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What good should follow this, if this were done?

December 5, 2012

A few weeks back there was a lot of noise on Twitter about “the Heads’ Roundtable”, a group of headteachers who, in collaboration with the Guardian and Fiona Millar, were attempting to influence education policy.

Their 6 mains suggestions are here  and, I think, need a little consideration and scrutiny.

1) Schools should be assessed in a range of ways, not just judged by the numbers achieving specific grades and levels in examinations and tests respectively;

This is not an outrageous suggestion, beyond the fact that, thanks to OFSTED, there is a system of assessing schools that already does this. Either they are asking for something which already exists, or they are actually requesting a change of some description. There are numerous problems with both the exams and how the data produced from them is used to hold schools to account. However, there is little to be said for allowing schools to get away with appalling exam results. Without more detail as to what is to change this point on the list means little. However, it is noticeable that this is a message which may be most appealing to the leaders of under-performing schools and those who want schools to be completely unaccountable for poor exam results..

2) Ofsted should be replaced by local partnerships that would hold schools to account and help them to improve;

There’s a lot wrong with OFSTED. Even now, with Si Michael Wilshaw signalling that he no longer requires every classroom to be organised along the lines of a progressive primary school from the 1970s, schools are still tying themselves up in knots working out what nonsense to impose on teachers in the hope that it would appease the dark gods of OFSTED. However, of all the things wrong with OFSTED, the least plausible is that it isn’t “local”. Too much regulation from an unaccountable regulator is certainly a problem, but it is unfathomable why anyone would think the situation would be improved if there were 100s of regulators all doing their own thing, without even the need to be consistent with a national framework in their interference. There seems little possible argument for this, other than the possibility that headteachers, particularly those who don’t stand out from the crowd, may have more clout to influence the decisions of a local partnership. Again this is a policy where the most obvious appeal would be to those wanting to reduce the pressure on the most mediocre of schools, so that they merely had to keep a local “partner” sweet rather than expect to be held accountable for manifest failures. It also seems a little vague about what a “local partnership” is. The danger here is that by making accountability more “local” it is actually just being reduced.

3) The curriculum and assessment should be taken out of political control and given to an independent agency (under licence for 20 years);

Of all the suggestions this one, based as it is on the idea of abolishing democracy, is most indefensible. As long as taxpayers money is spent on education then the principle of “no taxation without representation” demands that this spending is under democratic control. People are often cynical about politicians, but let’s be clear, the alternative to control by the elected is not independence, it is control by the unelected. It is not the removal of politics (these issues will always be political) it is the removal of democracy. The content of the curriculum and the method of assessment, is not a technical matter. It covers issues where people have views based on their values and while no system exists whereby policy can simply reflect public opinion, we should expect that those exercising power in this area can, if necessary, be directly or indirectly removed by voters. The idea of dictators spending our money, declaring which values are correct, is transparently wrong. It is of appeal only to those who are so twisted by ideology that they cannot accept that dissent is legitimate, let alone a human right. When I’ve argued with people about this they tend to follow two strategies. Sometimes they attack existing arrangements as not sufficiently democratic, a classic tactic of those advocating a removal of democracy, but obviously no justification fro having even less democracy. At other times they have a habit of saying “well it’s just the same as X” where X is some policy, e.g. independence of the bank of England, that doesn’t actually seem the same at all. What makes the argument pointless is that if you did convince me that abolishing democratic accountability in education was the same as policy X, then it would make me oppose policy X, not accept dictatorship in education. And, once again, what we see proposed here is the idea of reduced accountability.

4) The government should encourage small families of local schools in preference to large national chains;

We have a policy which seems a bit of a mystery. What’s the advantage of local chains over national chains? Why can’t we have both? Again, it seems to be a policy where the immediate appeal is to limit the extent to which power over education is exercised by anybody beyond some unidentified local arrangement (presumably the “local partnership” mentioned previously). Again, the agenda seems to be to reduce, or at least “localise” accountability.

5) “Norm referencing” in exam grading is not fair, ie capping the number of students who can achieve a certain grade. There shouldn’t be a cap on what individual pupils can achieve;

I’ve discussed this previously. There is a problem with norm referencing if achievement is genuinely improving. There is no good reason to think this is the situation at the moment, so it is hard to see what the problem is. The suspicion must be that what they are actually arguing for is grade inflation, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

6) School accountability measures should encourage collaboration betweens [sic] schools and explicitly develop systems leadership.

This suggestion is one of the oddest. Collaboration may well be desirable, but it is hard to see what it has to do with accountability. Again this seems to be little more a call for greater influence for some local power structure. But it is still not being spelt out.

If I had to interpret the 6 points, they all seem to be about reducing accountability of schools. This is not without appeal at times, when accountability is done in harmful ways. However, where democracy is to be removed entirely it is reprehensible. Where all remaining accountability is to be made “local” then, while that’s not necessarily wrong in principle, they do need to put forward something considerably less vague, otherwise the most obvious interpretation is that they are simply pushing for a situation where all heads need to do is satisfy some local education bureaucracy, rather than provide an acceptable level of education for their students.

 

Thanks to @daisychristo for suggesting the title of this blogpost. I was planning to go with “Why the heads of the roundtable can stick their 6 point plan up their arses”.

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59 comments

  1. Re point 5 – this: http://www.aseesa-edu.co.za/newpage5.htm which I found after about 30 seconds searching for “GCSE criterion referenced” gives a little flavour of how a lot of people and organisations tied themselves in knots in the early years of GCSE trying desperately not to be norm-referenced. It isn’t easy.


  2. Disagree on point 3. Consistency in curriculum and assessment, as directed by experts, has a lot to say for it. Democratic accountability would be maintained in several ways. Firstly the experts would be appointed by a cross party committee. Secondly funding of education and the general ‘purpose’ of the system would still be dictated by the govt of the day. Thirdly, you assume that voting and parliament are the only elements that matter in a democratic system, public opinion, the media and ‘civil society’ would still have influence – for better of for worse! Would we want random politicians dictating how our doctors diagnose illness and perform operations? Or for that matter seeking to turn any other profession upside down every 5 years on the basis of ideological dogma? Why should we tolerate it in our profession?


    • The point is that politicians are not random. They are elected, unlike so-called “experts”. There is inconsistency in politics, that’s because it allows for debate and change unlike a system of decree by dictators. We can always justify dictatorship by saying it brings consistency or stability or by claiming it represents the will of the people in some deeper way than representative democracy does, but that really misses the point. What politicians do is subject to debate. What is declared by experts is taken to be fact. What politicians do can be influenced, even reversed, by what happens at the ballot box. What is decreed by the unelected is simply enforced.

      I might add that who the experts are is highly debatable in education. A psychologist might not agree with a sociologist but both might be professors of education. Plenty of “experts” are simply ideologues. Where there is apparently consensus amongst academics in education it can often mean that dissent is not being tolerated. The obvious example is in maths education, where progressives like Jo Boaler and the Stanford maths education department, are absolutely brutal in demonising all opposition yet have little credibility with classroom teachers. Should the “experts” described in stories like these be considered neutral independents filling in technical details?

      http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2009/07/they_messed_with_the_wrong_blo.html

      http://old.post-gazette.com/columnists/20021022tony1022p5.asp


      • That’s all fine, Andrew, but you’re too idealistic when it comes to democratic oversight. There must be a presumption in favour of stability in education policy. Without that, you get the constant churn bemoaned by Mr Wright and the heads’ group.

        More technically speaking, there is a serious misalignment between investment cycles in education and democratic cycles. (In fact, that is the basis of the parallel with the MPC of the Bank of England.) Changes to curriculum, teacher training, pay etc. take 10, 20 or even 30 years to have a noticeable effect. By that time, the politicians responsible are long gone. So some consideration should be given to how to manage that. Just saying “democracy is good” doesn’t address the issue.


        • Where I am curriculum changes have an effect the moment they are introduced. The idea we should wait 30 years before abandoning a change is terrifying. You seem to be assuming that the only debate in education is over the long term effects of a change. There’s more to it than that, there are immediate questions of value. These should not be decided by the unelected.


          • “The idea we should wait 30 years before abandoning a change is terrifying. You seem to be assuming that the only debate in education is over the long term effects of a change.”

            You seem not to have read my post very carefully. Stop with the straw men and we can have an actual discussion.


          • Traditionally, when accusing somebody of a straw man argument, you should indicate how your position differs from that attributed to you unless it’s obvious, which it clearly isn’t in this case.


          • It’s also traditional that you show good faith by not imposing the stupidest possible interpretation on your interlocutor’s statements. Why don’t you start by respecting that tradition before telling me what I should do?

            Let me put it really plainly. Of course I’m not saying that we should wait 30 years before abandoning a change. Of course I’m not saying that the only debate is over long-term effects. Please do not accuse me of saying ridiculous things. That is a very annoying and childish practice. I would re-state what I actually am saying, but for the fact that it’s already there in my original post. Try to assume some intelligence on my part and reply on that basis, if you’re going to reply at all.


          • Again, you appear not to have clarified what you were saying.


          • What specific part is so hard for you to understand?


      • I accept your point that experts disagree. That is precisely why a committee made up of range of educational views would be preferable to the current situation. Currently we have a Secretary of State who is wedded to one particular dogma and appears to determine education policy on the basis that either a) it was how school was like when he was young or b) he recently read a book.by a single educationalist whose ideas he liked. A committee would enable a breadth of views to be represented -arguably this is more democratic that the current arrangements. I repeat that ‘Democracy’ is not purely defined by the ballot box, that is simple one element of a successful and vibrant democratic system. I also fundamentally disagree with your statement ‘what is declared by experts is taken to be fact’. This was possibly true 50-60 years ago but, thanks to blogs such as your own and the rest of civil society, experts are very rarely simply blindly believed any more!


        • I’m not sure how an ad hominem argument against a particular politician is meant to advance the case against democratic control. Who cares what you think of Michael Gove? The question is about why unelected individuals are to be preferred to elected ones in general, not whether you personally would prefer them to this or that politician. You may be completely right, that there is some group of experts preferable to the current team of ministers. What is not clear is why that group should become dictators, rather than either seek election, or seek to advise those who are elected.

          Your other argument appears to be the one I have already addressed in the blogpost, i.e. that there is some shortcoming with regard to democracy in our arrangements. As I said before, it is hard to see why this would justify even less democratic input.

          With regard to what experts declare being accepted as fact. I’m not claiming that people believe them, I am claiming that’s how systems based on the authority of experts, rather than democratic processes, work.


  3. As always a well thought through and thought provoking post on a topic that could take weeks if not months to do justice to.

    Generally I find myself agreeing with almost everything and perhaps when the views of Headteachers are thus one can see why political control and accountability etc lead us to where we are.

    on 5) I wonder where the HTs are coming from. For me assessment is assessment and norm referencing is simply about reporting. There is no cap placed on anything, the reporting simply describes one person’s performance against another. How much this illuminates the situation I am unsure but it does give some information albeit very general. There is no reason in principle why students could not be norm referenced between years and over time. I think the statisticians will tell me that this is not statistically valid but we are talking social science here and with some good solid work on design I don’t see why this would be an issue. The “A” doesn’t tell one about the kid per se it tells one about the kid’s performance compared with the rest and therefore if a kid does really well they will be judged as doing really well against the rest. In the end you can norm reference based on a criterion based assessment. I think what is needed is a method of assessing what kids have learnt, and that really isn’t rocket science but can’t be reduced to a single letter and therein lies the problem.

    On 3) I agree with OA. Most of the “innovations” we have in the classroom today are the work of experts. “Beef is safe to eat” is the view of experts. “There is no proof that smoking is harmful” has been the view of experts. “The world is flat” was once the view of experts. Unfettered political control of education would in my view be very objectionable but as long as there is accountability of politicians (and this is by no means a given obviously) then I feel that this must be preferable to a sort of technocracy. In the end, education paid for by society should be under the direct control of society.

    A great post, I hope it gets some more comments and views.


  4. I don’t see why a teaching council headed by a Education expert, and accountable to the Education Select Committee would be any less democratic than what we have now – the difference being that it would be an Education expert in charge, and not some ideologically driven politician whose only experience of education is as a client.


    • Perhaps I was not clear enough. There is no such thing a a non-ideological position on education. The expert is no less ideological than the politician. Often the expert is equally far removed from the classroom. Certainly the expert has little advantage in this area which could ever justify accepting the obvious disadvantages of dictatorship.


      • It’s no less democratic than the Government’s relationship to the Bank of England or the Ministry of Defense.

        LOL It seems like a dictatorship at the moment – someone with NO BACKGROUND in education instigating policy with little support from those in the classroom. I disagree about the expert being ideological too, and they may have been out of the classroom for a while, but at least they’ll have been trained as a teacher and are training teachers, and in the late Ted Wragg’s case, still involved in the classroom. I’d envisaged a GTC as a democratic institute of the teaching body – electing people to posts.

        Anyway, it’s obvious that we’re not going to agree on it.


        • Did you read the post you are replying to? I think I explained why comparisons to other areas won’t persuade me. If you could establish that the Bank of England is taking the sort of value-based judgements that the DfE has to take then you would only have succeeded in persuading me to oppose the independence of the Bank of England. With regard to your other points, I’m not sure why you switched from who is ideological to the completely different issue of who has experience. Nor why you would name an ideologue like Ted Wragg in this context, who to me is the perfect illustration of how experts are often more ideological than politicians. What argument are you trying to make? That democracy results in the wrong sort being elected?


          • Can I take a stab at persuading you to oppose the independence of the Bank of England then? :)

            Economics is Politics and vice versa. Raising and lowering the base rate is an extremely blunt tool at the best of times and arguably quick and decisive changes in government taxes (up or down depending on the economic cycle) are far more targeted, efficient, effective and fair. In addition the Bank’s Quantitative Easing policy is effectively cheap money to the banks to prop up the economy – this is a profoundly political decision. They could have established an investment fund for small businesses or even distributed money to all individuals to encourage growth in consumer spending – they decided to give cheap money to the very institutions that instigated the crisis instead! Whether you agree of disagree with this it would be hard to argue that it isn’t a political decision that is very much a values-based judgement.


  5. Yes I read it – you’ve got some typos.


  6. There is no such thing as a non-ideological position on anything, once you’ve left childhood behind. The danger is when you start believing that it’s possible to be non-ideological, because (human nature being what it is) this means that your own position is unassailable – you’re the chap full of common sense who just wants to do what works; the other guy is an ideologue who can’t see past his own nose.


  7. “there is little to be said for allowing schools to get away with appalling exam results”.
    Define appalling. My school takes in more than half its intake from East Eurpean/Roma kids whose idea of attendance is culturally different from Gove’s, and the rest from under-committed locals, kids from war-zones who have seen the rest of their family slaughtered, managed moves and excludees from other schools. They do very badly results-wise but what a surprise! Not everything good that happens in schools is measured in fucking C grades.


  8. “What specific part is so hard for you to understand?”

    How should I know? You are the one claiming I’ve misunderstood.


    • Easy! Show me the specific parts where I say that “we should wait 30 years before abandoning a change”, and that “the only debate in education is over the long term effects of a change”, and we can take it from there.


      • This particular way of wasting my time seems very familiar.

        Have we argued on Twitter?


        • Nice attempt at evasion, but no, we haven’t. OK, let me illustrate for you who is the time-waster here:

          “Andrew, you are clearly saying that we should employ horses and donkeys as teachers and have them dance the Bolero. I will now refuse to reveal what it was you said that gave me this impression, and I insist you give me your actual view before taking the discussion further.”

          See how both sides can argue in your annoying way? You can’t expect to throw out ridiculous straw men and have the other person engage in a reasonable way. That is not arguing in good faith.


  9. You can’t expect to throw out ridiculous straw men and have the other person engage in a reasonable way. That is not arguing in good faith.

    The point is that it obviously wasn’t a “ridiculous straw man”. In fact, it is far from clear that it was a straw man in any way. You have simply asserted that it was, and then apparently demanded I prove it wasn’t by quoting you.

    What you haven’t done is actually clarify what is wrong with what I said. You obviously do appear to think that there is some part of policy that should only be evaluated after 30 years. You certainly appeared to think the long term aspect of policy making is of such central importance that it can justify abandoning democratic control to some extent. So my comment seemed to fit what you said perfectly well. If there is some key difference between what you said and what I said that I have missed feel free to tell me. What I am not prepared to do, is go over what we both said in fine detail, on the off chance that you might then be persuaded to tell me afterwards what particular detail or nuance I missed in my paraphrase/critique.


    • Thank you for this helpful post. Please let me explain why I got annoyed.

      Here is how you paraphrased me just now. I’ll call it position 1:
      “You obviously do appear to think that there is some part of policy that should only be evaluated after 30 years. You certainly appeared to think the long term aspect of policy making is of such central importance that it can justify abandoning democratic control to some extent.”
      Quite right: that is what I’m saying in the original post.

      Here is how you paraphrased me above. I’ll call it position 2:
      “we should wait 30 years before abandoning a change”
      “the only debate in education is over the long term effects of a change”
      That is not at all what I am saying, and not just because of “missed nuance”. It is an extreme and silly caricature. I thought your inaccurate paraphrase was either deliberate, or perhaps the result of extremely careless misreading, and that is why I reacted in the way I did.

      I am very much prepared to debate position 1 with you, if you are interested.


      • The difference between the position you say you accept and the “extreme and silly caricature” is not clear to me. The first sentence of position 2 is implied directly by position 1. The second sentence of position 2 differs in as much as it is possible to think that something is of central importance (and use that as grounds to ignore major concerns) but not consider it to be the only thing of concern. However, it is hard to see what bearing that distinction has on the point at hand.

        This is looking like pedantry on your part, not an actual argument.


        • “The first sentence of position 2 is implied directly by position 1.”

          Well, no, it isn’t implied at all, if you think about it carefully. Almost every policy has both short- and long-term effects. If its short-term effects are overwhelmingly bad, then I think there’s a good argument that it should be abandoned before its long-term effects can be seen and evaluated. But your mis-statement of my view (in the first sentence of position 2) does not allow for this, and I therefore objected to it. That is not pedantry.

          “The second sentence of position 2 differs in as much as it is possible to think that something is of central importance (and use that as grounds to ignore major concerns) but not consider it to be the only thing of concern. However, it is hard to see what bearing that distinction has on the point at hand.”

          Oh, come on. It’s not that hard. I’m saying that the system of governance we use must be able to give long-term effects due weight. A system where administrations change every few years is very poor at doing that for the obvious reason that the incentives are set up wrongly. That doesn’t mean we ignore the people’s will, it doesn’t mean we ignore the short term, and it certainly doesn’t mean “dictatorship”. It means we consider how to constrain the influence of short-term considerations. Again, not pedantry at all.


          • “If its short-term effects are overwhelmingly bad, then I think there’s a good argument that it should be abandoned before its long-term effects can be seen and evaluated….”

            This is looking less like clarification, and more like you completely changing your position. If policy can be changed in the short term, then what you originally argued makes no sense at all.

            “I’m saying that the system of governance we use must be able to give long-term effects due weight. A system where administrations change every few years is very poor at doing that for the obvious reason that the incentives are set up wrongly.”

            In case you hadn’t noticed, we had one party in power from 1979 to 1997. And then another party in power from 1997 to 2010. The constant changes in policy have never been about changes of government. They have been about changes in the balance of power within the system, and responses to what has and hasn’t worked. If you are now accepting that changes should be made in the short term, then I’m not sure what argument you have left. Either the changes are made by the elected or the unelected.


          • What I mean by incentives being set up wrongly is that we have elections every 5 years or so, so that is the timescale that politicians have to focus on if they want to be re-elected.

            No, I haven’t changed my position. We need to give consideration to how to manage that misalignment of timescales. That’s exactly what I said in my first post. There’s a lot of literature out there on self-constraint by democratic governments (and the MPC is one example). I can point you in the right direction if you want.


          • People tend to accuse governments of managing the economy in line with the electoral cycle. Hard to make a credible case that anyone has ever managed the education system in line with it.


          • But isn’t the burden of proof on the other side? Politicians look to their electoral prospects. So you’d expect them to focus their attention on the immediate, wouldn’t you?


  10. Old Andrew,
    Outstanding post. 5 out of 5 for me.

    When younger I used to get very angry at political interference in education.

    Now, a little wiser and fatter, and having dealt with a variety of different teachers over the years- I see why change is sometimes required, even if it annoys the unions and some established colleagues.

    And yes it may as well be a democratically elected guy pushing for change rather than anyone else I suppose.

    What I would like though – is that when they change something in curriculum or assessment that the opposition agree to leave things alone for 15 years or so- because these constant changes, in my view, lower standards and frustrate good teachers, caring parents and motivated students alike.

    Though perhaps thats naive of me. I do certainly hope terminal exams stay in place till I retire though. I cannot stand modular exams. A curse upon whomever came up with them….

    Kavafy- You have spent more time and effort getting your knickers in a twist than it would have taken to simply restate your argument.

    I cannot see how OA has misinterpreted your comments- so why not simply re-phrase them? Surely a 3 min task?


  11. Kavafy,
    Ah sorry- I just noticed your last paragraph- yes I suppose I agree with that a fair bit.

    Perhaps there can be a cross party agreement that curriculum and assessment can only change every 15 years and whichever government happens to be in power in the 15th year has the luxury/burden of being able to change it.


    • The trouble is, what if the change causes an immediate disaster? Or, for that matter, what if the change is hugely controversial? We tend to like stability if it’s our own views that are established as the status quo, and hate it otherwise. It’s hard to see why anybody should get their way and then be left to it for the sake of “stability”. Instability is a result of conflict. It would be better if that conflict would stop (obviously by everyone choosing to agree with me) but it is hard to argue that one particular side should be given a 15 year free reign to do as much harm they like. There’s a world of difference between griping about unnecessary change and actually putting structures in place which prevent it.

      Want to keep the current English GCSEs in place for another 15 years?


      • Well yes- I take your point. 15yrs of disaster would not be in anyones benefit.

        But I was talking about curriculum and assessment changes only rather than anything else- as opposed to something more fundamental like the structure of the comprehensive system or the leaving age or something of that magnitude.

        Most of the curriculum changes to my mind have been trivial enough to irritate and confuse but insufficient to make any lasting enhancement.

        Yes, clearly I like the move away from modular exams and would like it stuck in place for 15 years.

        However, even though I detest the ludicrous and expensive modular exams, if Gove wanted them I’d say ‘fine, lets endure it rather than chopping and changing all the time.’

        In my career seldom has a year gone by with some ‘innovation’ being thrust upon us from some dic…… I mean learned fellow- this means almost continuous rewriting of SoW and lesson plans. Its daft.

        Because of this endless change teachers cannot fine tune their teaching, skills, systems or materials to best serve their students. This is de-skilling, annoying, undermining, and demotivating.

        So I woud take 15 years of stable ‘ok’ over 15 alternating years of ok/crap/ok/crap.

        ps You could talk me down to 10y years maybe- after a fine malt….


        • I think there have been a lot of strange and unnecessary curriculum changes, but I do wonder why we should see the politicians as the only or main instigators. There are certainly examples of politicians resisting the push from the education establishment. Politicians resisted civil servants’ advice to introduce a National Curriculum for a decade before we actually had one. There has been continuing pressure to abolish A-levels, repeatedly resisted by politicians but pushed for by the education establishment. In fact some of the opponents of democratic control of the curriculum give the preservation of A-levels as an example of the problem with politicians. Democracy is not the cause of the conflict over the curriculum. Even when politicians, like Gove, do push for curriculum change it is often aiming to undo previous changes which were initiated without proper public debate. I can see a case for decentralising aspects of education. I can’t see a case for replacing elected politicians with unelected dictators. Stability may improve if the dictators were installed for a long time, largely without accountability and unwilling to ever acknowledge their mistakes, but it is hard to see why that would be desirable.


          • I agree with your historical analysis. I wouldn’t want lack of accountability or the installation of long term dictators.

            I would just like a 3 party agreement that curriculum/assessment arrangements for each key stage can only be changed every 10-15 years regardless of who is in power.

            And maybe a safety net of always having to have a full public referendum/consulatation before any far reaching changes are made (which should insure against any really insane changes).

            ps i wonder how much the modular system scam has cost the taxpayer over the years?…. I bet that would be persuasive in a public forum…. as would the textbook scam…..


          • Agreement is great in theory, but the lesson of 2001 to 2010 is that under weak politicians an established political direction will be overturned even without any open political disagreement occurring or even a change in government.


          • sorry, Im being slow, did you mean SATs? or Tomlinson? or something else?


          • Abolition of National Numeracy Strategy and National Literacy Strategy. Introduction of new National Curriculum and Every Child Matters. Basically everything done from 2001 to 2010 to dismantle what had been done from 1997-2001.


          • oh I see- then, yes, quite.


  12. But isn’t the burden of proof on the other side?

    No.


    • Yes.


      • Are you really arguing that those who want to limit democracy, have no need to provide evidence that their reasons for doing so are sound? That’s it’s up to those who want democratic control to demonstrate the benefits of democracy?


        • Semper necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit. Kavafy, you laid the charge (politicians act for the short term only); you need to prove it. Evidence, please?


          • OK, but can you explain first what a legal maxim about burden of proof has to do with anything? No-one is “laying a charge” in the sense that would make that maxim relevant.


        • No, I’m saying that there’s already evidence for my position – that politicians put too much emphasis on short-term considerations – so it’s for the other side to say why that’s not a problem, rather than for me to say why it is.

          We already *do* limit democracy in many respects, often for very good reasons and with good results. I quite understand your argument that education is such an ideologically contested area that such limitation wouldn’t be desirable, by much the same thing was said about technocratic control of monetary policy in the 90s, and yet that is something that’s been a great success.


          • I’m sorry, but in order to justify curtailing democracy you need more than to identify a problem. You have to identify why short-termism in policy-making is actually *worse* than dictatorship.


          • Curtailed democracy is not dictatorship. Just as I said in the post that you’ve just replied to, we already do limit democracy. That’s not dictatorship, is it?


          • The MPC do dictate interest rates, yes. If we favour democracy over dictatorship generally, the case for curtailing democracy has to be strong not: “here’s something I think is a problem, prove me wrong”.


          • I think you’ll find it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Since you are clearly interested in the issue, why don’t you have a look at some of the literature on democratic self-constraint that I mentioned?


  13. Sue,
    Im not sure I could come up with criminal court quality of evidence on the matter- I mean, I doubt I can lay my hands on a tape of Cameron saying “I only care about short term policies”.

    However, do you or anyone else seriously doubt that Western politicians have short term effects high on their agenda?

    As politicians have to stand for elections that are periodic its understandable that short-termism is a consequence.

    Its an inherent flaw in the democratic tradition. Having said all that, I wouldn’t have it any other way- tis the lesser evil of all the other options.


    • That politics is short term is one claim. That short termism is such a problem in education policy that we need to reduce the influence of democracy is another. I find very little evidence of short termism in education policy, only of conflict that results in a general ethos of pushing one’s own agenda as far as possible as soon as one has any power or influence. More importantly, I don’t find academics and experts any less prone to engagement in such conflict than politicians. In fact, the civil servants and educationalists have often been the key instigators in changes rather than the politicians. Politicians at least, have the constraint of looking out for public opinion.


      • Again, I quite agree- Heaven preserve us from the evangelical educationalist.

        And I often find certain union positions and educationalist positions more infuriating than politicians’ positions (eg A.P.P was in response to ant-SATs campaigns and had union support)

        One could argue Gove has an eye on populist support within the electorate- I think many are sick of poor child behaviour and ‘wish-washy’ qualifications and do hark back to more traditional approach.

        Thats my not my personal view but its a charge that could be levelled at him I think.

        However I haven’t argued for a reduction of political influence in education per se.

        I have merely suggested, in the interests of our students and the poor tax payer, that a gentlemen’s agreement could be reached between the parties that a period of stability be sustained.

        And that when the agreed period of ‘non meddling’ has expired any changes have to be driven by the party in power alongside public consultation or even referendum. Thats political power plus democracy squared isnt it?


  14. Listening to Fiona Millar on education… is like listening to Simon Cowell on Proust.


  15. Interesting post as always. I remember when the experts were in charge and they ensured that children were not taught the usual alphabet but the phonic alphabet instead. What a disaster! The experts were so out of touch as to beggar belief.
    What is more I think there are alot of teachers who agree with much of what Gove is saying (they maybe quiet). Terminal exams will reduce teachers’ workload more than anything suggested by the unions. His insistence on children being able to spell and write etc in all terminal exams means that SLTs are finally looking at the learning which goes on throughout the secondary phase instead of indulging in the treadmill of ‘interventions’ and resits in year 10 and 11.


  16. chestnut,
    hear, hear! Well said indeed.

    ps how old are you by the way?….



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