I arrived home this evening having heard the radio (BBC 5 Live) spouting almost non stop about Ken Clarke’s comments regarding rape and sentencing this morning, and also about the Queen’s state visit to Ireland. There was it seemed very little other news – even the prospect of justice regarding the murder of Stephen Lawrence seemed to be a minor issue.
However on arriving home I found the television tuned to Sky News – airing a story which I hadn’t known about at all up to now. It was showing footage of Home Secretary Theresa May at the Police Federation conference, and unflinchingly gave us vivid coverage of her getting what can best be described as “a proper mauling” – delegate after delegate queued up to offer difficult and critical questions, all of which were supported from the platform. The chair introduced a clip from the officer blinded by Raoul Moat, who asked “Am I worth £35,000 ?”, and was asked before she took the podium “Home secretary, can you sleep at night ?”
As she stepped up there was no applause, there was nothing, just a deafening silence, which continued throughout the speech, and after it.
This was huge news, well covered by Sky News.
Coming to the computer a few hours later though it seems that Sky have removed the story almost entirely from their headlines, and the story when it is covered now only contains video of Theresa May’s speech Govt Police Cuts Are ‘Revenge’, Not Reform – the report does contain some description of the anger on display – but it lacks the stark reality which was presented on the earlier broadcast clip.
Undeterred I turned to BBC News where once again I find that the story has slipped down out of the headlines altogether. A quick search found the clip – which was again reduced to only the Home Secretary’s speech. After some exploring I eventually found this – which does cover the story in greater detail Home secretary refuses to back down on police cuts . I think it’s fair to say though that the casual reader would not be likely to find this clip easily.
I have to say that I find it very worrying that the two major television news outlets in the country choose not to report this as a major news item – and in Sky’s case appear to be back pedalling rather quickly.
For a great many years the Conservative party have been seen, and have tried to encourage the view of themselves, as the “party of law and order” – The Police Federation, similarly has been more or less unique in being a Conservative supporting trades union.
That the NUT should pass votes of no confidence in Education Secretary Michael Gove, is newsworthy – but is true to form – one wouldn’t particularly expect anything else (and yes I’m an NUT member) – but for the Police Federation to put Theresa May through the mincer like they did today, is not far short of Hell freezing over.
It’s a highly significant story which should in all usual circumstances be dominating the headlines.
However Ken Clarke has been shooting his daft gob off, and the Queen’s down the brewery knocking back the Guinness.
There is a more nuanced report of the activities at the Police Federation conference here in the Guardian : Police greet Theresa May’s speech with complete silence – I confess that I’d feel more comfortable had this article been in the Telegraph – who could only manage a clip of her speech – complete with the usual rubbish about “the mess that Labour left us” Theresa May: police cuts have to be made . Hopefully they’ll add to this as time passes. Print though does not have the impact of TV pictures – and the ones earlier on Sky really were quite remarkable. Such a shame I can’t find them any more.
So Theresa May comes away relatively unscathed.
A little over a week ago I was present to hear Conservative MP & Shadow Minister for Schools Nick Gibb address an invited audience – largely made up of Head teachers, Chairs of Governors, and others with an involvement in schools, at Glaziers Hall, in London, courtesty of solicitors Winckworth Sherwood Winckworth Sherwood – Tories aim to boost ‘prestige and esteem’ of teaching
He presented a short outline of future plans for “Schools under the Conservatives”.
His talk focussed on structure and standards, with some of the key points arising being:
- the introduction of new “not-for-profit” providers who will establish schools using the academy model; plans are already under way under the New Schools Network;
- the extension of academy status to other schools who wish to obtain it;
- planning laws are to be altered to facilitate the establishment of new schools;
- school heads are to be given more freedom, with powers being devolved to them; the right to appeal against exclusions to the local independent appeal panel is to be abolished;
- there will be no “voucher” system and there are no plans to curtail the admissions current code;
- BSF schemes which have reached financial close will be guaranteed but there could be no guarantee for other schemes given the current national budget situation.
(abstract e-mailed to me by Winckworth Sherwood)
Now I’m no Tory – and it’s perhaps to be expected that I wasn’t overly impressed, but having mulled this over for a while, I started to come round to thinking that what was lacking from these proposals was not so much content, as a little bit of enthusiasm. There is actually plenty in there to make voters sit up and think – if only it was presented more enticingly.
It’s not about chucking out the progress that Labour has made; and it does promise a fairly radical expansion of the academies scheme – which although many on the left oppose, is seen by a large number of voters as a positive development.
It also puts paid to the voucher system – thus demonstrating that there’s no lurch to the right, and that if independent providers want to educate pupils from the state sector then they’ll need to run state schools – again a fair bit of “progressive” thinking- especially considering that this is the Conservative Party
Whether you like those ideas or not, there should be plenty there to sell to the electorate.
I do think the abandonment of BSF would be a disaster – and feel that this could possibly be challenged in law – but to be fair, I’m not exactly part of the Tories’ core vote strategy – and this policy is in line with their plans for radical spending cuts sooner rather than later. No matter how I disagree with them, there’s clearly a consistency with their wider aims there.
Of course since then there have been all kinds of hiccups for the Conservatives – criticism of the campaign, narrowing poll leads, the furore over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status etc.
I was nevertheless shocked to read Michael Gove’s proposals for education on the Times website today Gove unveils Tory plan for return to ‘traditional’ school lessons – Times Online – coming a mere 10 days after I’d heard Nick Gibb spell out a very different picture.
Now Michael Gove – Shadow Secretary of State for Children – says they’re going to :
- Instruct children to learn poetry by heart , in a return to a “traditionalist” education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, and modern foreign languages.
- Rewrite the national curriculum to restore past methods of teaching history, English, maths and science
- Teach History “in order” – as a narrative
- Put more emphasis on the classics in English classes
Mr Gove says that Teachers entering the profession “don’t love abstract thinking skills”, but that “what draws people into teaching is that they love history or physics, and they want to communicate that love“
He goes on “A lot of the ‘great tradition’ is locked in a cupboard marked ‘too difficult’ and that’s quite wrong. I’ve been talking to the RSC about bringing Shakespeare into primary schools,”
Mr Gove asserts that “Most parents would rather their children had a traditional education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England”
I don’t know how he knows this – certainly it’s not what I want as a parent, not that anyone’s ever asked me.
It does all rather remind me though of another chapter in Conservative education. A period between 1992 and 1994 in which the then Education Secretary John Patten wrote to all teachers in state schools extolling the virtues of formal “traditional” teaching – sitting in rows, as researched by one Neville Bennett in his work ” Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress blissfully unaware that most if not all qualified teachers had studied Bennett’s work – and also knew of his later work in which he cast doubt over his original findings.
It was a difficult time for the Conservatives – the approach to education being part of the wider “Back to Basics” campaign. There’s lots of stuff out there on the Internet to read about it - make a start with the Wikipedia entry Back to Basics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia which commences thus :
“Back to Basics was an ill-fated attempt to relaunch the government of British Prime Minister John Major in 1993…
… the initiative was intended to focus on issues of law and order, education and public probity (especially single mothers) … was widely interpreted as a moral campaign, and hence was ridiculed by political opponents”
So – when the going gets tough, it would appear that the Tories lurch to the right, and go back to the tried and tested. Except that when it was tested – it failed miserably and disastrously.
If this is Michael Gove’s honest approach to Education policy, then it is sadly misguided, and frankly more than a little stupid.
The Tories election campaign is rapidly becoming a train wreck
I was very interested to read this post on BBC News : School consultants ‘earned £170m’ , reporting on Shadow Children’s Secretary Michael Gove’s statements claiming that Local authorities were wasting large sums of money on consultants to help them through the government’s Building Schools for the Future programme – commonly referred to as ‘BSF’.
At a local level I’m very involved in a particular BSF scheme – and it would be inappropriate to make comment which related specifically or politically to that project.
I did however feel that Michael Gove’s comments – if reported accurately – were particularly below the belt, and I feel compelled to flag this up – I’ll try and do this in a non-partisan way.
Building Schools for the Future (BSF) is a huge long term project to rebuild or substantially replace all of the country’s special schools. As such it commands (at national level) broad cross party support. Although implemented by the Labour Government at a national level, local authorities of all political persuasions right across the country have worked very hard to move this scheme forward.
It’s been a long process, and I believe the schools which are opening this week as a result of the scheme represent Waves 1,2 and 3 of the project. Waves 4,5 and 6 are in an advanced state of preparedness. Future waves are at various stages – from submitting Outline Business Cases, through to not having started at all. So straight away it’s clear that the process is only part way through – so why Michael Gove should comment that so few schools have benefited is a mystery.
Anyone remotely close to the action in BSF though can not fail to have noticed that the scheme does indeed generate a whole industry of consultants and supporting professionals – who must (as Michael Gove points out) cost large amounts of money.
I wonder though whether Michael knows whether the people working on these projects – Head teachers like myself; Local authority officers and planners, who are on the workstreams for BSF have any knowledge of how to design a school ?
Well I for one haven’t really.
Have I got any knowledge of how to incorporate sustainable energy efficient and environmentally friendly features into a school – adhering to PassivHaus principles ?
Well no I haven’t – I’ve only learned about them through this scheme.
Have I got any experience or knowledge of how to negotiate a multi-million pound deal with mutli-national consortia, who have far more business expertise than I have, and ensure that we get the school we need for future generations of children. Well no I haven’t .
So I wonder who helps the people in schools and local authorities to plan these ambitious, and immensely complicated projects ? Well Mr Gove it’s actually the consultants that you’ve been complaining about. They are the people who are ensuring that the people who really know about schools, but don’t know much about architecture, facilities management contracts, or competetive dialogue processes, are still ble to provide their vital input into the building and refurbishing of the schools of tomorrow – and also ensuring that we get value for money, with high quality designs which will provide us with schools fit for purpose for decades to come. I’ve dealt with lots of them in recent months, and most of them are extremely skilled professionals, extremely hard working, and not always particularly well paid.
I feel that Michael Gove’s comments do little to reflect the efforts of Council members from all parties – Conservative included – who together with officers and other professionals have worked tirelessly on these projects and are now beginning to see the spectacular fruits of their labours.