It’s a load of Balls Ed

For some time the dubious solutions to failure in the private sector have been imported into the ‘uncompetitive’ public sector. The assumption behind the strategy is that by introducing competition, then standards rise. Thus, cleaning firms win the right to increase MRSA in hospitals by offering minimum wages, rock bottom tenders and dirty floor cloths. And security firms win the right to bang up prisoners as if they were Ryanair passengers or battery chickens whilst ensuring their claustrophobia is alleviated by extra supplies of drugs.

Now we are told that schools are to be on 50 days parole and if they still fail then they could be closed and opened as academies, or twinned with successful schools. We know how easy it is for business to go into liquidation and then reopen under another name, thus thumbing their noses at creditors and sad punters but it seems that the strategy appeals to Ed Balls and the Men from the Ministry. It is this or the slightly passé approach of removing senior management and bringing in a flying squad of super-heads.

Meanwhile, the problems just don’t go away. Schools remain an inappropriate means to an end. Their primary purpose, actually, is to keep the great mass of adolescence off the streets so that their unpredictable hormones don’t cause chaos in the social order. If you want career education for your young then, providing you have the wherewithal (fees, post code, influence, parental coaching) you can pay the value added and get it. No amount of management tinkering will change this overall pattern.

I began life as a teacher in a run down secondary school which was due to close the following year, with everyone moved, en bloc, into a purpose built comprehensive. I had a knife pulled on me, whole class attempts at disrupting my lessons, blatant sexual provocation from 14 year old girls and a headmaster who was more interested in his roses than the school. I came through it, somehow. At the same time I felt affection for the pupils and the area. Some I helped and some I didn’t. I was thought to be a better than average teacher, despite the failures under my care and when they left, students with whatever academic outcome shook my hand and grinned their awkward goodbyes. Of course nearly all of them could have done better, given improved home environments, better facilities and brothers and sisters who were academic role models. At the same time they felt it was their school, for better or worse and that it was connected to their lives and, in a roundabout kind of way, respected them, whatever their ambitions. The teachers, like myself, taught how they wanted. One or two should have been summarily dismissed. But there were no league tables, no SATS, no competition with the school next door, except on the playing fields. I doubt the results today, overall, are any better or worse than then, except in one respect and that was that the teachers were not under constant threat and my first school was closing within a strategy of providing better facilities for all.

Today’s teachers are pressured to be technocrats. The system is a positivists’ dream of measurement with myriad competencies and skills. Training has superseded education. All is regimented. Teachers deliver by the accepted manual. To impress the public, there must be those schools and individuals that fail and become pelted in the stocks of inspection and closure. It is not an education for all. It has no visionary socialist intent. It is neo-con, nasty and class driven. There is no liberalism left in it.

Haphazard education, with no clear sense of what the outcomes might be, where relationships between people are most important and emotional stability the first credo, might do a great deal more to help society cohere, than this mumbo jumbo of market forces and standardisation.

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