After so much well-deserved criticism, Educating Yorkshire has hit the ball out of the park with its descriptions of the courage of deputy head Michael Steer and the sublime teaching of Musharaf Asghar by Mr Burton.
Mr Burton’s vision in seeing something that worked in one context, and then successfully adapting it to another, resulted in one of the finest pieces of teaching ever filmed, not least because it takes the saturation coverage carried out in the programme to catch such an episode among the hundreds of thousands of hours of work (counting all pupils and teachers) that take place in a large school in the course of a year. Right up there with Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller, though, alas, few these days have heard of either.
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From the sublime to the disgraceful, in Sharon Shoesmith’s £600,000 payoff from Haringey. The villain of the piece is not so much Ms Shoesmith as the Right Honourable – or this case right stupid – Edward Michael Balls, PC, MP, aided by former Labour education secretaries and whoever advised him before he did his imitation of the Queen of Hearts.
Sharon Shoesmith was employed by Capita as an education specialist before becoming director of education in Haringey. So far, so average – maybe even above average, in terms of her impact on schools. But Labour merged education and social services, and so she found herself “director of children’s services”, a post that combines so many responsibilities that virtually no-one at the time was equipped to take it on.
Ms Shoesmith knew nothing about social services beyond the contact with them that all education people have, and her appointment was in the classic British tradition of taking someone who doesn’t know about something and putting them in charge of it. The same happened with Ofsted, which was put in charge of inspecting the shambles, and whose initial report brought the inspection service into such disrepute that the Chief Inspector had to tell to the parliamentary select committee that she didn’t know who had written it. If this was true, it would have taken her about ten seconds to find out, as Ofsted’s operations chief was sitting beside her as she said it.
So, Ed Balls “Off with her head!” may have brought no regrets to him, but it has cost the country several hundred thousand pounds more than if normal capacity procedures had been followed. It also disguised the folly behind Labour’s ignorant tinkering with children’s services and their inspection that left both in disarray. Ms Shoesmith had to go for what happened on her watch. However, like the other child protection scandals, it also happened on Ed Balls’ watch, and on that of his Labour predecessors and their advisors in the politicised civil service who dreamt up the nonsense. If there were any justice, Ms Shoesmith would not suffer alone. But, as we know, there ain’t none.
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To Lancaster University to partner Eric Ollerenshaw MP in a debate on whether the government’s education reforms were doing more harm than good. Not an easy motion to oppose to an audience of students paying the recently raised tuition fees, and we lost, though the margin was the same after the debate as before, so the debate itself was a draw. It threw up some interesting points of principle. One of our opponents, Michael Pyke from the Campaign for State Education (so far to the Left that even Ed Balls is rude to them) said that Mossbourne was a very good school, but that its children were from immigrant parents who felt they had a future and wanted their children to succeed.
Poor households in Northern cities had parents who had suffered through industrial decline and felt they had no prospects and no hope. Eric and I said that neither of us was privileged – we’d both done much of our work in the East End, and Eric had taught in state schools for twenty years – and that we shared Michael Gove’s commitment to making academic success available to all children, whatever their parents’ circumstances. A Labour club official quipped on the way out that he must be a swing voter, which I took to mean that he’d voted for us.