For someone educated at an expensive private school, and the universities of Oxford and Harvard, Ed Balls is a bit of let-down. With a top-flight education like that you'd sort of hope that somewhere along the line he'd have twigged that the real world is slightly more complex than a game of chess. After all, his subject was economics, one of whose towering giants wrote:
"The man of system is apt to be very wise in his own conceit, and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests or the strong prejudices which may oppose it: he seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board; he does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it".
Maybe Mr Balls reckoned a 200 year old text would offer nothing to a man steeped in the very latest white-hot techniques of post-modernist endogenous tractor production.
Today he's throwing a fit about the way those idiot state school teachers have chosen to implement the Commissariat's SATs tests. He's amazed and appalled that schools are giving children and parents advance notice of the tests:
“I cannot believe they are doing that. They should not be doing that. The best head teachers will ensure that no six or seven-year-old knows they are doing SATs. If you are telling pupils in Year 2 that they are doing SATs then that’s the wrong thing. You should not be stressing the children."
Where has he been? He seems to imagine state mandated SATs are about the children.
They're not. They're about command and control from the top. And they're about schools and teachers finding coping strategies: the Commissars' production targets must be met at all costs. At all costs!
As we've blogged many times (eg here and here), for teachers and schools, SATs are "high stakes tests". They and all the other key stage tests and exams are The Big Measuring Stick with which underperforming schools know they will get beaten. Everything else becomes secondary. You bet they take them seriously.
Which is why schools teach to the test, why they practise "triage" (focusing all their resources on the kids just below the pass mark who can hopefully be tipped over), and why they obviously tell parents the date of the tests so they can get the kids properly rested, breakfasted, and generally gee'd up.
Mr Balls inhabits a fantasy world in which he and his fellow grandmasters consider all known facts and move the chess pieces accordingly. The pieces do exactly as they're told, because, you see, they have no minds of their own. There will be no unintended consequences.
We have another excellent example of this nonsense today. As we know, the Commissars long ago decided the police were racist, homophobic, and far too harsh. So they imposed new requirements on police managers and gave new rights to the rank and file.
Result? Police sergeants have stopped enforcing discipline on their PCs because they're worried about being accused of bullying. A chief superintendent says:
"The sergeants do not have the necessary fibre to challenge the constables. This is due to the culture of counter-bullying, where constables who are challenged take a grievance out against the sergeant who challenged them, stating they have been bullied in the workplace."
A sergeant complains: "I am fed up with the amount of times I have to justify myself to PCs when I've given them a lawful order."
Of course, we don't know whether the counter-bullying rules are actually causing a problem among useless bolshie PCs, or it's just that they give useless scardy-cat sergeants something to shelter behind while not doing their jobs properly. But whatever, those unintended consequences have well and truly crocked the cops (and this is on top of all that box-ticking paperwork we hear so much about).
Other examples? Where do we start? Ending child poverty by paying single teenage girls to have kids, promoting dental health by paying NHS dentists not to carry out treatments, promoting quality family health services by paying GPs not to open their surgeries, increasing the number of graduates by shredding exam standards... no, I can't go on.
PS The Commissars are really going for Doctor Crippen and his pals. This morning Health Minister Ben Bradshaw tells us GPs are operating a "gentlemens' agreement" whereby they won't compete for each other's customers. But surely, we say, surely under our brilliant fit-for-purpose GPs payment system, GPs have a strong financial incentive to compete for new customers. Ah, no. GPs get a guaranteed minumum income from the NHS whether or not they have lots of patients. According to Bradshaw, there's at least one GP practice that gets paid a good income for having just 2 patients. So who on earth cooked up such a crackpot system in the first place?