It would be nice to think that the Tories were abiding by form and holding meetings in a hollowed-out volcano bustling with henchmen in primary-coloured jumpsuits. In fact, so great is the public’s acceptance of malfeasance from its public servants these days that they’re probably holding meetings in the penthouse of a shiny new office block that spells out the word “EVIL” when viewed from above where it’s been erected on the ruins of a hospital. Robbingpoor Towers.
So today, while Jeremy Hunt was throwing darts at a voodoo doll of a hardworking nurse and George Osborne was going through his bumper book of cock and bull for more reasons to tax his mates less, the delightful Mr Gove was nodding intently from his swivel-chaired, cat-stroking position as former policy adviser Paul Kirby was suggesting that the next election can be won by making teachers work more.
This, of course, is an attempt to address the nation’s desperate concern with our performance in the far-from-credible PISA tables by granting our students a state called “gaofen dineng” which should be avoided if you’re allergic to star anise or your kids coming home from school with the urge to self-harm.
For some reason, we’ve allowed politicians to convince the general public (that Daily Mail reading idiot that keeps voting Tory) that the way to measure the success or otherwise of our schools is to compare test scores. If you happen to turn out a few well-adjusted, free-thinking, happy young people as you mercilessly thrash them for results then that’s all the better. Or possibly for the worse, as if they’re happy and have time to think for themselves then they could have been working harder at rote-learning ways to decline Latin nouns (“cum nomina efutue”). If you’ve got kids of your own, decide if you’d rather they left school with a passion for reading, an interest in participating in sports, arts and music and ready to have a crack at studying something at a high enough level for a career or with a string of A grades but no aptitude for anything other than been spoon-fed exam answers and no motivation to try hard at anything.
Is that really the choice? I was a secondary school science teacher from 1993 to 2008. The biggest overall change I saw in education over that time was that as exam results went up, the motivation, creativity and excitement of learning went down. There were times in the first half of my career that I found myself teaching basic calculus to fourteen year olds so that they could take an extracurricular project further. Not lately. There’s no time.
Meanwhile, teachers are leaving the profession in droves – I find it hard to believe that this suggestion will convince a fresh new batch of go-getters to take up the mantle.
It would be perfectly possible to extend school time but only as a part of a wholesale set of reforms. We need to question the purpose of schooling, as Peter Gray did recently. The problem with this for government, of course, is that enlightened schools would churn out young people who wouldn’t fall for the crap they’ve been distributing.
Anyway, if you want suicidal kids with inflated grades, go ahead and vote Tory. Remember, though, that they’ll have privatised the NHS and nicked your pension, so you won’t be able to afford the psychological treatment that your kids will need if they’re to survive long enough to pay your winter gas bills after you’ve retired at 97.