Politicians Competing To Be The Most Clueless About Education

March 20, 2015

Today it was announced that the government will fund the “Claim Your College” coalition of vested interests and their scheme to create a professional body for teachers that’s actually open to “anyone with an interest in education”.

Either the government hasn’t read the proposals, or simply does not care what they are funding as long as they can say something about education during the election campaign. They are promising to make “significant funding available to the ‘claim your college’ consortium – a coalition of leading organisations in the education sector – to support them in their endeavour to establish an independent college of teaching, which will be owned and led by the teaching profession” [my italics]Where this ownership is meant to come from given who is setting this group up and who is allowed to join it is beyond me. But now they seem likely to have something like £12 million of public money to play with. Worse there is the suggestion that:

It is expected that the new college of teaching might take on greater responsibility for areas such as professional standards and continuous professional development, should it so wish, thus moving stewardship of the profession out of the hands of the government and to the profession.

So that’s not just money, but also power over our professional development, in the hands of a body that has no mandate from the profession, only one from vested interests including (as I pointed out here) at least one private company selling professional development training.

Now, this sort of thoughtless spending of public money would be challenged by a competent opposition spokesman. In fact, in any other sector, it probably would be. Could you imagine Andy Burnham standing by if the government proposed giving power over doctors to an organisation set up by pharmaceutical companies? But in the Bizarro World that is education, the opposition seem as dead set on this quango as the government. In a speech today Tristram Hunt implied that the College of Teaching, rather than being a product of vested interests holding meetings on weekdays, lobbying for public money, was a grass roots product of social media:

…we need an element of trust. To reject an affliction which seems to bedevil Westminster culture. I call it the cult of the big reformer. A sort of alpha male compulsion to see public policy through the prism of your ‘reforming legacy’.

But you only have to see how social media has sent a shockwave through the teaching profession and its conversation about a new College of Teaching, to see how profoundly out of date this attitude really is.

… the days of education by diktat must come to an end. More than ever before change in education must come from the bottom-up. Through decentralisation. Through devolving power.

Yes, that’s right. He thinks that chucking money at vested interests to regulate, sorry, to assume stewardship of the teaching profession is decentralisation. If he’d actually read the conversations on social media about the College Of Teaching, he’d know how few of those involved are actually teaching now and how little say those of us in the classroom have had.

That said, Tristram Hunt was probably focused on trying to deliver the worst speech on education from a British politician I have ever read. In what seemed to be an attempt to give an aneurysm to anybody trying to play Bullshit Bingo, he managed some outstandingly cliché-soaked passages of which the following extract gives a flavour:

But I don’t think anybody here would argue with me if I suggested we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what we could achieve. 3D printing; Augmented reality; Coding; Robotics; Big data; Interactive textbooks; Adaptive learning software; The technology is truly remarkable. So whilst I know it has been prematurely prophesied many times before, I do believe this is finally the moment when technology changes the way teachers carry out their craft. We will see schools where every lesson can be simultaneously tailored to the needs of each individual pupil; schools where data about the effectiveness of different pedagogies can be shared with teachers in real time; and schools where software has liberated teachers from the yoke of marking exercise books.

However, the needs of the economy will dictate a rebalancing of what we teach as well as how we teach it. After all, a creative age demands more creativity. A digital economy demands advanced digital skills such as coding and big data analytics; And a world class STEM sector demands we finally consign our deeply engrained cultural snobbery towards technical education to the dustbin of history. But as Andreas Schleicher of the OECD has argued – our schools system must also“prepare young people for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented and problems that we don’t yet know will arise.”

Between government ministers unable to tell the difference between the teaching profession and the CPD industry, and an opposition spokesman sounding like Shift Happens, this is a grim day for the politics of education. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but I don’t remember even Ed Balls being this hopeless, and the Gove era is a much-missed golden age compared with this shambles.



  1. Fascinating, polemical post. Need to read / digest more over weekend. Thanks

  2. Whilst I’m still relatively agnostic about the College of Teaching proposals, I’m completely with you on your assessment of Tristram Hunt’s ‘Shift Happens’ techno-ideology. – And the flaw for me isn’t simply the unlikeliness of this ‘technological dawn’ being any more real this time than previously (we humans have a surprising psychological need for the fresh-air of the analogical world and the social interaction with a human pack-leader).

    No, it’s this whole assumption that it’s actually desirable for us to try to make things ‘simultaneously tailored to the needs of each individual pupil’.

    We don’t have the omniscient vision of precise individual circumstances and long-term realities sufficient for this to be any more than a time-wasting vanity project, diverting teachers from their most powerful, quality teaching. wp.me/p3xVUK-4QD.

  3. Reblogged this on Apprenticeship, Skills & Employability..

  4. The most dispiriting thing for me was hearing him say “factory model of education” — he’s drinking deep from the Sir Ken Robinson well, it seems.

  5. Andrew, I have just watched the Tristram Hunt spot on Newsnight and the only word of sense uttered… was the reference to your post here.

    • Sorry, reference to my post on Newsnight?

      • Evan Davis’s words were along the lines of, “One educational blogger has already called your speech cliche-ridden.”

      • Yes presenter said one blogger had said it was full of clichés

  6. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  7. “Yes, that’s right. He thinks that chucking money at vested interests to regulate, sorry, to assume stewardship of the teaching profession is decentralisation.”

    Well I think you’re speaking for yourself there. I’ve been teaching, fairly successfully- if you ask me, and various others-for 20+ years, and I’m pretty sure it’s a good idea that I’m regulated.

    For instance, when I said ‘fairly successfully’, I meant it; but, to my horror, I recently learned that I’d actually sold all of my previous students short by failing to engage them in colour coded dialogues about how to perform long divisions, or why 4 + 3x isn’t 7, or whether triangles and squares like each other. Negligently, I used to just talk to them…or did I? Where, exactly, is the ‘evidence’?

    Like I say: I need regulating.

    Last Thursday I had the most epiphanic moment of my teaching career. I showed a boy how to expand brackets and jotted down a couple of examples in the required vermillion. Then I set out five for him to try- or ‘respond to’-in the appropriate ultramarine. I could have simply asked him to carry on with the worksheet- full of identical examples -but that would not have been the action of a practitioner committed to outstanding performance by “implementing”(sic) effective feedback and response.

    By ‘evidencing’ my action (apparently, ‘demonstrating’ is only achieved when the ‘evidence’ is both vermillion and sufficiently relevant and alluring to elicit an ultramarine riposte) I show myself to have recognised a misconception, and, to possess the required subject knowledge to respond accordingly. It’s all so obvious when you think about it…it’s just that I never did, it seems, and so I need regulating.

    Anyway, the lad asked if he should wait until one of the four functional ultramarine pens became available, and, assessing the extent of the backlog, I said: “No, just do it in black”. To this, he correctly pointed out: ‘yeah…but you can’t get a Good if you don’t use the right colours. Mr K said so’. Incidentally, in this, he had underplayed the potential ramifications. He neglected the reprimand in avocado from a line manager as well as the ominous diktat from on high in mustard with a lead pipe in the billiard room.

    Immediately, came an entreaty from the girl behind him: ‘I did them in black…does it matter?’

    The reply that I should have given is why I need regulating…or do you think the self censorship shows I am on the righteous path?

    The colours used above have been changed for reasons of privacy…and in case they get any more ideas.

  8. “Shift Happens !” – I remember the slideshow, centred around that unstoppable new global paradigm – MySpace.

    When I was a primary school governor, I was given the school IT brief (as someone who worked in IT) – but alas, my helpful suggestion of “don’t have any IT and spend the time improving literacy and numeracy” was greeted with horror. In vain I pointed out that the poorer and more deprived the household, the more electronic devices and consoles existed in it, and that there was almost certainly not a child at or above KS2 who couldn’t operate a tablet faster than the staff … so my role ended up as trying to ensure the school wasn’t ripped off by suppliers as they bought lots of lovely kit.

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