Charlotte Leslie is a member of the Health Select Committee and MP for Bristol North West. She is the Spectator’s Backbencher of the Year.
“They don’t like it up ‘em, Sir” says Jonesy of Dad’s Army. It seems he is spot on when it comes to Conservatives even beginning to suggest they might dare play the same game at which Labour became expert over the last decade. The outcry from Baroness Morgan over the fact she is not being automatically renewed as Chair of OFSTED once her contract has expired, simply on party-political grounds, is extraordinary.
First, it is so because it was Michael Gove who appointed her in the first place! Second, despite hysterical talk of ‘sacking’, she is simply finishing when her contract ends. What does she expect? Automatic re-appointment? If you are a pal of New Labour, or in with the NHS Mafia, perhaps, but not here on planet Proper Procedure. It is she bringing politics into it by playing the ‘party politics’ card. But finally it is extraordinary, but completely consistent with this brand of Labour politics, that they scream blue ( sorry, red) murder when their own tried and tested tactics may be used against them.
One of new Labour’s great triumphs of seizing power was, in true communist style, to fill as many public positions as possible with their own people. Blair managed a heady 75 per cent of public appointments to Labour supporters. Let’s have a look at the more recent numbers: When the Conservatives came to power, 70 per cent of those winning public appointments and declaring political affiliation were allied to Labour. Last year, Cameron was criticised because the number of Labour stooges in public positions had actually gone up to a staggering 77 per cent, higher than Blair himself. (For how this effects Government work, just take the latest outcry, that David Nicholson, a once self-confessed communist, has chosen publicly in his twitter debut to mock the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt – the man who has been so loyal in defending Sir David against the criticisms of the likes of me. That’s hardly cricket, and hardly great for implementing Government policy.)
The simple truth is that many on the Left simply can’t stand others doing what they themselves have established as normal practice. And as those skilled in the Dance of Denial know, violently accusing others of what you yourself are guiltly of is an excellent defense.
This sorry OFSTED saga follows other headlines over a reported spat between Sir Michael Wilshaw ( who, incidentally was appointed by Michael Gove as the former super-head of Mossbourne Academy, far from being a Conservative appointment, was also a man much loved of Labour.) But whatever the wrongs and rights of this spat, and beyond even the outrageous hypocrisy of a pseudo-wounded Baroness Morgan, it remains that it has been politics which has dominated the education headlines over the last week or so, not the actual performance and welfare of our pupils.
I’m not sure that these are the headlines that most interest the nation’s parents, who want to know that their children are going to be taught properly. And I’m not sure that these are the kinds that most motivate the workforce that will be teaching these children. Headlines like these really demonstrate just how politicised our education system has become, and how the ‘meta-narrative’ of politics has come to dominate our attention over what actually happens in the classroom.
There is one clear answer to this – removing the ownership of professional standards and excellence from politicians all together, as a new, rigorously professional body, driven by evidence and a desire to achieve demonstrably ever better standards, begins to take ownership back for itself: a body rather like Medical Colleges such as the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians, with a role that does not encroach in any way upon that of the Unions – a Royal College of Teaching.
Here’s how it could work: A College of Teaching comes up with a package, product or accreditation system of ‘continuing professional development’, which is sufficiently attractive to teachers who want to improve themselves and their teaching to voluntarily invest in membership fees of the college. If the College product is good, more teachers will buy into it, and employers will begin to favour applicants who are members of this college. The College presents the advantage of a clear, practice-based career progression ladder – rather like the junior doctor to consultant route – based on rigorous assessment by other professionals. In time, the expertise of subject associations can be brought together to be more than the sum of their parts, and can provide evidence based, excellent curriculum advice. Then, who knows, if the results are good, it can take over curriculum design – and then yes, even the role of OFSTED altogether.
This may take time – time beyond an electoral cycle, and of course, politicians like me must stay well out of it. The limit of our involvement must be to champion the possibility and set a fair wind for its success. But the prize is significant – days when headlines are no longer dominated by the rather tiresome froth of spats between politicians and quangocrats who were once, or may become politicians, but on informed, proven ways in which the teaching of our children, and the schools in which they are taught become progressively better and better. “Over-possessive politicians might not like it up ‘em, sir”, but that may be all the more reason for teachers to embark upon this idea with gusto.
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