Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Getting Political... About Education

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Never talk about religion or politics at work or the dinner table, right? I know that you also need to be careful of what you share on social media... If I know this, why on earth would I be discussing the Scottish Independence referendum on Twitter?

I hope that my Twitter stream and culture in Further Education report demonstrates my passion for education, social mobility, organisational culture and questioning the status quo. Anyone who knows me in real life will also be aware of a slight anti-authoritarian, anti-bureaucracy streak that I can tend to display on occasion.

The Victim of Politics
I have also cited Ayn Rand in my blog a number of times previously, including a post where I weigh up Rand's Objectivism with Adam Grant's ideas on Give and Take. In this post I include Rand's comment about politicians from The Fountainhead;

"A man cannot rob, exploit or rule - alone. Robbery, exploitation and ruling presuppose victims. They imply dependence. Rulers... create nothing. They exist entirely through the persons of others. Their goal is in their subjects in the activity of enslaving. They are as dependent as the beggar and the bandit" 

I find it difficult to untangle my views of the politicians and education because it is the political classes' record of education and social mobility that makes me the angriest:
  • Politicians are responsible for state education... but they all send their kids to private education.
    Now I have absolutely no issue with private education or charter schools, my issue is around the question of "How many CEO's run a company but then personally use a competitors product/service instead of their own?"
  • Whether this plays a role in maintaining the class system or not, the country remains "Deeply elitist and locks out diversity at the top"
  • The areas of deprivation in the UK have remained unchanged since Dickensian times
  • Educators who should be amongst the highest paid job in the land, are treated with mistrust and suspicion.(This is ironic when the public know that teachers are one of the most trusted professions)
  • Education policy and what the system assesses for leaves a lot to be desired
The area of education that I have been focusing on seems to have been particularly badly affected by uninformed decisions and knee-jerk reaction based on politicians "Making a name for themselves" and stamping their name on a department that they only run for 4 years or less.

Whether manipulating FE through the funding they get to improve the NEET figures or decimating the sector with budget cuts, politicians have not been a positive force in FE.

One minute they'll give FE targets to increase the number of 16-19 year olds and introduce EMA... the next it's all about adult learning, scrapping EMA and decimating the sector as 30% of staff have left because of redundancy and/or people tired of all the changes and low morale.

The first thing Gordon Brown did was establish BIS, David Cameron scraps National Indicators, Every Child Matters, Healthy Colleges, and for what "The Big Society" ... what a failure that was! But it's too late, all the things that were starting to show promise is gone.

None of these sweeping changes seem to be with much consultation with the sector. Therefore, my vote on the 18th Sept "Yes" and will be in protest against these politicians decisions but in support of this group of hard working educators.

Cozy Relationships
This unfortunate treatment of educators is all the more problematic when we consider this "Right Honourable" groups' more favourable treatment of others or their "unparliamentary" behaviour: They seem to have looked after themselves alright with lavish expenses, 10% wage increases for being useless (Compared with 1% for MSPs), bailing out their "old boys" at the banks and their inappropriate "cozy" relationships with the media.

Regarding these media relations and education policy a cynic might argue that the dumbing down of education is part of an elaborate conspiracy...that they;

1) Try to keep adult reading to the ability of a 5 year old
2) Discourage critical thinking so people will believe what they read in the media, then
3) They cosy up to media moguls who produces content that a 5 year old can understand, and...

Viola you have the keys to the kingdom! This is why I see no conflict with airing my views and support for independence on Twitter. I am not an ardent SNP supporter, neither do I necessarily want to be separate from the rest of the UK.

However, what I do want, is to see better decisions being made for my kids and other peoples children... I can't see the status quo delivering this (esp as they have been failing at it for decades, if not centuries!), so I feel change is necessary. I don't believe that the SNP and/or an independent Scotland would have the same record with education or class division and elitism.

Political and Career Suicide?
What about my career I hear you ask? It is my view that politicians either don't care or are too incompetent to make a difference in education, so why would anyone who is interested in UK education reform want to ingratiate themselves with any politicians? Besides that horse may have already bolted.

Please find below the start and conclusion of my introductory correspondence to the new MP for Further Education in the UK. If nothing else no one can accuse me of hypocrisy:

Introduction to MP on 4th Aug
"Please allow me to state at the outset that I don’t like politicians, I have had cause to deal with them in a professional and personal capacity and have found each and every encounter to be a complete waste of time. I appreciate that this is perhaps not the best introduction, but this statement happens to be true. I’d be happy to provide the evidence to support this opinion if you’re interested.

Why start a letter of introduction in this way? I want to stress in the strongest possible terms that I will not be repeating this offer or following up with this correspondence if I don’t hear from you. You are welcome to read or ignore this email as you see fit, but I won’t be following up or chasing you on it.
...While I have little time for the political class, I have had a great deal of time for FE. For the last 2 years I have tried to make ideas that I know are sound to work in FE work, but with little progress. Recently I realized that I was trying to implement some good ideas in a bad market. Details of this have just been sent to my FE contacts in this update Mail Chimp update

The response from my critical friends in FE is that every single one of them who has replied has told me that they agree with me and that something needs to be done about the culture.

Now as a politician you’re probably going to do one of 4 things;

1) I will get an automated reply and get told you get too much post to be bothered replying to me
2)  Your assistant will thank me and say that he/she will bring this to your attention and I’ll never hear from you again
3)      I’ll get a hand written letter slapping me in the back and to “Keep up the good work”
4)     That you’ll want to meet me to discuss my ideas and see how you can help. All that will happen here is that you listen to my ideas and I never hear from you again.

This has been my experience on no less than 4 occasions now, it might surprise you to know that none of these options are all that appealing to me.

I can help, I’ve been working on these ideas for years and know what the issues are and am confident that I have some solutions that would see results before the next reshuffle and make you look good. I’m happy to help, but I really am not interested in the usual nonsense that comes from dealing with “the political class”. If you want to talk FE and implement changes, let’s talk if you want to play politics then here’s my response;

“I thank you for your email, I have now left FE and I get a lot of spam and don’t have time to deal with every automated or canned response that I get. I think that the work that politicians in every party and across every generation provide so much value and are doing such great work. Please do keep it up, you’re doing a great job! Your fantastic. All politicians rock!”

Ironically this letter got the most positive and comprehensive reply I've ever had from an MP... Go figure! 

Why not you? Why not us? Why not now? 
Where change will happen in education is at the grass roots with the younger generation of teachers and/or with the "can do" growth mindset educators, people who are in the classroom day in day out (in spite of their employers arbitary decisions, and top down rulings that create toxic cultures).

The people who will make a difference are the ones who care enough to, the people who are organising the collection and distribution of food to help the most marginalised and vulnerable children... our educators!

It's not just that he political classes have not helped... They have actually played a significant role in creating a lot of the challenges within education. Be the change! As Russell Wilson says "Why not you. Why not us? Why not now?

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