational.

Wilshaw: Did you get the Culture job? Here's hoping.

Gove: Of course not. Dave has other ideas. I have other ideas.

Wilshaw: Oh sheesh. Ideas and you. That's where the trouble starts.

Gove: I was so blooming statesmanlike. I was like...like...Kennedy in Berlin...Churchill and Dunkirk...Henry V at...

Wilshaw: I got a text, saying you were like yesterday's porridge.

Gove: I did sad. I did responsible. I did regret. I did sympathy. I did concern. I know how to do the bloody lot. Govey 5 Dave nil. I was George bloody Best in the European Cup final.

Wilshaw: Champions League.

Gove: Shut your face, Big Boy. It was the European Cup then. It's the Champions League now. And now is when it is...er...now. And I am Mr Now.

Wilshaw: I need to get on with some work. I've got one of your little messes to mop up at Ecat.

Gove: My best moment was when I said, 'If I were doing Prime Minister's Question Time'....Geddit? Geddit? 'If'. Too bloody right. I just managed to not say, 'when'. Just left it hanging there... 'If' . Bloody magisterial.

Wilshaw: So you weren't able to blow your own trumpet on the new GCSEs thing?

Gove: I'm beyond that. That's already the past. That's merely a lower rung on the ladder.

Wilshaw: And Miller will be back anyway.

Gove: Of course she will. I did the contrition thing. Dave says sorry at PMQ. Sorted. She'll be back.

Wilshaw: Like him next door.

Gove: Laws, you mean.

Wilshaw: Too bloody right I mean Laws.

Gove: It all works, Big Boy. It's about loyalty and goodness. I said that to old man Humphrys. I wiped the floor with him. I showed the whole country minus you, that there is something more noble than hounding a decent Tory to the dogs.

Wilshaw: er...'hounding' means 'dogs'.

Gove: Don't bloody pretend you do metaphors. You're just a geographer.

Wilshaw: Historian.

Gove: Policeman. But I am a prince.

Wilshaw is up from his desk and pushing Gove out of his room.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Today's irony: education hinders 'interpretation' whilst market 'choice' demands it!

This morning's ironic thought

Our leaders have constructed an education system which downgrades the role of students'  'interpretation' and 'reflection' in face of 'content' and 'knowledge'. This is coupled to notions that there is a fixed sequence to the acquisition of the right to be 'creative' or the right to 'interpret'. That is, first you must be told or given 'the facts'/knowledge/'content' and only after that do you have the right or the ability to be 'creative' or to use your powers of 'interpretation'.

In fact, there's a triple squeeze on 'interpretation' : 1) too much content to get through 2) you have to do content first and only 'later' do you earn the right to interpret and 3) some students (or children) aren't capable of it anyway.

For those of us coming from the other side, we think that all human beings are capable of interpreting and creating - given the opportunity. There isn't any conflict between learning 'about', learning 'how' whilst interpreting or creating. So, almost any three year old learning to enjoy or learning the words of eg 'We're going on a bear hunt' is quite capable of interpreting what the bear is thinking or saying on the last page of the book where there are no words. They are quite capable of creating a scenario for that bear. Particularly if they talk to each other in pairs or small groups, rather than being asked direct questions by a teacher.

That scene - of children interpreting and creating - in this case, verbally, is one denied over and over again by people like Gove, Portillo (yes, he's an expert on education, I heard him voice this denial on the Politics Show the other night), and many others.

Now, cut to the recent budget. The Tories have told us that they are going to set people 'free' by enabling people retiring to do what they want with whatever money they have when they retire. So, imagine someone with, let's say, 10 grand. That person will then be confronted with competing sets of data coming from various people offering short and long term solutions of what to do with 10 grand. The difficult job facing anyone in this circumstance is 'interpretation'.

I take this as the latest example of what we call 'everyday life' - the most obvious one being the con of 'choice' between companies offering us gas, electricity, broadband, phones and TV. This 'choice' is 'good' - according to the dogma of the market. We love this kind of choice. (Note it's not 'control' ie we as humanity don't 'control' how we make, get and receive power, we just choose between companies trying to find different ways of conning us.

So, the status quo is 'choice' which the government tell us we know how to make. Meanwhile, they create an education system which hinders our ability to interpret and - needless to say - to 'create' alternative visions of how this stuff  - finance, power, digital services, etc etc - could be given us.

You'd think it was a conspiracy, if you were a conspiracy theorist.

Monday 7 April 2014

Uh-huh, trouble - Gove-Wilshaw and the DfE officials' petition to Gove.

Wilshaw is sitting at his desk.

Gove rushes in.

Wilshaw (looks up): Ah - the postman hasn't knocked twice.

Gove:  Are you behind this?

(Gove waves some papers at Wilshaw. It's a petition from DfE officials. The petition calls on Gove to create a level playing-field for all inspections. At present, says the petition, there is one rule for Local Authority schools and another for Free Schools and Academies. This, says the petition, makes the inspection and improvement processes open to political interference, as the final and sole arbiter of how failing academies and free schools are to be dealt with is in the hands of Gove. They say they are particularly concerned about this in the run-up to the General Election as it jeopardises objectivity...)

Wilshaw: (he knows about the petition and Gove thinks Wilshaw is at least partly responsible for it)
Oh you really don't like it up you, do you?

Gove: (shouting) Academies and free schools are mine. They're all mine, Big Boy.  Not yours. And not this pissy little bunch of snipers' and gripers'.

(he waves the petition under Wilshaw's nose)

Wilshaw: (patronisingly in the voice of a parent to a child) Yes, dear, they're all yours. That's the point.

Gove: What point?

Wilshaw: (snappy) You set these schools up on the basis that they wouldn't fail. Now they're failing, none of us knows who picks up the pieces.

Gove: (yelling): And we only know they bloody fail because your bloody clodhopping bloody Ofsted bloody inspectors have tramped into them as if they're like any other school.

Wilshaw: They are.

Gove: They're NOT! They're academies and free schools.

Wilshaw: And it turns out that some of them are failing and no one really knows what do with them. And no one really knows whose job it is to deal with it.

Gove: I'm creating Regional Schools Commissionaires. Keep up.

Wilshaw: Commissioners.

Gove: Whatever. And they'll have bloody great big offices plumb slap bang in the middle of a...a....um...a region and if there's a whisper of a problem, they can send in the marines. Just like you do.

Wilshaw: (getting ratty) But why aren't these swat teams part of my swat team?

Gove: Because your swat team is fast outliving its usefulness, Big Boy. I've got 4000 academies, free schools and the rest and I can do what I want with them.

Wilshaw: (wearily) And that's precisely why this place thinks you've lost it, pal.

Gove: (points finger under Wilshaw's nose). You wait till my regional commissionaires come in. Just you wait. They'll be handpicked. By me. They'll be working to my rules. Not yours.

Wilshaw: What happened to the Culture job? I thought 'Shameless' was on her way, and you were going in there with your Shakespeare and your Wordsworth and your Milton and your-.

Gove: Mind your own bloody business.

Wilshaw (laughing): Oh it wasn't your big gob, was it? Not the 'loads of hot sex' thing, was it? Were you pissed again?

Gove walks out, throwing the petition in the bin as he leaves.

Wilshaw: (shouting after him): You know you really ought to run your speeches past Sarah. She'd weed out that sort of thing.
(mutters under his breath) Or weed you out.

Wilshaw flips a page on his retirement count-down calendar.

Gove-Wilshaw: latest recording.

In an alcove in the corridor at the Department for Education

Gove bumps into Wilshaw.

The whole conversation is in whispers and stops whenever someone comes past.

Gove: (urgently) That call last night didn't happen.

Wilshaw: (snorts contemptuously)

Gove: Maria's going. It's a cavity thing.

Wilshaw: (he is reading a document called: 'The Hammer and the Fist'; he looks up) Mm? Are you still talking?

Gove: (blathering on) Cavity. Dental. Leave it and it rots.

Wilshaw: (uninterested) Uh-huh. Look, I've got to go: you'll like this. I'm giving the OK to send in some of my troops this afternoon. Swat job.

Gove: They had better not be some of mine.

Wilshaw: If they are, they are.

Gove: I told you, no more bloody headlines to do with Frees and Academies. Bloody lay off them, will you?

Wilshaw: You made your bed, sonnyjim. A lousy LA school gets turned into an Academy. A lousy free school or a lousy Academy gets turned into what exactly?

Gove: Whose bloody side are you on, now? And don't say 'the kids'.  That's my line.

Wilshaw: The kids.

Gove: Look, can I have a guarantee from  you that you won't say a word about me going for the job?

Wilshaw: What job?

Gove: Which one are you doing this afternoon?  Stupid or deaf?

Wilshaw: I'm only here for the 'hot sex'.

Gove: That was a joke.

Wilshaw (holds up newspaper with headline: GOVE SAYS THAT YOUNG BUSINESS PEOPLE COME TO LONDON FOR 'HOT SEX'.)


Gove: What is it with these creeps? It was a joke.

Wilshaw: What kind of joke? Irony, is it? Hyperbole?

Gove: I do the clever stuff, big boy. You're the hammer. Or the fist. Or both. Something dull, anyway.

Wilshaw: I am, sonny jim. I am. I close schools. I put the shits up teachers.

Gove: Like bloody hell you do. I'm the one round here who closes schools. All you do, is send in your hirelings.

Wilshaw: That's not what you said, when you told me how many academies you wanted by 2015.

Gove: One step out of line, and I'll have you up on a - never mind that now... I'm just saying that almost certainly I'm going to be out of here by the end of the week. I just wanted to s-

Wilshaw: Hot sex.

Gove: What is it with you?

Wilshaw: You won't get Culture. Not with your big gob.

Gove: I AM Culture. It's what I do. I live it. I never intended to piss about in the world of scummy little teachers and ex-teachers like you. I want to be down with Barenboim, Damien Hurst, Lucian Freud.

Wilshaw: He's dead.

Gove: I know. I know. I just said it to catch you out.

Wilshaw: Hot sex.

(Wilshaw walks off. Gove stands in the corridor, fiddling with his glasses.)

Sunday 6 April 2014

Gove tells Wilshaw of what he plans to do tomorrow.

It's Sunday, Gove walks into his empty office, turns on the light.
He walks about for a bit.
Goes to the phone.
Dials a number

He is calling Wilshaw.

Wilshaw (replying from home) Hello?

Gove: It's me.

Wilshaw: Who is this?

Gove: For christ's sake, it's me.

Wilshaw: Sorry, I don't recognise your voice. Who are you?

Gove: It's the Duke of bloody Windsor.

Wilshaw: (dejected) Oh it's you.

Gove: Look, I'm sorry about all that...you know...yesterday and...

Wilshaw: Yes, yes, what do you want? 'The Voice' is on and Kylie-

Gove: I thought I ought to tell you before I tell anyone else.

Wilshaw: If you're thinking of giving me the shove, I can tell you, no matter what you do, I - 

Gove: No, no, no, quite the opposite. 

Wilshaw (not getting it) You've got nothing on me, Govey...(interrupts himself)  What?  Opposite?

Gove: Yep. Maria is going to walk. She's not going to last more than 48 hours. 

(pause  silence)

Gove: Are you still there?

Wilshaw: You know this sort of thing doesn't interest me at all.

Gove: Yes, you're more 'stand-up sit-down, do-as-I-say'

Wilshaw: You haven't rung me at home on a Sunday to tell me this sort of rubbish? 

Gove: No I'm ringing you to tell you that I'm going for Maria's job. Culture.

(pause, silence)

Gove: Well?

Wilshaw: Well, what?

Gove: What do you say?

Wilshaw: Nothing. 

Gove: 'Nothing'. 'Nothing', he says. Fine. Nothing it is, then. So, you know I'm going to see Dave tomorrow morning and I'm going to throw my name in the hat. I can tell you, Wilshaw, I know more about culture than you, I know more about culture than anyone else in the whole bloody cabinet. I do. I do. 

(pause, silence)

Gove: You don't think I do? Is that it? Try me, try me. Ask me anything. Shakespeare. Wordsworth. (winding himself up) Or history. Battle of Bosworth. Whigs, Monmouth Rebellion. C'mon, big boy. Try me. 

(pause, silence)

Gove: (calming himself down) And all I ask of you then, is that you keep a lid on it, till you hear about it from someone else. 

Wilshaw: What makes you think that your friends at News Corp aren't listening?

Gove: You never leave it alone, do you?


Gove: And you don't want to wish me...you don't want to wish me...er...well? Or best of luck, or anything?


Gove: Or a thank you?


Gove: Or that it's been worth it, (getting heated)  or that you at least one tiny, tiny, tiny bloody bit of you is one tiny, tiny, tiny bit sorry?


Gove: (shouting) Well sod you and the rest of you! Piss off back to your Ofsted bloody bunch of snidey mates. Remember, I've done more for education in this country than you or, any of your new bloody Labour mates, have ever-

(the phone goes down at the other end)

Gove: (swears at himself, hits himself, walks about, turns out light, turns it on again. Gets out mobile, dials a number)_

Gove: Sarah? Sarah?

(voice mail)

Oh bloody hell, Sarah, why are you never there when I need you? It's all about you, these days, isn't it?

(finishes call, walks out, forgets to turn the light out, comes back in, kicks the waste paper bin, turns the light out, walks out.)

Saturday 5 April 2014

Gove accuses Wilshaw of treachery over today's leaked document in the Observer

Gove bursts into Wilshaw's office. He is holding a copy of the Observer, dated April 6 2014.

Wilshaw: You should have knocked.

Gove: (furious) I'll give you 'knocked', you bastard.

Wilshaw: Whoa, slow down, smartypants. What now?

Gove: Have you seen this? It's a leak.

Wilshaw looks at the Observer article which reveals that Gove and Lord Nash have cooked up a plan to pre-empt Ofsted inspections of Free Schools. This is to avoid the embarrassing stories emerging over the last few months of failing Free Schools.

Gove: I warned you. I told you to keep your bloody attack-dogs out of the Free Schools.

Wilshaw: Oh yes, I remember that. You forget that you can't stop me inspecting them. Though, I'll admit I kept it to a minimum, less than 40 out of more than 170. C'mon, that's pretty low.

Gove: Not low enough, Speccy.

Wilshaw: It's not looking good, is it?

Gove: You're part of the Blob, aren't you, Wilshaw? You are an Enemy of Promise. What the hell's going on?

Wilshaw: It's not looking good, Govey.

Gove: Did you leak the report? That was just between me and Nash. Who else saw it? Did you see it?

Wilshaw: I may have done. I may not have done.

Gove: If your fingerprints on this, then you're dead meat.

Wilshaw: If there's any meat labelled with a death certificate round here, I think it belongs to the guy looking at me.

Gove: These Free Schools are my idea. I thought of them. They're mine. They're mine, Speccy. And you and your pissy Ofsted bloody quality control thugs are undermining them. What is this? Revenge?

Wilshaw: Oh, is this your Shakespeare moment?

Gove: You may well have the bloody Telegraph on your side, but I've got News Corp. They'll...

Wilshaw: I shouldn't be too sure that News Corp will do anything for you just now...they're on damage limitation in the law courts at the moment.

Gove: (sensing he's snookered, backs against the wall) You're not the only one here, who's got it in for me. There are others. I've seen their smirking. I've seen you sneering and jeering together as you leave meetings. Just remember this: I've been the most important Education chief since -

Wilshaw: 'Have been'. Quite.

Gove rushes out, making a noise like a cat whose tail has been trodden on.

He throws back one last comment.

"And I'll close down the bloody Observer.'

Wilshaw whistles quietly to himself.

Gove and Wilshaw discuss whingeing headteachers

Gove is sitting in his office.

Wilshaw walks in.

Gove: You could have knocked.

Wilshaw: The Whingers Club are writing to me again.

Gove: Deal with it.

Wilshaw: I will and I am. But this sort of thing sends out ripples. You're the one with an election to win.

Gove: You're the one with a job to lose.

Wilshaw: I've got nothing to lose. Retirement round the corner. Pension sorted. Have you seen Labour's lead in the marginals?

Gove: Shuttup, Specky, you're the one whingeing about whingers.

Wilshaw: You're not listening. Some headteacher or other writes this sort of thing to me nearly every day now.

(waves letter in Gove's direction)

"blah blah blah...we would have been 'Outstanding' but our Year 2 results were deemed to be 'Good' not 'Outstanding'...blah blah blah."

Gove: Is this really why you've come in here?

Wilshaw: This bit: he says -

Gove: Who says?

Wilshaw: The head teacher - bloody listen, will you? He says next, that the reason why his Year 2's results weren't 'Outstanding' is because virtually all of them only arrived in the country at the beginning of the year.

Gove: Excuses. These bloody teachers. They always blame the children. Just because he's got a class full of foreigners doesn't mean he can't teach them! What is the matter with-

Wilshaw: No, yes. No. I mean, in this particular case...I think...er-

Gove: Oh for god's sake, you're the Blob as well, aren't you? Blobby blobby Wilshaw.

Wilshaw: Of course I'm not. No. Of course not. But, if they really have just come into the country...

Gove: Is this one of ours?

Wilshaw: An Academy, you mean? No.

Gove: Well, what are you bloody worried about then? Throw the book at them. They are failing those kids.

Wilshaw: No, what I'm saying is that I don't think this school is failing them. If it really is true what he says, and these Year 2s have really only just arrived, then he's actually doing pretty good to get them to 'Good' in a year.

Gove: You make me sick sometimes. This is some slummy little Local Authority school. I don't care how bloody 'Good' it's supposed to be. Your inspectors have just done a grand job keeping it out of the 'Outstanding' band, and you come here sympathising with whingey little Blob man. Pathetic.

Wilshaw: I'm trying to show you that you're making an enemy out of someone who could be...who could be...Look, I thought you wanted your lot to win this election.

Gove: Do I?

Wilshaw: Don't you?

Gove: Do I?

Wilshaw: You tell me.

Gove: That's the bit I don't do, remember? Now, run along. I've got some serious doo-doo to deal with now.

Wilshaw: (peering over on to Gove's desk) - Hah! King's Science Academy Free School again! Yes, that is doo-doo.

Gove: Oh, clear off, will you.

Wilshaw leaves.

Gove and Wilshaw discuss the failed headteacher in Ofsted

Wilshaw's office.

Gove walks in.

Wilshaw: You could have knocked.

Gove: Could have, but didn't.

Wilshaw: Yes, yes.

Gove: We've got a problem.

Wilshaw: You've got a problem. I don't have problems.

Gove: The enemy is picking up on stuff to do with your inspectors.

Wilshaw: My inspectors, your system.

Gove: For christ's sake, we're on the same side here, aren't we?

Wilshaw: Sometimes.

Gove: My concern here is that you've got inspectors who are failed school leaders.

Wilshaw: Why's that a problem?

Gove: It's not a problem in itself, but it's what it bloody looks like.

Wilshaw: Neither of us are paintings but it hasn't done us any harm.

Gove: That's good. I might use that one.

Wilshaw: Don't. It's one of mine.

Gove: Look, we've got a message management moment here. The bloody papers, even the Telegraph, for christ's sake, are hooking on to stuff like this.

Wilshaw: Like what?

Gove: Do you listen? I'm telling you there's some federation headteacher in the north somewhere, Northumberland or Cumberland or somewhere, and his school or schools - oh hell - I don't remember - are under special measures and he's one of your bloody inspectors. Where's my map...?

Wilshaw: Who leaked this?

Gove: Keep your voice down. Probably someone here.

Wilshaw: My lot are loyal.

Gove: So are mine.

Wilshaw: Nope. Your lot hate you.

Gove: Ditto. Ner ner.

Wilshaw: Hrrmmph.

Gove: I'm going to put out a statement about how much I lament this state of affairs...

Wilshaw: ....and how much you respect and admire the fantastic work that Ofsted is doing...

Gove:...perhaps, and how my Academy programme is levering up standards and...

Wilshaw: Thanks to the great example set by Mossbourne, where I was the head...

Gove: O shit, Michael, you know very well what you did there...come on:  you had a changing demography and the school just rode the crest of the wave of middle class moving into the area; then you ran a system of exclusions that no one could ever get to the bottom of and...yes... the government pumped bloody millions more into that place than any other school, on top of that...you ran what was in effect a selection process to get the kids by taking the top slice off each of the three 'ability bands' that were admitted.

Wilshaw: So bloody what! I got the headlines. I still get the headlines. Only the other day, that woman on Question Time said how bloody good I was at 'turning round a failing school'. And in the end that looks good for you too.

Gove: Sort out these crap ex-heads in your Ofsted team or I'm in the shits.

Wilshaw: 'Bad apples'. 'Teething problems'. Those are the words. You can go now.

Gove: I'll go when I want.

Wilshaw: ...which is now.

Gove exits.

Ofsted inspector is head of an academy he can't keep out of special measures

Further to my argument about how in the 60s and 70s, the media used to pillory individual cases in order to suggest that the whole system was diseased but now treat each individual case as 'bad apples'.


Ofsted has come under fire after it emerged this week that a lead inspector working for the watchdog is responsible for running two academies which have been placed in special measures.

Last February, Derek Davies was appointed executive principal at the troubled Richard Rose Federation in Cumbria. This came after one of its schools, the flagship Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle, became the first academy to be placed in special measures for the second time.

Since then, despite two further monitoring visits by inspectors, the school has remained in special measures; in the most recent report, the lead inspector claimed that it was “not making enough progress”.

In January, the federation’s other Carlisle academy, Richard Rose Morton, was also placed into special measures. Both schools were rated inadequate in every single category.

But despite Ofsted’s damning verdict on his own schools, Mr Davies continues to inspect schools himself, working for private provider the CfBT Education Trust.

Mr Davies served as lead inspector when Ofsted visited Reddish Vale Technology College in Stockport in February; last week, it was placed in special measures.

Mr Davies’ report was particularly scathing about the college’s leadership team, which, it said, “have failed to secure the safety of the students and essential improvements in teaching and to students’ achievement”.

“Staff,” the report adds, “including leaders and managers, do not always have a clear understanding of what good and outstanding teaching and learning look like.”

One principal told TES that many school leaders in the North-West had expressed “anger and incredulity” about the case.

“If ever there was a compelling case that Ofsted is not fit for purpose this is it: people who lead schools into a category then going out and inspecting other schools,” he added.

Stephen Ball, principal at the New Charter Academy in Greater Manchester, also expressed concerns. "Surely this raises fundamental questions about Ofsted’s quality assurance process and the judgement of the lead inspector; how can he believe that he retains credibility?" he said.

"If his judgement on this most basic of issues is unsound it is difficult to trust any other judgement that he makes. I am quite sure that the general public believes that inspectors are people of the highest possible standing; I am sure they – and politicians too – would be astonished by this.”

The role of additional inspectors (AIs), who are provided by three private suppliers to Ofsted, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks.

Last month, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw (pictured) announced the watchdog would be hiring a “substantial number” of new inspectors itself, as part of its move to phase out the 3,500 AIs it currently hires from private companies.

The move, he said, would help “eradicate inconsistencies” between inspection teams.

In its recent report on Ofsted, thinktank Policy Exchange called on the watchdog to scale down its use of additional inspectors.

Jonathan Simons, the organisation’s head of education, told TES: “The responses from headteachers around the country for our report was that they were concerned about the variable quality of additional inspectors.

“As part of the reforms to Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector must look hard at the quality of all his inspectors– making sure that they have the experience, skills and knowledge to command the confidence of schools that they are inspecting, especially when making high stakes and difficult judgements.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said his union was of the view that all inspections should be led by Her Majesty’s Inspectors, employed directly by Ofsted.

An Ofsted spokesman said: ‘Additional inspectors are often headteachers of good or outstanding schools or have been so in the past. Many have a proven track record of moving schools from special measures to outstanding.

“Often they are or have been national leaders in education. On some occasions headteachers of outstanding schools, who are also additional inspectors, move on to take up new challenges in failing schools as is the case with Richard Rose Academy.”

Friday 4 April 2014

Gove and Wilshaw go on a Bear Hunt - with rigour and structure

Department for Education

Room 405

Michael Wilshaw walks in.

Michael Gove is seated at his desk.

Gove is shuffling through papers to do with the Kings Science Academy in Bradford. It’s clear that he’s been doing this for several hours now.

Gove: (looking up) I’d prefer it if you knocked.

Wilshaw: I’m sure you do.

Gove: So?

Wilshaw: I thought we ought to run through a few things to do with under-fives strategy.

Gove: Oh that.

Wilshaw: I think we need to flesh out some of the small print.

Gove: What? Now?

Wilshaw: (ignoring) I want to go public on a lesson plan I have in mind. The press have picked up the story very nicely, but we’re weak on detail.

Gove: Good, keep coming.

Wilshaw: So, what we’ve done is take a classic wishy-washy enemies-of-promise way of doing under-fives work and toughen the whole thing up with rigour.

Gove: Remember, I do the ‘rigour’ thing. You can do ‘structure’. I do ‘enemies of promise’. You do ‘lost generation’.

Wilshaw: I had no idea it was a bloody demarcation matter.

Gove: It is.

Wilshaw: OK, have your ‘rigour’. Now let me get on.

Gove: Shoot.

Wilshaw: ‘Bear Hunt’ - do you know it?

Gove: Unfortunately, yes.

Wilshaw: Now the way your enemies of promise do ‘Bear Hunt’ in nurseries and playgroups, I gather from my informants - sorry - inspectors - is that the children chant the bloody thing whilst wandering all over the place sometimes doing the words in the books, sometimes making up their own nonsense, getting their hands messy, climbing all over bits of apparatus or some old junk that they’ve made.

Gove: Really? That is pretty hopeless.

Wilshaw: Worse. So, this is my plan.

Gove: Are you going to take me through this now, I am busy, you know, I’ve got the whole bloody Ecat mess to sort out.

Wilshaw: But you’ve got the Kings Science Academy stuff in front of you.

Gove (losing it) I know, I know, I know, I know, I know. (quietening down) OK, give me your ‘Bear Hunt’ routine, then. I can’t believe I’m spending time on this.

Wilshaw: So, we issue all playgroup, nursery, and reception class teachers and assistants with instructions on how to do ‘Bear Hunt’.

Gove: (grudgingly) Fair enough.

Wilshaw: Something like this - and some of it’s mine.

Gove: For christ’s sake, Michael, I appointed you, I big you up on every possible occasion, there’s no need to tell me which bloody words you write in your reports and documents. Carry on.

Wilshaw: OK, here goes:

“Teacher enters nursery or playgroup area.

Children stand up.

Teacher looks round the room of 2, 3 or 4 year olds.

‘Sit down, class,’ she says.

If she sees that any of the children haven’t blown their noses, are fiddling with their hair, clothes or with each other she says:

“Darren, stop that now,’ and looks sternly straight into the child’s face.

‘Today,’ she says, ‘We’re going to go on a bear hunt.’

If there’s any reaction from the children other than quiet smiling, she restrains them with,

‘That’s quite enough of that, Darren.’

She holds up the book.

‘This is a book,’ she says.

‘These are the pictures. These are the words. You look at the pictures. I read the words. Please don’t try to read the words because they are not phonically regular.’

She should now say clearly to the children.

‘What did I say?’

She should then get them to repeat after her:

‘We are not going to read the words because they are not phonically regular.’

Gove: I hate saying this, but this is bloody good.

Wilshaw: If I liked you, I would take that as a compliment. Even so, thanks.

The teacher now opens the book, saying, ‘I am opening the book.’

She then recites:

‘We’re going on a bear hunt’

and invites the children to repeat after her.

Any child not repeating it, she should say,

‘Darren you didn’t say it. Stand up. Now say, ‘We’re going on a bear hunt.’

She should do that over and over again until such time as Darren says the line.

If he still refuses, he should sit separately from the other children with his face to the


The teacher should now say,

‘We’ is the plural of ‘I’, and it is one of the personal pronouns. and invite the children to repeat it several times.

Gove: Bloody hell, Wilshaw, did you write this?

Wilshaw: With help.

Gove: Who from?

Wilshaw: If I said the word ‘Toby’ would that give you a clue?

Gove: Smart move. Carry on.

Wilshaw: Well, I’ve got the same sort of thing with ‘going’ - verb but I’ve run into a spot of bother with ‘bear’ and ‘hunt’.

Gove: They’re bloody nouns.

Wilshaw: But is it a noun phrase? Or is there an argument for saying that ‘bear’ is an adjective? I mean it ‘describes’ what kind of ‘hunt’ it is.

Gove: Just say, ‘nouns’. They’re 2 and 3 year olds. So long as they chant, ‘it’s a noun’, that’ll be OK.

Wilshaw: Great. So, we go on through the rest of the book, like that.

Gove: What about all that action stuff that kids do, waving their arms about when they say, ‘big one’?

Wilshaw: Absolutely not. This is about eyes and ears.

Gove: Good. Eyes and ears.

Wilshaw: Are you writing that down?

Gove: Sure, I’m thinking of using that. I’ve got a big one coming up with the W.I. That’s the sort of stuff they’ll understand.

Wilshaw: Oh, I was rather hoping to keep that one for myself.

Gove: Tough. Too late.

Wilshaw: I’ve put in some strong guidelines for all the later stuff in the book, when they’re running away from the bear.

Gove: Like?

Wilshaw: A lot of stern looking, some warnings about ‘staying on your bottom, Darren’ in case he gets carried away.

Gove: And that stuff about getting under the covers?

Wilshaw: I have the teacher breaking off there for a short lesson on heat retention.


And why do we cover ourselves with blankets, duvets and quilts?

Then, not waiting for the answer, the teacher says,

‘In order to retain body heat.’

She asks the children to repeat:

‘In order to retain body heat.’

And then, and only when all children have repeated this, she says,

‘We’re not going on a bear hunt again.’

She should then close the book and say, ‘And that is the end of the book.’

Gove: What about that picture of the bear at the end?

Wilshaw: What about it?

Gove: No, I was just thinking I quite like that.

Wilshaw: So?

Gove: No, nothing. Fine. You mean, the children don’t look at that bit?

Wilshaw: (irritated) It comes after the words. It’s only a bloody picture. What do you want the children to do with it?

Gove: No, no, of course not. Sorry, that’s good. That’s very good. The teacher closes the book. That is very rigorous.

Wilshaw: Structured.

Gove: OK, good, so I launch this at the W.I next week, right?

Wilshaw: Like hell you do. This is for my talk to the Early Years conference this Friday.

Gove: You’ve got a bloody cheek, you know.

Wilshaw: What are you going to do about it?

Gove: OK, OK, you can go now.

Wilshaw: I was going anyway.

Wilshaw leaves.

Gove goes back to his papers.

He can be just heard muttering about someone at a free school somewhere issuing invoices for rent that was not being charged in the first place.

How the media do education: shock-horror then, mistakes now

Those of us with long memories in the education game, remember how the press handled education scandals of the past. We can call to mind the press hysteria around such 'school events' as Risinghill, William Tyndale and Highbury Quadrant.

These became the battlegrounds for the argument about state education with these three schools accused of a combination of such crimes as 'progressivism' and 'political interference'. For the moment, I'm not going to revisit the details of these but rather, focus on what was the purpose of the media output and how it relates to the situation in education now.

It's now clear that these were the opening chapters in the story that has unfolded with the Gove revolution. In essence, there has always been a school (!) of thought in education which believes that the best way for children to be educated is by emphasising children as empty vessels waiting to be given wisdom and knowledge that teachers transmit via textbooks, worksheets, exercises and lectures.  In spite of claims made by those who believe in this teaching method and content, the 'progressives' who have different models of education and learning did not take over the reins of power and great swathes of education have always retained the 'empty vessel' model. The main reason for that has been the testing and exam system, which has always demanded of teachers to forgo discussion, investigation, co-operation and the like so that the children/students can 'cram' or the equivalent. As I often say, this is not to blame teachers. When exams and tests are given the high status or sole status of judging 'education', teachers have no choice but to do what managements and inspectors and ministers say (often without much evidence) that the 'cramming' system of passing is the best way to teach.

So, bearing this in mind, these three schools I've mentioned became national news. They were educational horror stories and it could be said that the shock-horror that was created was then bit by bit turned into some kind of truth (I would say 'myth') about the state of all schools and the constantly repeated and unchallenged fib that Wilshaw and Gove come up with about the 'failed generation'. As I've written in a previous blog, the 'failed generation' are - according to them - now in their thirties and forties - so, if they were honest, they would tell us what it is that thirty and forty year old state educated people cannot do, or what they are doing 'wrong'.

Leaping now to the present state of school under Gove, I am not inventing things when I say that there have been a set of crises breaking in specific schools set up under the Gove regime. I don't need to list them, but we know that some Free Schools have failed, at least one academy chain is in serious difficulty, the governance of academies is still in a state of flux with governance shared between Gove and the academy chain (if that's what's running the academy) while coming over the horizon a new tier of bureaucracy is on its way with regional (?) academy bosses.

Then again, as I've written, there is a real problem with what is happening to disaffected 14, 15 and 16 year olds. Put it this way, if you are 15/16 and were really intent on slipping out of education, it wouldn't be difficult. That's because we no longer have a unified system of universal provision. The old system as devised in 1944 and repeated in 1988, no longer prevails. We can no longer say that the 'school system provides education for all'. What happens now is that academies and free schools provide education to those that go to those schools. Local authority schools do the rest - apart from the fee-payers. It is not the responsibility of the academy system or the free school system to educate anyone apart from those children who are in their schools. When they get rid of pupils, it is not their concern as to where they go or what happens to them.

Now, let's imagine that the press and media that hounded Risinghill, William Tyndale and Highbury Quadrant, were as interested in these stories of failure as they were in these three schools. They would be front page news, long interviews with anguished parents, long 'comment' articles by the great and the good. Gove would be hounded with the stories that I hear about eg local authorities picking up the pieces of academies that fail, pupils who are rejected by the academy and free school system, the cramming into smaller and smaller spaces that is going on because local authorities are not allowed to build new local authority schools, the full nature of what happens when a free school fails, who has been corrupt in the handling of funds and so on. And though Gove's billion - or is it billionS, now? - is mentioned, it's brushed over as if it's just one of those government things. Where is the press anxiety and rage?

So, though Tyndale, Risinghill and Highbury Quadrant were taken as symptomatic of a 'disease' that was affecting all children, the Gove experiments are given an easy ride and the failures are taken as 'teething problems' and to be expected in what is after all a truly honourable venture in 'raising standards'.

Why Wilshaw is wrong

Michael Wilshaw is drawing up battle-lines in the education of under-fives. His claim is that a form of compensatory education can improve the chances of those children who, he claims, are so disadvantaged that they can't access schooling.

The compensatory education he seems to be talking about is some form of instruction and this instruction is, apparently, much more effective that 'play' or 'creativity'.

My thoughts:

1. We don't have universal provision of childcare, so any comments about what does or does not go on in nurseries needs a strong dose of reality, telling us which children are in nurseries, for how long and which children aren't able to get into nurseries. My experience of education for under-fives is that many of the children who Wilshaw is calling 'disadvantaged' are also children who don't even go to nursery, let alone get the 'wrong' education. Tell me otherwise, but one of the disadvantages that disadvantaged children face is that it's hard if not impossible for many of them to get into nurseries.

2. Wilshaw et al are doing their best to misrepresent 'play'. When children play in well-resourced surroundings and safe surroundings, they achieve the very objectives that Wilshaw is claiming to champion: namely, they become engaged in 'cognition' (ie understanding how the world works - including their own bodies and minds), they become engaged in using language-in-action and so improve their language-use; and they become engaged in the key emotional responses we need in order to survive and progress: co-operation, compassion and the ability to place oneself in relation to others in the world. Play is not the enemy of educational progress. It is one of the key means by which we make that progress.

3. There is an awful irony going on here. One of the reasons why 'middle class' children arrive at school, very well suited to what school offers, is that more often than not, middle class children are fortunate enough to have been given the space and time to play and to read in open-ended, non-instructional ways. Family groups under the pressure of low wages and long hours of work, are not so exposed to these ideas about play and non-instructional reading.