The Tories Spoiled Their Fun: Two Knights Complain

In A Generation of Radical Educational Change, education grandee Sir Tim Brighouse laments the end of the golden age in education, which he places in the decades following the Second World War, and which he characterises as being based on ‘optimism and trust’. During these years, education policy was, in practice, mostly controlled by a handful of bureaucrats and union officials, as ‘Secretaries of State and local councillors’ came and went. So much for local accountability, or any kind of political accountability.

It was a comfortable time for those who worked their way up the bureaucratic hierarchy. They had a lot of fun stitching things up according to their ideology, and wangling lots of government cash for all kinds of projects. There was never even an attempt to work out whether any of these projects helped anyone to learn anything. After the Plowden Report, it was just assumed that progressive and child centred ideology was the way forward.

Sir Tim mentions a raft of initiatives and activities in which he engaged while he was Oxfordshire’s Chief Education Officer. He never makes any attempt to justify them on the basis of actually improving education, but one thing he is sure about: ‘we enjoyed ourselves’.

And that’s what matters, isn’t it? As long as everyone’s having a good time, who cares? Learning stuff is, like, hard work, and so’s trying to determine whether all those millions of government cash actually had any impact, positive or negative, on the knowledge and skills of young people.

However much the education establishment howls, the ordinary people have had their say on the stitch-up that prevailed for so many years. In the same collection of essays, after indulging in apocalyptic language implying the onset of a totalitarian dystopia, Sir Peter Newsam solemnly asks if any political party is prepared to ask the electorate whether they support the increased powers of the Secretary of State. Well, the Conservatives promised to continue the creation of free schools and academies in their 2015 manifesto, and to the surprise and horror of the liberal left, they won. The people have spoken. But since when did the likes of Sir Peter care about the views of ordinary people? They have not been admitted to the hallowed halls of educational expertise. They have fascist ideas about teaching proper spelling and times tables, and maybe, who knows, memorising some important dates in British history. Somehow they refuse to be enlightened and leave these nasty, reactionary, right wing notions behind.

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6 thoughts on “The Tories Spoiled Their Fun: Two Knights Complain

  1. I had the privilege to be a young(ish) teacher in Birmingham when Tim B was CEO. He was almost universally loved (and I don’t use that word lightly) and admired by teachers, parents and children. He raised the morale of teachers immeasurably and transformed education in Birmingham. He would send handwritten notes to teachers thanking them for the work they were doing. Teachers I know from his time in London say similar things. An Ofsted report from 2002 noted Birmingham as “an example to all others of what can be done, even in the most demanding urban environment”. with its success attributable above all, , to “the energising and inspirational example set by the chief education officer”.
    If you or I achieve one tenth of what he achieved for the education of all children, and especially ‘the disadvantaged’, then we’ll have done OK.

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    • No-one doubts the energy and effort expended, nor the good intentions of those expending it. The question is whether it was well expended. Ofsted had a particular view of success in the early part of this century, as is well established.

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  2. I can only say how it felt to be there. I think there’s hard data that supports the view that he brought about tremendous improvements for all those in education e.g. A-C GCSE grades. But then you’d probably say that GCSE standards were lower, and we’d get nowhere. So I’ll stick with my memories of working with him as being the best years of my school teaching career.

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  3. I took part in the Ofsted inspection of Birmingham to which Mr Radice refers. We were only able to visit a small number of its schools but most of us were deeply impressed by what we saw. Not all a school’s achievements are measurable, of course, as any teacher knows. but sometimes Ofsted forgets. The Chief Inspector of the day,, who had not visited Birmingham, was less impressed by what was happening there and the final Ofsted Report reflected his opinion. I was not aware of Mr Radice’s presence in Birmingham nor of his qualifications for commenting now,with such assurance, on matters about which he plainly knows so little..

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    • Mr Radice didn’t make a comment on a Birmingham Ofsted inspection. He made a general comment on what Ofsted considered to be ‘success’ in the noughties and early teens of the twenty-first century.

      Apart from anything else, Ofsted operated on the general principle that graded lesson observations were valid. They never have been, and never will be. If Sir Peter disagrees, he is welcome to enter into discussion.

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Thoughtful and reasonable discussion is always welcome.

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