Polly_end_is_nigh3The morning after the 2010 election brought the good news that we once again had a  department for education Labour’s 2005 Education Act got rid of it in an attempt to enlist the school system to social model, making it an adjunct of social services.

This was Blair’s “Year Zero”, wrecking the school inspection service by stopping it from reporting on children’s progress in subjects, removing cameos of excellent teaching from reports, and diluting the grading system to make schools look better than their teaching. At the same time, inspectors were given responsibilities for which they were not equipped, notably inspecting childcare and social services. The Haringey scandal followed soon after.

Thanks, then to our unfriendly opponent Polly Toynbee for reminding us of what we have been recovering from over the past three years in her attempt to pin the latest victim of the broken society on Michael Gove. She has rightly taken a pasting for it in her comments column, notably from social workers who are as hacked off with Labour’s image building as most Conservatives.

Here is an example, from Sue Cormack:

This is an appalling piece in every respect.

I am no Tory, but as has already been said Haringey was/is a Labour run council and the abuse took place when Labour was in power. But in any event it is cheap and sensationalist to connect this case, or any similar, to politics. Evil people exist in every regime of every political hue.

This was a case of evil people doing something sickening beyond belief to a child and of social services missing countless opportunities to protect that child. There was no funding issue here as we all know.

The issue was incompetence.

At last year’s Conference, Polly appeared at a fringe meeting to criticise Michael Gove for dropping government support from another Labour scheme, Every Child a Reader, based on Dame Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery in New Zealand.  So, I was interested in this report on the scheme’s failure to improve literacy on its home patch.  Its basic problem is that it has not moved on from its founder’s work in the sixties, and will have nothing to do with phonics.

The one authority I know that has made it work does not follow the handbook. RR should not receive any further public or charitable support until it improves its research and  brings its teaching methods up to date.Ms Toynbee at least admitted that the OECD report on literacy and numeracy standards, which showed particular weaknesses in the skills of  younger UK citizens, was “shocking”. Sir Mike Tomlinson, whom I see (with Matthew Arnold and Sheila Browne) as one of our best-ever school inspectors, called it a “national disgrace”, and repeated his point that passes at A* to C in English and maths “do not give any assurance that a young person is literate or numerate”.

Newly-promoted Minister of State Matthew Hancock rightly described the people who have been let down by the system as “Labour’s children”. Labour’s Cromwellian strategies, with their over-detailed “guidance”, gave the government’s judgement, often a pretty ill-informed judgement, predominance over that of  teachers. One consequence was that they were still producing materials designed to teach the two times table to eleven year olds shortly before they were shut down. It never occurred to them that having to do this was evidence of their own failure.

So, to Michael Gove’s new opponent, Dr Tristram Hunt, whose appointment is not to be welcomed. His predecessor was the most ineffective front bench spokesman on education either party has had in modern times, with the possible exception of Alan Johnson.  I really hoped he would remain in office until the election. Dr Hunt is erudite, thoughtful and a top-flight historian. He is personable, and I’m told that ladies find him easy on the eye.

So, Michael Gove was no doubt right to put the boot in straight away, with an apparently friendly letter, beginning with the hope that the two would work together, followed by a catalogue of Labour’s errors that Michael hung round the new incumbent’s neck. Welcome to the shadow cabinet, to which we may hope that he gives long and distinguished service.