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.