He engages in social engineering
Those who complain that Government education policy over the past few years amounts to social engineering should remember that the school is itself a complex instrument of social engineering. Like war, formal education is a continuation of politics by other means – less direct, less controlled, less controllable, but no less powerful in its long term effects.
The problem is not the fact that schools are being used to advance policy aims that go far beyond the merely educational, but that both the present Labour Government and the previous Tory Government have been so cack-handed over three long decades in the creation and delivery of their policies on schools in England.
It is with a kind of dread fascination that I have found myself over the years gaping, open-jawed, at the experiment that has become the English education system. I write this with not a hint of condescension. I have shared the company, over the years, of far too many highly committed and thoughtful professionals from all levels of English education to permit any conceit to taint my fascination with their situation. Nonetheless, thirty years of systemic and systematic upheaval have rendered English schooling, especially in the cities, a foreign country to anyone from my particular vantage point.
The pass was sold by Thatcher when she introduced the cold winds of the marketplace into schools. And both Blair and Brown have been happy to accelerate the process with their mantra of choice built on a crude credo of consumerism and, latterly, policies built more on ephemeral measures and outward appearances than real educational achievement. The result has been, to my eyes at least, a quite extraordinary divergence between schools policy north and south of the border.
A cross-border study in 2002 by Alexiadou and Ozga – Modernising Education Governance in England and Scotland – concluded that the modernising agenda with its economic imperative had become the underlying policy rationale in England to an extent that has been avoided in Scotland. Indeed, the researchers were able to discern a divergence in assumptions between the two countries. This has led to the appearance of a ‘policy elite’ in England, in contrast to Scotland’s preference for ‘older models of public service’ and the reappearance of a consensual ‘policy community’. The seven years since this conclusion was reached have seen yet further divergence between the two ‘assumptive worlds’.
Of course, skilled and professional teachers in both systems will continue to teach to the best of their abilities, but it is interesting nonetheless to ponder the real differences they face in terms of the policy environments and the effects those differences might have (are already having) on the education of our young people.