There is something very, very wrong with the Tory appreciation of things political.
Time and again we are assured that everything economic is for the best in the best of all possible economic worlds. The sub-text is that nothing can possibly go awry between now and the fixed General Election next May.
As for Cameroonian self-basting admiration, let’s interpose a bit of Alexander Pope here:
Proud as Apollo on his forked hill,
Sat full-blown Bufo, puff’d by every quill;
Fed with soft dedication all day long …
So, in yesterday’s PMQs the Prime Minister brushed aside concerns about the passport office and school governance: such trivialities do not register when unemployment numbers are so, so magnificent.
Those figures for employment are remarkably slippery. Quoting numbers of “employed”, of “unemployed”, as “on benefit”, as “seeking work” gives very different results. Or go beyond the crude numbers and consider, for example, the Citizens Advice Bureau recent summary of its involvement:
Record numbers of people are seeking help online around employment issues the charity has revealed, with basic rights at work being the most popular topic people are concerned about.
In the past twelve months 16 million people sought help from Adviceguide—equivalent to over a third (37 per cent) of the UK’s online population:
- 16 per cent of all help sought from Adviceguide was from employment-related pages
- 40 per cent more people looked for help around employment related issues in 2013/14 than in 2012/13.
- ‘Basic rights at work’ is the most popular advice page on the site—with over 576,000 people referring to it
- 16 per cent more people looked at ‘Basic rights at work’ on Adviceguide in 2013/14 than in 2012/13.
A couple of “ishoos”
Anyone who believes the passport thing doesn’t resonate is a blinkered fool. See today’s Daily Mail front page.
The Mail, for all its many faults, is not with Alexander Pope’s:
… well-bred Spaniels [who] civilly delight
In mumbling of the Game they dare not bite.
Once the paper’s line has become established, and its gnashers are well into the calf-muscle (as has happened over the Passport Office):
Let Sporus tremble — “What? that thing of silk,
Sporus, that mere white curd of ass’s milk? …”
Then, again, the governance of schools (which doesn’t seem to have registered with most of the commentariat) is a “sleeper” issue. It only becomes explosive when, inevitably and in usual process of embuggerance, something goes wrong.
… where people should go if they are concerned about what is happening in their schools, they should go first to the head teacher and the chair of governors.
As I said, the first port of call is the head teacher and the chair of governors. However, if people believe that there is a real problem, there is one organisation that has responsibility for checking standards in all these schools, and that, of course, is Ofsted. That is why what the Education Secretary has said about no-notice inspections is so important. The Leader of the Opposition asked how intervention could happen quickly; well, it will happen quickly if we have the no-notice inspections.
In the light of Birmingham’s academies, that first utterance was quite fairly received with snorts of derision (and not just by the Labour Opposition). Cameron must have registered that, so the fall-back to Ofsted and “no-notice inspections”.
What government, of any complexion, has to recognise is that the school system has effectively been nationalised. Academies and now Gove’s “free schools” exist at arms-length from only the Department of Education. What we do not have installed are proper checks-and-balances. So some numbers:
- There are 8.2 million pupils across England.
- They are attending 24,372 schools in the public sector.
- There are just 245 active HMIs out-and-about.
That’s an awful lot of “no-notice inspections” by limited personnel. As recently as March, the Chief Inspector was recognising the scale of the problem, and proposing economies:
Up to 60% of England’s schools could no longer be subject to full inspections under new proposals from the head of Ofsted.
Sir Michael Wilshaw used a speech to head teachers to address concerns about the current Ofsted system head on.
Full inspections would be reserved for struggling schools, or those on the verge of being rated “outstanding”.
He also wanted to recruit more heads to be inspectors and to end the “outsourcing” of school inspections.
Even such a reduced operation cannot be directed on the assumption that the Man in the Ministry knows best. Especially when the Secretary of State and the Chief Inspector talk different languages.