Committed readers of this blog (and reading some of the comments many of you should be) will have noticed that I am invariably critical of government decision making, particularly that of the Department for Education. Well, hopefully this post will put to rest that my views are in any way based purely on ideology and that I do consider everything on its own merits.
There has been a lot of criticism in recent days and weeks of the DfE decision to push for the expansion of selection in schools, all the way up to repealing the law prohibiting the opening of new Grammar Schools. Many have argued that this is a capricious decision based on ministers yearning for their own misremembered childhoods rather than being based on actual, you know, evidence.
Whilst there is a degree of truth in some of this I think many have missed a wider point. Which is that the policy is entirely consistent and coherent with wider government policy. Indeed, that wider policy depends for its success on the changes being considered to education policy.
First of all you need, for the length of this post at least, to turn off that bit of you that would contend that we educate children because it is a good thing to do. We like to think that is the reason governments of all political complexions allocate so much taxpayer money to the process. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but they don’t. They spend the money to ensure that there is a suitably qualified workforce to provide the relevant capacity to run the government and the economy it relies on.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are bad guys for doing this. After all, we’d all be a bit miffed to have spent all that money to find that there were no takers for the jobs we rely upon, for example doctors, or teachers. Or baristas.
But now we have to recognise there has been a change.
For the whole of the coalition government and the first year of the current one there was an implicit industrial policy based around hi-tech, modern developments. George Osborne at times appeared obsessed by graphene and its potential. The green light given to HS2 and the plans for Hinckley Point (albeit with foreign involvement) were part of this future. This hi-tech future would be supplemented by a gig economy powered by a self-employed, self motivated intelligent workforce. Add this to the focus on financial services and other technology based industries we could see a clear need for a highly qualified workforce. And robots. Lots of robots.
In this context we can see that Gove’s ‘academia for all’ wasn’t just an ideology but was a necessity if we were to develop the workforce for this future economy.
But what now? Now we have a different economic outlook. We are moving from the gig-economy to the jam-economy. We are moving to needing more computer scientists to needing more hop-pickers to replace the migrant workers who will no longer be welcome. Literally the first big thing that happened in the business world after the referendum vote was that ARM Holdings was sold to Japan, announcing our retreat from the hi-tech world. Graphene won’t be far behind.
So I guess the conversation has been had and the conclusion is that we don’t need such a highly qualified workforce any more. Because if they are highly qualified they won’t want to dig up the carrots. Or stir the innovative jams. Or do all the jobs we currently allow Europeans to come here to do.
So how could the DfE guarantee that we wouldn’t end up with a vastly overqualified workforce? How could they ensure that they kept the kids off the streets and ended up with enough potential fruit-pickers? There was only one way they knew to ensure that vast swathes of the student population underperformed their potential. They’d fall back on a tried and trusted policy they knew at worked in the past.
So we can see the DfEs seemingly bonkers segue from “Academic excellence for All” to “UTCs for everyone else’s kids” is entirely consistent with government policy.
So now perhaps you can all stop being so critical of them and let the get on with it.