Monday, 25 February 2013

The evil hour I wasted on this

Wondering what Gove wants.

Frankly, this was horrible, trying to inhabit Gove's brain. If I want to squat in someone's brain, I'm jolly well going to choose someone with whom I feel more sympathies.

But there are strange things happening in the world of education! Not a week passes that I do not read of some tweak, change, realignment, shift of emphasis - not of the law - but to the supporting infrastructures of the law: guidance given to local authorities, priority of information published on government websites, recommendations issued to governing bodies, re-interpretations of legal responsibilities which conveniently miss out options, or simply provide misleading statements.

On the recent reading list of areas I'm watching for redefinitions, realignments and readjustments, are those affecting the worlds of traveller education, special educational needs, migrant schooling options and flexischooling.

Why these slipstreams of education? I'm assuming, for Gove, sly slide is easier than full-on challenging law as a means to shifting the ground of our beliefs. Changing statute is long-winded, time consuming, and potentially too upfront, pissing everyone off, while dangerously threatening prime goals of political life: stay in power to manoeuvre through Westminster on a route that changes the culture to your favour, forwards your agendas, yet avoids confrontation with the electorate.

By contrast, if you change the guidelines and reissue the recommendations, then at least no-one can complain that the guidelines and recommendations aren't being followed.

Then the other strategies. Use of the special adviser, for example.

I trust not the special adviser. It is a sly way of politicising the civil service, appointing unelected, unaccountable grey suits to key locations in the administration and, with Gove placing his chess pieces all around the board where they can work together to defend and attack on his behalf, means he can control in a hands-off manner, deny all knowledge of 'specific incidents', and adopt a position of disingenuous, well-I-never innocence.

But he's a Tory, so what he wants must surely be to position the man on the Clapham omnibus as believing he has control over various choices ahead in life; but those choices must be quietly defined and shaped to business advantage. Then we choose not of freedoms but only where we would like to put our money. Corporate A or Corporate B, from which choice, there must be no escape.

To that end, and in education, there must be other tactics, too. Reduce the power of local authorities. They are wildcards, choosing to stitch up deals with their own friends in local educational services when you would like them not to. From Gove's point of view, surely better to enrich your own social networks by delivering local suppliers into the hands of larger corporate bodies and putting the miserable consumer's money into the hands of your chums.

Placing those connecting wires from central government to local areas brings benefits, not least close touch on where the funding goes. Nationally, an economic situation can change rapidly, so to ride that out and gain maximum political benefit, you need to be in a position where you can respond swiftly: switch the cash off, divert it, redirect it and turn it back on at a moment's notice. So what if you're doing that in education? Better make education a payments by results market, with prompt hire-fire staffing, commodification of product, conveyor belt delivery, and controllable supply routes for goods and services.

In this there should be no escape for consumers; every parent is a consumer of their child's education. Get each and every one of us to pay for entry into the great educational endeavour. Home education is not an opt-out route, even though old hippies like Grit might like to think so. Gove needs to have us all drawn into a commercial system, where we pay for any curriculum we follow, where any engagement with e-learning is monitored to better target us with product, where we are manoeuvred into a registration system where individual choices can be tracked, and where all children of this educational enterprise are socialised into appropriate deference and compliance to authority, thinking they have no choice but to choose in the commercial options presented.

Gove's visit to China and Hong Kong a few years back was not insignificant in all this: routinely he has used those international statistics to whip up stories of how British students are failing once again compared to your average Asian 10-year old and how this demonstrates a need to change, an opportunity Britain must not fail to seize. But I hear it's only half the story. I'm told Hong Kong employers constantly bemoan the lack of creativity in their graduates, complaining how students are trained to repeat bullet points but not to think independently, or with any originality.

But Gove's stories are means to ends, too; I'm guessing they not only make the domestic market feel crap, that change is needed, but also to push Britain to international league tables where Gove would politically like to place them. He needs the status positioning of Brand UK English Schools in overseas markets. Competitive in those preferred countries where we would like to return to our universities a healthy stream of rich kids. (If only May hadn't gone about simultaneously trashing student income from China and India with her immigration reduction!)

Oops! I've suddenly had enough! My head's gone wobbly. It's time for me to be off, and find someone with a more interesting brain and the juvenile humour of a twelve-year old.

Here, have a picture of an owl in a notebook.

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