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?