Thursday 7 May 2015

Yes, B and C grades are certainly saner

I'm coming to the conclusion that the Great British Public (they don't call it that any more) is not nearly as switched off the election as we are given to believe.  Everyone I know seems to be wrestling with it, and their specific decision.

They are not wrestling with the issues, exactly.  They are wrestling with the BBC version of the election - a decision between various different marketing strategies.  Another thing entirely.

I find that gap frustrating but, finally, I ran across a story which sums up the issues for me.  It is the one about exams.  This is what the Evening Standard wrote:

"Teenagers should settle for B or C grades and not strive for perfection in every subject, the head of a London private school says.  Heather Hanbury, headmistress of the Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton, said parents and pupils now view A and A* grades as the norm, which devalues results and harms students’ self-esteem. Perfection is only occasionally a worthwhile aim, Mrs Hanbury said, and knowing when something is “good enough”, and keeping a sense of perspective, are 'essential life skills'.  Instead of completing every piece of homework perfectly, Mrs Hanbury advised students to settle for a lower grade and spend more time on extracurricular activities such as sport..."

A few points about this.  Heather Hanbury is exactly right.  She is also flying in the face of everything which is believed, and has been believed for the nation, by the great triumvirate that rules us: the Conservatives, the Labour Party and the civil service.

For them, education has been a utilitarian affair, measured by the inadequate indicators which are used solely because they can be measured.  We have lived through management by numbers, by targets, and a great dullness spread across the school system.  It wasn't about life, or even finding ways to live life better - it was about showing up well in the Prime Minister's graphs.

But the coalition came and they invested in schools - and, thanks to the Lib Dems, launched the pupil premium.  But they did not fully understand the damage that the technocratic worldview in New Labour was doing to education - or the rest of public services.  They did not grasp the dangers of services designed like assembly lines.  In education, it means narrow outlooks, narrow horizons, ignorance and insane specialisation.

Worse, they allowed some schools to pay bonuses to teachers for good SATS results, turbo-charging the soullessness, damaging rounded education and dulling-down the classroom.  Transforming children from the beneficiaries of individual attention into the means by which teachers could achieve their bonus results.

So, yes, Heather Hanbury is right.  In the name of Tony Blair's 'modernisation', we have actually nudged education backwards.  Not everywhere - my children's primary schools are brilliant, imaginative models of their kind.

But here is what worries me.  Why does this saner approach have to be articulated in public by an independent school headteacher?  Why are we not allowed to have state headteachers publicly rejecting the wisdom of their bureaucracies?  And why has this critical issue - the critical issue for me - played no role in the election debate whatsoever?  

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