The first post I wrote after the last election was this one – Education: Fragility and Fragmentation. Since that time there have been a constant stream of reforms oozing out of Sanctuary Buildings, only recently stemmed by the arrival of a new Secretary of State.
The fragmentation of the system is disquieting. There are too many different types of schools, too many different routes to ITT, to many accountability responsibilities. Even the SoS and the HMCI cannot seem to easily agree on what can be inspected and how. We have LAs and MATs and RSCs. We have GBs and LGBs and Trusts. To paraphrase Feynman, anyone who says they understand the school system doesn’t understand the school system.
This miasma of change has left a system which appears to many to be on the verge of breaking point. Certainly many of those at the sharp end tasked with implementing the reforms are worn to the bone. In-between writing regularly to Nick Gibb, each time persuading him to backtrack ever so slightly on a firmly held principle, OFQUAL issue what seem like weekly updates to its reform timeline as the SoS issues soothing words about workload.
Yet still the reform agenda continues:
- the universities want the AS back (“Oh no they don’t” – shut up, Cummings);
- the CBI want to scrap GCSEs;
- Liz Truss wants us to make more cheese – no, sorry, wrong department;
- the more lunatic fringe of the Conservative party want more Grammar schools;
- Nick Clegg wants, well, anything that might win votes;
- the shadow SoS seems to want to specify individual lesson plans for History;
- HMCI wants to run everything and
- the SoS just wants to be loved (or maybe just not hated by the Chief Whip).
So currently we have sufficient pent-up change built into the system to take us through to 2019, or almost up to the election after next. Even if there are no new reforms the system will be running to keep up with itself through the useful legislative life of the next parliament.
A system which rests in a fragile state.
So I have an idea.
It won’t be popular. Well, not with the people it’s aimed at, anyway.
The next SoS has the opportunity to be remembered long after their period of office. And it will need a very special person to do this.
I’d liken the current situation in education as akin to my kitchen an hour or two before Christmas dinner was served. I knew what I had to produce. I had all the ingredients ready in the fridge or on the work surfaces. I knew how to prepare each component part. I just had to find a way to do it all in the right order, getting the right help from the rest of the family, and get it on the table at the right time. Without passing out from the heat in the kitchen. Lets be clear. I didn’t decide what we were having. Nor did I do the shopping that got it to this point. But everyone was really pleased with the resulting meal and thanked me for it.
I did the boring bit. The peeling, the chopping, the cleaning, the slicing, the putting in and out of the oven and the serving up, the washing of the pans as I went along. All the little thankless chores that in the end, enable the serving of a good meal. I created nothing new. No great ideas needed. Just organisation and efficiency.
That’s what I want the next SoS to do. I want them to create the whole from the existing sum of parts. And at the moment it is very much a list of parts. So we want no more new things. No more “bright” ideas. We want all the ingredients we have been given properly prepared and served. We need someone to bring it all together and make it work. Not a visionary, but a manager. Not an architect, but a builder. Not a Heston, but a Delia.
It may seem like political drudge work, but whoever manages to bring order from this chaos will be a hero, lauded for their achievements.
Isn’t that what a politician really wants?