There are some among us who regard Alastair Campbell as central to the New Labour cabal that destroyed the old Labour party, along with its values. There are some among us who despise New Labour and most of the things it did to education in England – the testing regime, increasing the power of Ofsted, publication of league tables, micromanagement of teaching, creating chaos in school governance, condoning factory schools & teaching to the tests, and all the rest.*
And yet . . .
Mr Campbell can’t be blamed directly for what happened to education during New Labour’s time in power since we don’t necessarily know what his own views on education were, or whether he had any input into the thinking of the ministers responsible for education, such as David Blunkett, Charles Clark, Ruth Kelly, Alan Johnson and Ed Balls. (Plenty of heavyweight bruisers and economists there – no educationalists)
Listening to Alastair on the radio this week we were struck by his manner of speaking, and agreed that he sounds a little like Jonathan Aitken did after his fall and disgrace, and his spell in prison – a sudden absence of any obvious arrogance and nastiness. (Although he’s still passionate in his dislike of Tories, which is unlikely to change any time soon.)
Back in February we quoted Alastair in this blog when he said some interesting things about education on Radio 4: http://wp.me/p1YZsx-2d
“If we genuinely put people’s happiness and well-being at the heart of policy-making I think we’d come up with some very different policy solutions.”
“My seventeen year old daughter’s year group at school is the most examined in the history of the education system.”
“If you come at the education system from the point of view of the happiness of the children, as well as the exams they’re going to pass, you might actually devise a different curriculum, and you might devise a different testing system, and that might actually benefit the children.”
Mr Campbell’s views sound fairly tentative, which is quite refreshing in someone who’s used to being at the heart of politics, with a reputation for iron-clad views on most subjects, as indeed do most politicians. Especially on education. It’s quite clear, though, that the new, gentler Alastair Campbell is in no doubt that politicians need to think again if they really care about the happiness and well-being of children.
What he no doubt didn’t have in mind in February was Michael Gove’s current determination to get rid of GCSEs and return to a two-tier system of examinations for sixteen year olds based on something similar to the old ‘O’ Levels and CSEs.
This morning he sent out this tweet –
“blogpost – Gove is playing fast and loose with education as a way of aiming even higher (for himself not kids)”
His blog post he goes on to say,
As Michael Gove reflects on his latest intervention, what will have the greater impact on him as he surveys the weekend papers with his usual careful reading?
… the fact that he has annoyed huge numbers of heads, teachers, parents and children with his ill-timed (in the middle of exams for heaven’s sake), regressive (he wants to take us back to ‘Jennings Goes To School’ times) and half-baked (I believe Nick Clegg on this one) plans to scrap GCSEs and go back to two-tier exams…
Or the fact the The Sun made him ‘political hero of the week?’
Ludicrous as it may seem, there are many in the Tory Party who think that the next leadership election could be between George Osborne, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. And with David Cameron struggling, there are some who think it may come sooner rather than later.
The right-wing-dominated media – most of whose leaders have no direct experience of State schools whatsoever – like his basic pitch on education, which is for a system that is based on elitism dressed up as higher standards for all.
As I never tire of saying, virtually all national editors use private schools for their own kids, in Paul Dacre’s case Eton (so so middle England yah!). They have a vested interest in running down State schools to justify their own decisions. And Gove plays along, rarely saying anything positive about State schools, talking up failure and ignoring success, as a way of justifying changes for which nobody voted and for which they have no real mandate (the return of the O-level being but the latest example.)
I’m afraid I have reached the conclusion that he cares passionately what Murdoch, Dacre et al think of him, but cares very little of what teachers and parents think of him. Because education is for him just where he happens to be right now, but not where he wants to be in the future.
You take one look at him and you think ‘No, he doesn’t really think he could be PM does he?’ But then he says to himself ‘well Dave managed it, and he’s not exactly Brain of Britain is he? … and Boris is Mayor of London … so anything can happen.’
And meantime, as kids around the country work hard, do well and show the amazing talents so many of them have, the man in charge of their education sends them the message that they’re not really up to much at all, whatever grades they get. It is all, frankly, a bit weird. But is it terrifying that he is running our schools, dreaming up one potty idea after another to get right wing MPs behind him, and newspapers who couldn’t give two tosses about State schools singing his praises.
Nick Clegg had better be serious about blocking this one. And if he fails, then heads and teachers really should just refuse to do it. I was at a head teachers’ conference in Durham yesterday. Good people doing a good job. They have the support of most of the parents whose kids they teach. Gove has no mandate for this at all.
As we’ve already commented in a recent blog post, why are professional educators in this country continuing to allow politicians who fundamentally know nothing about teaching and learning to dictate what happens in schools? When will they stand up and demand, on behalf of children and young people, that polticians stop meddling in education and show some respect for the expertise and professionalism of teachers? When will the teaching profession get its own house in order, show some unity, and start having its own policy discussions about the fundamental purposes of education, about tracking pupil progress, about the learning revolution that’s already taking place in more enlightened countries, and so many more issues that impact on the achievements and wellbeing of our children?
*See also –
Labour ripped the heart out of education
by Francis Gilbert