by Nick Wright
Michael Gove has described the educational establishment in Britain, teachers and their unions, professors and academics in university departments of education, theorists and practitioners alike as ‘The Blob’. The secretary of state for education thinks that a hundred university education professors – writing in The Daily Telegraph and The Independent make their criticism of his curriculum policies from a ‘classically marxist perspective”.
At the height of the Cold War the US secretary of Defence, William Forrestal, defenestrated himself after going nuts in fear of communism. We must worry that Mr Blobby is having the same effect on Michael Gove.
The state education system goes back to the 1870 Elementary Education Act that turned the patchwork of voluntary, charity and church schools into a national system.
The act was the idea of Liberal MP William Forster and put into practice an idea by Frederick Engels: “… the general education of all children without exception at the expense of the state, an education which is equal for all and continues until the individual is capable of emerging as an independent member of society. This measure would be only an act of justice to our destitute fellow creatures, for clearly, every man has the right to the full development of his abilities and society wrongs individuals twice over when it makes ignorance a necessary consequence of poverty.”
Sensible employers and capitalists backed the idea although they may not have been very happy with the further thoughts of Engels’: “It is obvious that society gains more from educated than from ignorant, uncultured members, and while, as may be well expected, an educated proletariat will not be disposed to remain in the oppressed condition in which our present proletariat finds itself, the calm and composure necessary for the peaceful transformation of society can also be expected only from an educated working class.”
Coalition policy – academies and free schools, centralising the inspection regime whilst fragmenting of the school system, weakening the local authority role, cash incentives to academies and this latest bid to undermine nationally regulated pay and conditions –taken together would reverse the process begun in 1870.
It is intended to bring in a privatised education market. Michael Gove clothes his policies in touching concern for those most disadvantaged but the effect will be to make things even more difficult for working class kids to get access to decent schooling whilst widening opportunities for the relatively privileged to find a niche in an increasingly selective education system.
Wide access to a broad education is a common good that both benefits the individual student and guarantees employers and state alike with the kind of skilled workforce that a modern economy needs. Employers have a clear idea what kind of educated workers they need. They are usually keen for education and training costs to be borne by the state (or more accurately the taxpayer).
Michael Gove should pause in his headlong rush to repplicate pre 1870 learning theory and listen to the CBI when it says that “memorisation and recall are being valued over understanding and inquiry” and that “we have a conveyor-belt education system that tolerates a long tail of low performance and fails to stretch the able”.
Employers are driven by the need to find new investment opportunities, to maintain and increase the rate of profit, to survive against their competitors.
Since capital exists only to produce profits it constantly seeks further investment opportunities to put its newly generated profit to work and to maintain and increase that rate of profit.
Gove is famously in touch with free market think tanks on the Tory right whose policy wonkery drips with anticipation at the profits to be made form privatising public services. Only a Liberal Democrat in a hurry would be taken in by the idea that Gove’s adolescent drive to find headlines during the education conference season is driven only by his bid to find favour with the people who will elect the next Tory leader. Like his millionaire Cabinet collegaues it is profit which fuels his dreams.