Dominic Cummings: Conservative Party Spin Doctor

Here is a link to Dominic Cummings recent paper ‘Some thoughts on education and political priorities’

 “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

Bertrand Russell in  ‘A History of Western Philosophy’

Oh dear! I may well have translated Dominic Cummings’ unwieldy ‘Some thoughts on education and political priorities’ into something I can understand. His paper, as it turns out, is largely unrelated to developing a high quality education system for all which is a pity because a lot of people, past and present have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue; but when the DfE insists on ignoring practically all of this we are left with plenty of room for pretentious bores to fill the vacuum. I haven’t read all of it. Life’s too short. What follows is not a disciplined analysis of all 237 pages. This is because, unlike Mr Cummings, I am very interested in what it might take to develop a high quality education system for all.

The education department in this country has resolutely ignored all the progressive thinking that this country and many others have to offer in order to clear the field for parasites like Dominic Cummings. The paper gives the misleading impression that you have to have a deep understanding of highly complex mathematical probability models and many other abstruse concepts in order to have a chance of developing a world-class education system. This is simply the outcome of his being interested in these things (probability models, quantum mechanics etc) whilst at the same time being highly influential in UK educational circles. As a man with some enthusiasm for cross-curricular merging (a good thing!) he has no difficulty connecting these abstract models with deliberations on national education. It’s not necessary but it helps to reinforce the idea that we’ve got a terrifically clever chap for the job. And that’s what’s needed isn’t it?

Can you imagine if – on leaving the Department for Education as he is about to do – he’d made his parting shot a synthesis of the best educational practise from around the world (much as Zoltán Kodály, the great Hungarian music educator, synthesised all the best practise from around Europe, thus establishing and indeed preserving a model of superb musical teaching)? Wouldn’t that have been more helpful and meaningful for us all than a synthesis of his own intellectual development? The hubris of the man!   

It’s the work of a mind that dreams of an elite of very, very clever people who can grapple with the enormous complexities of the modern world and thus be in a position to resolve or ameliorate them. The words of a student in the documentary film ‘The Finland Phenomenon’ (2011) come to mind: “You have to be really social; you can’t do it on your own.” The Finnish education system recognises that knowledge is a social construct: as opposed to the idea of an elite who have managed to educate themselves into a state of grace they work with the idea of collective problem-solving. The Finns are intensely democratic about education; the schools are for all and they are all free. There is no hierarchy of schools because the Finns don’t dream the dreams of Dominic Cummings.

At a time when ordinary teachers are constantly being attacked by the press for their poor ‘performance’ and easy life we at least have an insight here into the life led by those who work at the highest levels of policy in the DfE. The topics covered are miles away from the real issues that are grinding teachers down at the moment. I am not surprised that he can get away with it but it does help to illustrate the chasm between policy and reality very well indeed. Of course the daily realities for teachers of high stakes tests, punitive Ofsted inspections, performativity measures and all the other ugly manifestations of a compliance-based education system are not seen as in need of fixing by someone like Cummings.

A short play

(making use of three quotes from ‘Some thoughts on education…’ in italics)

Mr Cummings (a very important and very clever teacher)

Me (a student)

Mr Cummings: Who knows what would happen to a political culture if a party embraced education and science as its defining mission and therefore changed the nature of the people running it and the way they make decisions and priorities?

Me:                    I know sir! It would improve beyond measure because people like you would be ousted at once! Just think of it sir!

Mr Cummings: Yes and we’d really liven things up a bit because the young are capable of much more than the powerful and middle-age, who control so many institutions, like to admit.

Me:                    Indeed they are Mr Cummings, indeed they are. We must listen to the voices of the students and the teachers; this could be a huge breakthrough!  

Mr Cummings: Yes indeed it could! I know most intimately what it’s like when middle-aged middle-management try hard to prevent junior members rising… the overall culture deteriorates as the people responsible for failure rise with promotions and pay rises.

Me:                    It’s all so close to home isn’t it sir? Would you like a cup of tea?

A Letter to my son’s headteacher

My son’s school recently had to undergo an Ofsted inspection. The school ended up being given a ‘3’ which translates as ‘in need of improvement’ (aren’t we all). Here is the letter I sent to the headteacher. It was photocopied for all teachers in the school and a copy now takes pride of place on the wall of my son’s classroom. I hope that it might inspire other parents to write similar letters of support in the same circumstances.

            I am writing to express my sadness that the school has been given a ‘3’ by Ofsted. I am not sad for my son because I know that his class teacher does an excellent job and nor am I sorry for the wider school community because I know that the school has a reputation for looking out for all children especially those SEN children who need a little bit of extra care and attention. Indeed the school’s evident insistence on putting the real needs of the children in front of their ‘achievement’ was reinforced by your own comments that you prioritise the children’s ‘contentment’. This, in my opinion, is an admirable stance to take as a headteacher. Ofsted’s grave observation that ‘pupils do not all make good progress from Nursery to Year 2’ becomes ridiculous when one compares these children with those in other countries on the continent who would simply be playing at this age.

            I note in the ‘key findings’ of Ofsted’s school report that ‘pupils do not learn quickly’ and that governors do not work hard enough to ensure the school ‘improves swiftly’. These phrases remind me of Ofsted’s oft repeated insistence on a ‘brisk pace’ in lessons as if we are all in a mad rush at all times; after all, aren’t we continually reminded that it is a ‘global race’? It saddens me to see a school kicked around like this by Ofsted. It is a recurring pattern across the country, as I’m sure you know, to denigrate perfectly decent schools. There are political reasons for this and this letter is not the place to examine those.

            I only wish to let you know that this parent, at least, finds Ofsted wanting and not your school.

                                                                        Yours sincerely,

P.S. I hope you will find time to watch ‘FASCINATING AIDA: very funny OFSTED song’ on Youtube and, perhaps, to share it with all staff; I should think everyone needs a morale booster right now.

blog readers here’s a link

P.P.S. works hard everyday to analyse the current education game in this country and to reveal many of its shortcomings; I highly recommend it


Unavoury Gove: Recipe for Disaster

Here is a diagram that illustrates the links between Michael Gove and his privatisation chums (click on it to enlarge it). Francis Gilbert made this, he is one of the founders of the Local Schools Network.

Goves Connections_Diagram

This diagram is very similar to the picture I had in my own head after reading the following story (not written by Francis Gilbert but on an unrelated website):

There is a recently posted, lengthy, very thorough and highly critical article about Michael Gove here:

Here is my own artistic response to all this:

Gove the imposter

Policy makers “…often know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.” Michel Foucault

Another disgruntled teacher!

Here is a letter published in the Metro free newspaper on 15th October. It is from a ‘Disgruntled Teacher’ (not me!) Well done Metro for printing it and well done Disgruntled Teacher for sending it. I know just how you feel.

Readers have been blaming teachers for the below-average level of young people’s literacy and numeracy. I would like to point out that teachers are under constant scrutiny and pressure to drive pupil attainment higher. As a primary school teacher, I must ensure my seven and eight-year-olds reach specific attainment levels by the end of the year and I am subject to termly moderations to make sure they are all on track. I am wholly accountable for their progress.

            My problem is that this increased pressure on children to perform and make progress means opportunities for exploration and enjoyment of learning are pushed aside as there is ‘no time’. We are creating classrooms of robots who lack self expression and interest. As teachers, we are under such strict time constraints on what must be covered that it is having an adverse affect on education. So they may be able to write a perfectly formed letter at seven but at what cost?

                                                                        Disgruntled Teacher via email