Back in the late 1970’s, the then Prime Minister, ‘Sunny’ Jim Callaghan, declared that for far too long “education had been a secret garden” run by teachers and educators with little political involvement. He determined to change all that and open up the garden to political accountability.
Thanks Jim. Your intentions may have been honourable but the consequences are plain to see. Each and every Secretary of State for Education feels they have to make their mark. State schools suffer from initiative overload as fresh wheeze follows on from bright idea accompanied by back of fag packet jottings. Little or no evaluation of what has been dreamt up takes place before the next idea arrives. With Ministers lasting on average little more than two years in the job it is a recipe for chaos.
Public schools remain mainly aloof from this maelstrom by being exempt from most new policies and can pick and choose which to adopt. It has finally been noticed for instance that the Grand Inquisition (aka OFSTED) suffered by every state school, whereby people who no longer teach, inflict the latest dogma from the Minister on long-suffering teachers, does not apply to Public Schools. This state of affairs has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that four of the five recent education secretaries of state were products of the public school system. Those paying attention will realise this includes Charles Clarke, Ruth Kelly and Ed Balls as well as the egregious Gove. And Gove’s creepy sleazy LibDem junior Minister David Laws was public school educated too. Well blow me down and call me a sausage.
Today we have arrived at the appalling state of affairs when one party of the coalition is contradicting and pouring scorn and derision on its partner in government. The wheeze approach to education stands exposed for what it is - ego trip politics promoted by fifth rate ministers and arrogant toffs. We have public school boys desperate to privatise education and using the free school and academy routes to prepare the ground.
The deeply unlovely Gove is overspending public money on his pet ideological project - Free Schools. Castigated by the Public Accounts Select Committee for rushing through the implementation of the policy without regard for any financial oversight, it now appears that Gove has raided cash set aside to help provide school places in oversubscribed state schools to the tune of £400 million. That is an awful lot of places unavailable through ideology. The recent analysis of Free Schools pointed out that most secondary ones are in areas where there is no shortage of school places. The same applies to nearly half the primary free schools set up to date. They are being funded at the expense of state schools. Brilliant. No co-ordination, analysis or planning needed - just have a bloody good whim - and an ideological mission to privatise everything possible.
The LibDems have their own wheeze. They want all infant children in state primaries to have a free school meal every day. In itself a good idea to compensate for the government’s attack on the poor and vulnerable - for which they just happen to be a partner. However yet again this scheme has not been fully thought through. The Tories leaked embarrassing emails from senior civil servants expressing grave doubts and reservations about the implementation of the scheme.
Sunny Jim’s wish to open up the secret garden has ended barely thirty years later with a massive bed of nettles. Meanwhile 93% of the nation’s children continue to try to be educated in an incoherent, underfunded, undervalued and dispirited state school system. Well Done Jim!