Monthly Archives: January 2011

Cameron is right: it is time for change

Interesting, isn’t it, the way David Cameron dodges – or perhaps more accurately, pre-empts – criticism of his policies by portraying those same critics as being not only opposed to the particular policy, but somehow against the very notion of change and reform? He has done it to explain any number of spending cuts and did it today with his NHS plans. His team are always up to the same game – Michael Gove uses this tactic to counter questions about free schools, Eric Pickles deploys it to swat away worries about funding for local authorities…

It’s both devious and effective, immediately casting Cameron (or Gove or Pickles) in the role of radical and impatient reformer, making difficult choices to preserve our public services – while manoeuvring anyone who has anything approaching doubt into the position of unambitious, nay-saying ostrich. Even worse, if even the faintest clearing of the throat is mustered, to ask if they’ve really thought through the x, the y or the z, then you are damned as, wait for it, a ‘deficit denier’.

One can begin to imagine, in the very vaguest sense, how a 17th century witch (alleged, of course) may have felt; agree with what we say and you are sane, but doomed; disagree and you are clearly mad and don’t deserve a hearing (I know, the witches had it much tougher, but at least they didn’t have our Education Secretary to contend with. If the choice was between an hour with the unctuous smarm-machine that is Michael Gove and decision-making Salem-style, I’d take a kangaroo court and a head-first dunking every single time).

Strange in many ways, that those who want to preserve and defend (and, note the word choice: conserve) certain aspects of our public sphere are being rubbished by a Conservative Party which was founded on opposition to radical reform. Thatcher was a break from this tradition, and no surprises that Cameron is seeking to emulate the big-haired one.

The challenge now though, in this clever-clever debate where only the posh boys win, is for opponents to reclaim some of this ground as advocates of reform and change. Difficult, I’m sure, when all the troops are being marshalled to defend sacred turf, but essential if the coming months aren’t going to be presented in simplistic terms with the Government as change-bringers and just about everyone who questions them as head-scratching buffoons who just don’t get it.

Cameron has one thing right; the world isn’t perfect and change is necessary yet that needn’t mean that all that we have is flawed, damaged or worthless. In fact, nine times out of ten – the community school, the local library, the hospital – is well worth looking after and protecting. Opponents of the coalition do need to do just that, but in order to win the arguments, they are going to need to fight back with the fiercest weapon there is: ideas.

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Filed under Cameron, Policy, Politics - general, Schools

And hello again…

It’s been a while since I posted on here, but it’s nice to be back. For me, writing the blog has has been squeezed out by the realities of work, family and the strange, elusive challenge of doing anything with even the vaguest enthusiasm during the grey month of January. But, fear not, February is round the corner; new life is on its way.

Strange, however, that this drought came at a time where the juggernaut of educational reforms continues apace- with a wide-eyed Michael Gove at the steering wheel, peddle to the metal. Most recently, we have had the start of a curriculum review, plus the emergence of more and more proposals for free schools, alongside a steady creep of other schools adopting Academy status. Oh, and the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb – finger ever on the pulse – made a speech about the importance of Latin.

On a personal note, what is striking about so many of these reforms is that, as yet, they have changed little – if anything – about what happens within my school and within my classroom. As a teacher in a fairly straightforward community school, with the simple aim of taking in the children on our patch and teaching them well; with no plans to change status or to opt out of our local partnerships (nor, for that matter, to sack the French teacher and see if there’s anyone on our patch who can speak Caesar’s tongue), the frantic whirl of reform and change is so distant to be almost other-worldly.

Watching, while the Education Secretary ploughs ever onwards, feels odd – a bit like sitting, feet up, cuppa in hand, gazing at a twisting tornado on the horizon. The only times the Gove-storm has come close to our school was when the posh school down the road – the one that tempts the brightest kids with lap-tops – tried to become an Academy and failed (oh, how we chuckled); when a missive from the man himself said there were various bits of paper and forms which used to be important but were now less so (oh, how our Head cheered); and when we figured out that budgets will be incredibly tight and that the fabled Pupil Premium has turned out to be the most significant – yet considerably less successful – exercise in decoy and deception since Operation Mincemeat (oh, how predictable).

Perhaps I should be grateful for small mercies, for the fact that Gove hasn’t got up close and personal. But I’m not. Instead, I’m left with a mix of trepidation and annoyance. Trepidation because my fear is the worst is on its way – the golden years of investment in community schools are gone. In terms of cuts, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

And annoyance because nearly eight months in, Gove and Gibb have said next to nothing about schools like mine; good schools who open the doors wide to whoever is in their area, with decent staff who care deeply about their children, with parents who give their time to support the school, with deep roots in the community (a word that is hard to define, but you know it when you see it – or when you don’t).

Not a jot has been spoken of the goodness of community schools, funded from the public purse, working successfully with other schools and with local friends and partners. For all the coalition blather about ‘Big Society’, they seem to care so little for what community schools do.

So, a little late I admit, off we head into 2011 – a year of change, upheaval and protest. Let battle commence.

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Filed under Assessment, Schools