Doing anything to avoid doing something

Governments of all stripes are guilty of confusing 'activity' with 'action'.  Invariably ineffective, needless 'activity' is the source of much of the waste and bureaucracy which plagues us, of a politics which diverts attention from the real problems in a flurry of initiatives and expert studies. However in the realm of education and schooling, this governments' addiction to activity rather than action is not only wasteful and ineffective, it is destroying the morale of teachers and undermining the futures of thousands of children. Rather than symbolizing a commitment to real improvement, the mantra of 'education, education, education' has been revealed as a prescription to endless policy gimmicks.


The most recent of these gimmicks came yesterday, with the launch of the next stage in the Government's ‘School Improvement Strategy - The National Challenge', itself part of a wider 'Children's Plan'. (Show me someone who claims to understand the mad web of government strategies and plans and I'll show you a liar).


What this 'strategy' boils down to is a plan to redirect money from succeeding schools to struggling ones (the 'why have one good school when you can have two average ones' logic) and to sideline the administrations in failing schools (the head-teachers, etc) with the imposition of 'National Challenge Advisors'. If the extra resources and expertise fail to improve results, then the Department of Children and Schools has given itself the right to bypass the objections of local authorities and parents
and shut down schools, or merge them into 'National Challenge Trusts' and Academies.


I am not adverse to any of these proposals in theory. Struggling schools are invariably schools dealing with pupils who are difficult to teach, in areas that rarely attract the best teachers. Better school leadership and more resources may help. My problem with the such proposals is that they are not aimed at really improving the schooling of children, but simply at improving grades and league table scores.


More importantly still, this policy 'activity' from the Department of Children and Schools disguises the government's woeful neglect of the real problem; the inability of state schools to actually fail or succeed. Government policy traps poor schools in a perpetual state of 'failing', unable to implement discipline and curriculum policies which might help, or to accept defeat and close their doors to new pupils.


Following a decade where standards have fallen, the approach of incessant tweaking and meddling - of needing to appear constantly active - clearly hasn’t worked. What British education needs now is real action, beginning with a debate about who should provide education in the 21st century; a well equipped and proven civil society, or an increasingly over-stretched and impersonal state. 

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