Dear Nadeem Jahawi, The big bag of your big idea seems unusually empty

Do Do you remember that speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest when Prospero’s slave, Ariel, reported to his master the details of all his work to sink the king’s ship? He says he boarded the ship and was “surprised.” At one point he was on deck, the other in each cabin, then upstairs and then on the bow, making a “sulfurus roar” and forcing people to jump into the sea.

It made me think of you. I was there last week, hearing that you were presenting all your big new ideas on radio and TV. You were shot from all sides. I hope you will forgive me if I express any doubts about the white paper of your school. You see, people like me who have been parents and education observers for almost 50 years will not be happy when a new Secretary of State for Education comes on the scene with another great big bag of big ideas – of course – raise standards, achieve. Reduce gaps, give parents what they want, deal with bad behavior, give everyone a job, bring them up to level, simplify school type and help disadvantaged students.

Your team has been in power for most of these 50 years. If you think education needs to be shaken, because that’s the last time you shook it. Or earlier. Or earlier. What did Kenneth Baker or Michael Gove do that did not do the trick? Or what genius or talent did you get from these two giants of teaching theory and practice?

I wonder, as if remembering Gov-puja? Here’s how it worked: Govt will announce another great education reform – “knowledge-rich curricula” or “world-class GCSEs” or, of course, “academies and free schools”. Your side of the Commons floated with joy. Sympathetic newspapers wrote about the great revolution that Gove was bringing. Then, when the great man abruptly leaves office, his acclaimed colleagues explain how Gov. has turned schools around, improved standards, and local authority over education has suffocated the mafia.

Done, sure? But no. Even after 11 years of Tory-led education, it seems we still clearly need Ariel Jahavi to get more lightning around Joe. So I have to admit the confusion. Will you give another lecture next week where you will explain to our parents that it was the fault of your predecessors that you have to fix now?

Yet the Great Big Bag of your Big Idea seems unusually empty. Aside from the mind-numbing simple things about the school week hours, one of your big ideas caught my eye. Announcing that all schools would join the multi-academy trust, you said: “All the evidence suggests that schools work together in a school family … to provide better results for children.”

I don’t expect you to be a scholar of the history of education – although it will be good – have you heard of anyone known as Sir Tim Breehouse? He led the London Challenge (2002-07, when I had several children at school in London). Did you know to put Brighouse in place? The schools are working together. It was a huge success and teachers are still talking about it. There would be one person to advise on a national rollout of the Brighouse scheme.

It wasn’t supposed to happen. Instead, the Tory model of choice for schools created by Gov. was for them to compete with each other for the benefit of students, teachers and facilities through the evil instrument of the league table. Huge assessment tools, which could and should have been designed to help students, instead involved in proving that one school is better than another. And yet, it is precisely this model you are sticking to: claiming more academies, praising grammar schools – that is depriving neighboring schools of academically high-achieving students. And yet you roar out praises for the school family.

One thing is for sure, in a few years someone sitting in your seat will give the same speech as you, using the same clich. “Shrink Receipt… Good Quality… Bad Behavior… Blah Blah Blah… Enthusiastic about education… I went to school, you know… I want every school to be a grammar school… Flattened ্লা Blah blah blah…” What do you really need to do?

Yours, Michael Rosen

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