Danger: flammable!

Oxgang+fireworks

These are heady days if you’re anything to do with education. In fact, it’s how I imagine it might be at a firework display where the pyrotechnics man absentmindedly drops his lighter and everything goes off at once, and in all directions. Education is like this now. There are things zinging past your head every two seconds and it’s hard to know whether to duck or run.

Now Easter is here there’s a break in the zipping and whizzing and I can step away from the bedlam to survey the damage. It’s sad, because all I can see are angry silhouettes in the darkness, with sharp jaws and pointing fingers, sneering at each other through the smoke, blaming each other for the chaos, for the lost opportunity to have something wonderful.

Education in this country is forever less than it could be because of politics. Whenever there’s an opportunity for positive change, it seems political motives turn the educational arena into a war zone. The right wing traditionalists dig their heels in, muttering about discipline, ‘proper knowledge’ and holding indolent teachers to account, while the left rages against the icy, blue leviathan that seeks to turn every school in the land into a profit making private enterprise where ‘those lazy teachers’ are hired and fired just like anyone else. I wonder how much they really know about each other? Those people who take the time to investigate are buried underground, with little voice, and even less power. I wonder how many politicians pause to think what it’s actually all about? How often do they look beyond the opportunities for political one-up-manship and see clearly through the political miasma? If they did, they might be inclined put down their weapons, climb out their trenches and find some common ground. Just imagine that? A government consultation being a real consultation. Think of the possibilities? Who  really cares, I mean really cares, about the child struggling to read and write in the classroom or the kid who leaves school with less than they came with, because when they started they were at least curious, when now they’re just numb and just want to be ‘famous’ or ‘win the lottery’.

Last week I got a little coverage in the Evening Standard when a journalist interviewed me about my views on the primary science curriculum. Friends patted me on the back, teachers congratulated me, and I felt like I’d at least done something positive. But it wasn’t long before the fingers came pointing at me through the smoke. One of the first comments on my article asked me to reveal ‘my political affiliations before any judgement could be passed.’  Granted, the journalist borrowed the ‘Swiss cheese’ comment from my blog, which created the mud-slinging tone the media like to encourage during these kind of political debates, but nevertheless my critique was about real things written down that will have real effects on real children.  So my heart sank. I realised then that education will never reach that state of equilibrium and perfection each education minister thinks they will achieve. This is because there are too many people holding the strings who put political ideology before reason, research and evidence. Education at government level today is more about making a reactionary political statement than solving a real educational problem.

In truth, the very second I put my head above the water and gave my critique it was destined to be viewed politically before anything else; a political motive would be slapped on it all straight away before most people even considered whether I was right or not. ‘Just another lefty teacher having a go at the Tories’ may have actually been a better headline even, why not cut to the chase?

The point is, did anyone who read the article go and read the new primary science curriculum? How many people really thought about what a poor science curriculum might mean to our country?  Did any of the politicians who might have read it think, ‘I know, I must read that science curriculum and see if she has a point?’  My guessing is very few, if any. And I’m not biased when I say that, setting aside reading and writing, of all the subjects in the curriculum science is the subject with the potential to make the world a better place in many different ways and for many different people. The development of science holds the key to the planet’s future in fact. The people who might accomplish something special here are the little ones playing with the sand in nursery now, not us.

As long as political ideologies from both sides smother very honest and open educational debate about what will work for our schools and young people, nothing will change for the better. There are those who will say that education by its nature is political and the two can never be separated. However, I have yet to witness a teacher needing to delve into their political conscience before intuitively acting in the best interests of the children they teach. Good teachers know what will work, what will raise educational standards for everyone, they just can’t always do it, or it’s made very hard, because of what politicians have stacked in their way. Teachers don’t need politics to tell them what works in the classroom, they just need their professional common sense.

Sadly, education will continue to be bombarded with policies that are created by people who have never stepped foot in a classroom, or have not done so for decades. The only chance to save education is to clear the deck of the politically ambitious and fill the operation room with people from any old background or persuasion, but who more than anything else, know about learning and teaching and possess an informed passion for them both.

I only wish there was more science involved all round, where opinion is irrelevant against evidence and proof and what really effects children’s learning  is what counts above all else.

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