I first heard ‘education, education, education’ in East Germany (DDR) at some dreadful conference. The academic was droning on and referring to a speech by a DDR politburo minister in the 1950s. At dinner, a long way from prying ears, she apologised and told a very different story to the one for public consumption. I didn’t see Blair in the DDR audience, but had the same reaction hearing him bleating out the same , though thankfully shorter speech years later. There was no dinner for him to roll his eyes at me either, though he did that to us all at the drop of a hat. The key element in Nulabour education planning concerned bullshit performance management, something they clearly did with crime figures and everything else. To do this you create a well-paid nomenclature and make its well-paid interests match those of government targets. ACPO is the paradigm case, but documentaries have revealed the same in health, care, schools and pretty much all sectors.
Against international standards, our schools are failing (OECD reports). Yet we have been told they were improving. More and more kids get qualifications, yet are really falling behind international standards on literacy and numeracy. Crime is forever falling, yet no one really believes this. No one really believes the educational bull either, with 8% of kids privately educated and loads more got into the right schools through house-buying and other dodges.
Finland has a much better school system than the UK. There is no private education you can pay for there, everyone gets free school meals and education is genuinely comprehensive until 16. Teachers are very well trained. You can see, before we look at what they do in classrooms and getting kids out of them more often, that we have a very different culture. This is also before we think of how much money we waste in sending so many to university. Talk of copying the Finns is hapless unless we understand the aims of their education system and what they think society is about.
We now have people across our public sector paid to lie about its ‘success’. The culture is one of juking statistics. We have become stupidly millennial on leadership to the point where we will have to pay £200K for every head teacher to ensure standards across the nation. Our responses look increasingly like the means of producing 10-fold crop yields under Mao – dumping all the fertiliser in one place for a success story whilst ignoring the general famine. Bung a couple of million into Liverpool to do something about Cash-in-Transit robberies and cut them down to size, whilst they go up in Manchester and Cheshire.
We should be listening much more directly to teachers, cops, pupils and victims to get a proper hang on what the problems are, cutting out these ‘performance managers’ and their costs. Instead, the only outlet is blogging. I enjoyed my time in Finland and think their schools better than ours. Their cops were less insular and more pleasant too. Yet I’d also likely be dead from alcohol excess by now if I was a male Finn. International comparisons require a lot of knowledge to be effective. I should have asked whether many of their secondary schools were full of bullying louts from problem families that neither teachers nor police could deal with, or racial tensions.
We should be finding out what is wrong with our system before looking to Finland or Korea. Our teachers will know most of it. They need asking in a direct and confidential manner, not one that will expose them to an Ofsted black mark. Our inspection culture needs to end, as it now involves one set of bureaucrats providing the ‘information’ another requires. We see this across varieties of management by objectives systems, appraisals and other clapped-out dross that needs sweeping from our organisations. It all started long before Nulabour and we have a generation of a hands-off, promoted class with no critical perspective and excellence attitudes that are patronising, arrogant and corrupt.
The aim should be to put our teachers back in charge of our schools, our police on our streets, people in work and recognise that we can tell whether this is all happening or not. We need an end to fictional politics, even if the Finnish school model is attractive it is fictional to make out it can transfer here, and a distraction from the investigation needed into our own failings.