Who Profits from Rubbish Education?

Snake_oil_old_bottleSo many people have suffered from the educational chaos of the last fifty years, but it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. It’s worth asking ourselves who profits.

Traditional teaching methods are cheaper and more effective than progressive nonsense. So who benefits from the introduction of fad after fad? Box ticking bureaucrats who can wield ever greater power over their hapless victims, the rank and file teachers who use their experience and common sense and resist the latest madness.

Small schools are far more effective than huge ones, and yet we’ve seen ever more monstrously sized warehouses in the last few decades. Who has profited? Empire building managers, who can survey an ever larger realm under their power. Meanwhile, rank and file teachers and pupils suffer from the deteriorating behaviour which follows from increased anonymity.

There’s no scientific proof that handing out expensive, distracting technology to pupils helps them to learn, and centuries of experience to support the use of paper and ink, mind and voice. So who benefits from expensive initiatives which inflict this equipment on already overstimulated kids? The bureaucrats and managers who polish their CVs and get that promotion to the next grade in the civil service, as they tick the innovation box on their leadership competencies grid. Just using tried and trusted methods will never earn them that career boost.

And who benefits from ever increasing education spending to pay for whatever snake oil the pseudoscientists invent, or the technology companies produce? The bureaucrats who rule over an ever larger portfolio. They have no incentive to be efficient. After all, if they don’t spend their budget, it’ll be cut next year. But if they justify ever larger budgets, the prestige of their department grows and grows.

It’s commonplace to knock politicians, but I tend to admire their courage and determination, even when I disagree with their policies. It’s not an easy life, and it’s very insecure. We should also remember that politicians from Callaghan through Baker, Blunkett and Gove have been struggling to disperse the fog of progressive madness. Until Gove’s arrival, their intentions were subverted because they made the mistake of trusting the experts.

It’s not the politicians, but the comfortable office holders in the universities, government departments, local authorities, teaching unions and school management teams who have built their empires at the expense of state school pupils. Ever since the disaster of the Plowden report, we’ve seen a pernicious symbiotic relationship between fad-crazed intellectuals and ambitious bureaucrats, which has ruined countless lives. Just think how many comfortable and prestigious ivory towers would begin to totter if we saw a large scale triumph of cheap and effective traditional methods. It’s no wonder the knives came out for Gove.

(Image from Wikimedia)


13 thoughts on “Who Profits from Rubbish Education?

  1. I agree with many of your points however I do think in the right hands (those of a traditional teacher!!) that iPads, etc can be used to great effect. However, sadly, and rather unsurprisingly I have seen the best use of iPads in private schools where they are used to support and enhance the learning experience but not at the expense of their core curriculum. For them it is not a fix but a tool and it shows.


      • I agree – it is being introduced with no thought – and actually are there alternatives. One of the things I tried to engage teachers as the Computing subject lead was what can they do better? For example green screening a presentation about Ancient Greece is great – it gave the children a sense of being there and their own production. Likewise when they created their rendition of Nessun Dorma with their own lyrics it helped to be able to cut it together but many people are just using them as expensive cameras in which case may as well spend the money on something better!!


  2. comfortable office holders in the universities, They are the problem. They know so much more than teachers, as they read lots of research and occasionally visit schools.
    I really think that all of those who bore at university should be sent out every five or six years to teach and put their ideas into practise. Sent not to the best schools but to those that are difficult and if they fail they should be removed from their position.


  3. “It’s not the politicians, but the comfortable office holders in the universities, government departments, local authorities and school management teams who have built their empires at the expense of state school pupils.”

    Only recently, a teacher was trying to tell me that it was Ofsted who invented the idea of “limited teacher talk”. This person didn’t have a clue about the role of university academics in devising and propagating constructivist ideas. So many teachers seem to think “it’s all the politicians’ fault”….


    • Very true. Academic theorists have a lot to answer for. I wonder how many of them have actually tried teaching a class of thirty young people (or five different classes of thirty in one day) using the methods they propose.


  4. I enjoyed reading this. But I worry that there’s an inverse Gove going on. Just as he lumped together all sorts of clever, talented and hard-working people as “the blob”, so all civil servants are “box ticking bureaucrats.”

    Cards on table: I used to be one, though not at Education. I don’t remember doing anything obviously stupid just to get promoted – and not did anyone else. Even if we did, I doubt that failing is unique to civil servants.

    Criticise all you want; it’s healthy to have debate. But don’t assume that everyone whose actions you dislike is an ignorant, faddy, careerist waste of space.


      • True. But you did imply that civil servants involved in education aren’t up to much, without any kind of qualifying statement. Personally I think you’re splitting hairs, but maybe I’m over-sensitive.

        By the way, thanks for approving and commenting on my posting on what is a two year old blog. I only came across it today courtesy of @Miss_Snuffy. I don’t always agree with either of you but I enjoy the intellectual stimulation.


  5. Not sure that Gove appreciated the bureaucracy thing. He thought giving more powere to HTs was the solution. If the HT is bent on climbing the greasy pole,they will implement unproven fads with disregard for effectiveness and teacher workload. They will then move on before initiative is evaluated


    • Yes. Given the requirement for fads from Ofsted until quite recently, many current heads will have reached their position by practising and promoting nonsense. It’s going to take many years of movement in the other direction for there to be many senior managers who understand and apply effective methods and work to build a coherent curriculum. This is one of the factors that makes me very skeptical when we hear about how many schools are embracing knowledge and direct instruction. Most managers are probably just talking about it because they’ve decided it’s in fashion. There’s been no fundamental change in philosophy.


Thoughtful and reasonable discussion is always welcome.

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