The two press pieces of the day should undoubtedly be:
- the neo-eugenicist claims on nature/nurture by Dominic Cummings;
- Paul Dacre’s spout, courtesy of The Guardian.
Both will be frisked in forensic detail by critics, bloggers and passing humanoids.
Cummings and goings
The former of those looks and reads like an extended late-night keyboard vamp, fuelled by too many shallow draughts, at too high an alcohol content, from the Pierian spring:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
What Cummings offers seems to involve a rag-tag of almost-formed notions, glossed over and poncified by a sweep of abstruse references.
Cut to the chase
If, as seems likely, what it all this highfalutin’ stuff amounts to is:
- the Ministry knows its place, and trusts its professional Inspectorate;
- the Inspectorate knows the Headteachers;
- both Ministry and Inspectorate respect, trust and interact with the local authorities;
- the local authorities are able properly to fund — especially from local funding (and so have local accountability and involvement) — their schools;
- the local authorities respect and involve parents;
- the Headteachers know their schools and their clientele;
- the teachers know their pupils (especially at primary), and enjoy and relish their subject disciplines (at post-primary);
- the students know their places, and how examination and testing is done (and the methodology of testing doesn’t change regularly at the whim of the Minister);
- the examination system is stable, structured, reliable and trustworthy;
- there is a decent, liberal ethos prevailing through the whole system and structure, not (as at present) an oppressive blame-culture,
— then Malcolm is all for it. [Those who wish to quibble should refer to Malcolm’s essential diagnosis of public education.]
Oddly enough, that is what we had back before the imposition of Baker’s and Thatcher’s National Curriculum, and that is what the better schools were delivering. No need for all the bureaucratic apparatus imposed by each successive incoming (and “reforming”) Minister. Specify the outcomes — as the GCEs and School Certs did — and heads, teachers, students, parents and responsible authorities will deliver.
For all the perceived inadequacies between the 1944 Act and Callaghan’s Ruskin speech (October 1976), the schools delivered. Over a quarter of a century, the social structure of Britain adapted to a post-industrial future.
An Orwellian truth
In a historical moment, Britain went from being predominantly blue-collar working-class, to white-collar middle-class. OK: there were exceptions — one example, because the UK’s energy needs were predicated to coal, we kept the colliery districts in a kind of industrial semi-servitude (albeit, one generally well-rewarded) far too long. Then Thatcher callously broke them, without offering alternatives.
Why was there no “alternative” to going down t’pit?
The real “fail” was Britain’s inability to devise any credible technical and technological education. As Malcolm has argued here on several occasions, that is a chronic failure, and one identified over a century ago by George Bernard Shaw, among others.
Why the “fail”? Arguably, because the “toff schools” didn’t mess with anything that involved dirty hands; and what the “toffs” could pay for, the lower orders aspired to. Hence, with the rarest exceptions, the absence of that third element, technical education, in the implementing of Butler’s 1944 Act.
Two words for Gove-ernment: