Monday 27 May 2013

Blog Synch 5 Why I idolise Henry VIII

This is my entry for the latest blogsync project. See more here.
What would do most to improve the status of the teaching profession? Privatise education.

Let’s privatise education! There’s a phrase I never thought I would ever say or write, but nine years in teaching has changed me beyond all recognition of my former self. I have lost the na├»ve glow of youth and found the tarnished cynicism of old age. The face of education has changed completely in my time teaching. Time will tell if it has changed for the better or the worse, but it has changed nonetheless. Each week, month and term brings something new or a new idea or initiative to do or integrate into lessons. Like Henry VIII, you look around and see something better and you try to look for a solution or do something different with the current wife. Henry’s choices were divorce, death or behead. Sadly, the middle one wasn’t and isn't a choice, but it just sits well in the sentence. So, it is just divorce as the other  one isn’t appropriate either. Learning the History through rote methods must have some benefit.  

I think a divorce, in theory, from the public sector would be the best thing to happen to education, because, while it is in the public eye, education is owned by the public and therein lies the crux of our problem. As it is the property of the public, every man and woman and his or her dog feel they have a right to dictate how education should be led and how lessons should be taught. The ludicrous situation is that almost every news story links back to education, because education is seen as the key to solving all the problems in the world and in society.  Education has become reactionary to every event or speech made. In fact, if you are a business and you want a few pages of free publicity, all you have to do is criticise the education system and make some suggestions of how you want children to be taught. Bang. Free publicity.

I foresee a future where our education system will be dominated by this constant line of publicity inspired comments:

·         Tescos will want us to teacher people how to shop better.

·         Thomas Cook will want us to teach students more about countries that they fly tourists to.

·         Typhoo will want us to teach students how to drink tea more effectively than coffee.
  • Radox want teachers to show pupils how to wash effectively so they use more soap.

Teachers are told they need to do this or that they are not covering enough of something endlessly. The problem is, is that everybody has an idea of what should be taught and what shouldn’t be taught and that there is no common thought or direction. There is very little status in teaching because it is so confused. How can parents feel secure that teachers are doing the best, when the 'best' changes every minute? The exams change every year. The syllabus changes on a whim.
I hear endlessly about the NHS being in crisis, yet I cannot fathom a way to improve things.  The main reason being is that I am not in the NHS. Just because I can put a plaster on someone, doesn't mean I am an expert in the NHS. Just because you have been through the education system, doesn't make you an expert in what should be taught. As long as education is in the public eye, it will always be questioned and challenged. At the moment, there are no breaks or pauses. It is a sea of changes. A bumpy ride that it is hard to keep on track when there is a new storm every week. No wonder teachers are leaving, when the landscape of education isn't consistent.

The people who are in charge of education have their direction and that too is not free from public scrutiny. The politicians want votes, so their views are coached so that they reacting to public opinion. Furthermore, politicians need to be seen to be doing things. Imagine a world where politicians say that they are going keep things the same, like the last party did. It is never going to happen. That’s because underlining everything a politician says is the notion that they are going to do it better than the other party. So, politicians change things ‘for the better’ and this involves making major or radical changes, because these will improve things. All this meddling makes education a dizzy merry-go-round. It never stops still. No sooner has one thing been introduced then another contrasting one in unveiled. I want better, but improving things every 5 minutes doesn't make real improvements. You need to see the benefits of those changes and time is important for you to see that happen.

I want to see a divorce between the education system and the public. I don’t want to hide it; I just want it away from the public in terms of direction. It should be led by some clever people and free from political motivation and radical elements. Being directly accountable to the public hasn't helped us. Look at the league tables. Too often schools are judged outstanding through a series of tick boxes. One of those is linked to results. If you get the results, no questions asked. There are some outstanding schools hidden in the system, because from a public perspective they are failing because X and Y don't hit the national target. The tick box doesn't take into account several factors that are out of the hands of teachers. Like Henry VIII’s relationship with the Pope all those years ago, the relationship we have at the moment is not a happy marriage. In fact, it isn’t even a marriage. It is one of pain and mood swings. You can’t even predict where things will go or what will happen.

I agree with some of Gove’s ideas, in principle. His idea of raising the academic rigour of education is one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I have often struggled with students spending more time on a subject other than English because it was the equivalent of five GCSEs. However, his agenda is politically motivated. He might say he wants to improve, but you know part of his speech and rhetoric is designed to win voters. It isn’t completely focused on improving education. It is about winning the next election and convincing floating voters that his party is doing the right thing. His ideas are thoroughly conservative in education terms so he will appeal to those people who prefer it to how it used to be. It is about spin. But, education shouldn’t be linked to or part of any form of spin. It should be about providing the future with the tools for life.

Furthermore, his actions are about keeping him in the job too. If he sits and does nothing, then he will easily be replaced or reshuffled with someone who will do something. We supposedly want people of action not people who think and wait. Gove political strategy seems to be based on mentioning one controversial idea a week. It makes him look like he is doing a good job. Plus, there isn't really anybody to argue back. He is great at getting publicity. Even though there have been very few changes in education recently, his publicity machine makes you think there has been. You think the landscape is changing. 

Politics is always about change. Changing things to make life better. Changing our manifesto so that it appeal to real people. Changing the policy on this and that. When politics is obsessed with change, that has an affect on other aspects. The public services cannot keep up with these changes, because mainly change happens on a whim or an idea. They are never really grounded on real things. Change is good, sometimes. Change for improvement is good, but not when they don't stay around long enough to see the effects.

This whole idea of privatising education doesn’t sit well with me as I like to think of myself as ‘working class’. In fact, I am so working class that I never used to go on holidays abroad as a child. I am so working class that my parents always worked during the holidays. I am so working class that I used to wear second hand clothes as a teenager. For me, education is so important. Education provides social mobility. It allows the poor to become rich. It allows us to improve. Yet, the problem with our system at the moment is that is flawed by a lack of clear direction and an agenda based on several million people’s agendas. Everybody should have free education. However, the way that people view education is tainted by a consumer view of it. Education is a product today. It is something that can be marketed, rebranded and adapted to improve profit-margins. I don’t think for a second that by going private these things will disappear. But, I think that education will be removed out of the public sphere and it will stop it being something that people think they have a right to meddle with.  No more silly comments like: ‘I pay for your wages, teacher’.  

Finally, that would lead me to the difficult question: Who would run it? Let the tender begin. My personal favourite is ‘Group 4’. Hang on, isn’t that who is running it now? Yeah it is. They’ve lost something. Yet, we don’t know what it is.



P.S. I don't really idolise Henry VIII. I just thought it would hook you in. If you are reading this, it did the job.


  1. There is a rather major flaw here. Who will pay for it, if not the taxpayer? And if the taxpayer, then how would anything change?

  2. I know it is a problem. It could never be 100% private. I was hoping we could go the way of the prison service. Farm it out. Out of sight. Out of mind.

  3. This proposal was tried on a local scale in Leeds. Education had become something of a political football so the divorce came and the tender for "Education Leeds" was won by capita. Originally there was little success, but then capita left and it became more like an ALMO. It then managed more success. However, it has now been reintegrated to allow better connections with other children's services. The structure has been done in such a way as to ensure education did not return to being the political football.

    While capita were involved there was worries that the finance would take precedence over the young people, and this is a concern I would raise with your proposal. I fear that a privatised Ed system would lead to schools needing to charge to keep up with neighbours. I fear this would lead to an unequal system that would effectively destroy the social mobility you speak so highly of. The schools that charged more would have higher budgets and deliver better staff to pupil ratios and better results, leaving the less wealth children at an instant disadvantage.

    The ALMO model that Education Leeds ended up with might be worth exploring though. But safeguards against greedy corporations hijacking the sector for their own profits would need to be put in place.

    The other problem with privatisation is the loss of accountability. If a government royally screws up the education system tge public cam hold them to account at the ballot box, if the sector us run by the lowest bidder, there would be no chance to kick them out in the same way.

  4. That is very interesting. Thanks for letting me know. I thought my proposal was all pie in the sky. It is totally flawed, but I feel the disconnecting ourselves from society was an important point to make. I think we are too close at the moment. But, you are right about the accountability issue.


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