Education, education, education and the Hillsborough Disaster

HansardMonday October 17th in the House of Commons was Education, Education, Education before the finale of the Hillsborough Disaster and whether there should be full disclosure of government documents relating to it.

The education debates were certainly varied and detailed – Maths GCSE Results were debated as were the GCSE results of the new Academies. Additionally the new English Baccalaureate and University Technical Colleges were tabled along with Faith Schools, Music, British Sign Language and Sure Start.

Strood Academy

Strood Academy, Kent

Academies are a current favourite of the Conservatives, primarily it seems because they can perform beyond the control of their Local Authority – a politically motivated and ideologically driven change does not inspire me with confidence in them. The Conservative Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton explaining ‘that all the evidence from around the world…’, a statement itself so ludicrously sweeping as to confirm that there is no such universal evidence, ‘…is that three factors give rise to improved performance – autonomy, high-quality teaching and external accountabilities’.

I am not going to spend much time on external accountability – who could argue with it? – other than to merely note that it is not clear how a school outside the control of a Local Authority is any more accountable than what that is not?

Autonomy though concerns me as it suggests that schools are better off running themselves without any over-riding national body or external audit, indeed to borrow that ugly phrase, without any external accountabilities.

I strongly question the idea that parents should decide a school curriculum – what do most of us know about most secondary school subjects? How well educated are most of us that we could better decide syllabus than Education Professionals with University Degrees?

And why stop at the parents, why not let the pupils decide? If that idea was proposed the conservative commentariat would cry ‘Lord of the Flies’ and pooh-pooh the woolly-headed liberalism of it all – but parents deciding is not much of a further fetch from that?

I want my teachers to educate not manage school budgets. The same as I want my GP to treat not  manage health budgets.

As for the phrase ‘high-quality teaching’ that is a facile circular remark – like saying high-quality care leads to the best outcomes – you don’t say! Such a statement completely absents itself of how an academy education provides high-quality teaching in a way that other private and public education does not.

University Technical Colleges

University Technical Colleges

Also discussed were the new University Technical Colleges – Comprehensive Schools with a greater vocational emphasis and sponsored by business such as Rolls Royce, Blackberry makers, Research in Motion, and Boeing. This is an England wide initiative and one that I believe has promise. The last Labour government rightly focused on increasing participation in education but I thought over-focused on academic skills at the expense of vocational ones. There is also I think good reason to re-introduce Apprentices which surely ally to these University Technical Colleges.

They also provide another source of education funding from the private sector – but one that will need to be monitored – no strings attached as it were. The Member of Surrey Heath also used perhaps the most purplest prose of the day in answer to a question about government bureaucracy not hampering their implementation “…the officials in my Department are allies. They are terrible, swift swords cutting through the bureaucracy that has so far held this country back” – recent examples have suggested this swiftness can often come at the expense of cool consideration and I do not buy this idea of unpatriotic public servants bent on stalling all private-led initiatives.

I love the language politicians employ – a balancing act between masters of spin and masters of the meaningless! Are our primary schools to be next renamed as University Technical Schools, and Kindergarten as University Technical Pre-Schools?!

English Baccalaureate

Already abbreviated to EBacc – because it cannot otherwise be reliably spelled correctly!?

Michael Gove Secretary for Education

Ed Sec

The new English Baccalaureate was later debated, introduced by the Conservative Member for Surrey Heath, I will refer to it hereafter as that member does by the short-hand ‘E-bac’. The Conservative Member for Banbury expressed concern on the negative effect of the ‘E-bac’ on Religious Education. The Member for Surrey Heath first thanked him for ‘being an effective spokesman for the place of faith in the nation’s life’ but then countered that the number of pupils studying RE was on the increase. One wonders whether there is any place for faith in education, that faith by its nature is anti-education? And was saddened too that the teaching of RE (or RI – you work it out!) is on the increase and that the Education Secretary thought this was something to be applauded. With apologies to Pink Floyd but ‘we don’t need no Faith education’.

Next up for debate was the reduction of funding to the Labour initiative Sure Start. It does appear this excellent program of theirs is only being cut due to party-political spite from the Conservatives and it is a notable shame that the Lib Dems led by their Member for Brent Central have not broken coalition rank on a social democratic issue such as this. The Labour Member for Washington and Sunderland West successfully summarised that the Brent Central Member did not have very much of a clue, beyond the usually woolly rhetoric, of the actual impact on the ground of their revised measures.

British Sign Language was raised by the Liberal Democrat member for Wells in respect of its possible pilot as a GCSE Foreign Language.

Hillsboroguh Stadium by Jam Sandwich

Theatre of Dreams, as the fans have it!

The final item of the day was the Hillsborough Disaster recorded as ‘Backbench business’ and a debate commenced by the Labour Member for Liverpool, Walton in respect that the “House calls for the full disclosure of all Government-related documents, including Cabinet minutes, relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster; requires that such documentation be uncensored and without redaction; and further calls for the families of the 96 and the Hillsborough Independent Panel to have unrestricted access to that information.”

He then proceeded with a very long speech in favour of such actions.

The Home Secretary then gave a long speech in response. Reading the minutes of Hansard may give a dry feel to this debate but which, as reported on Twitter and other media outlets, was a very emotionally cathartic process difficult to convey by the written word alone. Better instead to watch the televised recordings of the debate.

Many further contributions were made of similarly substantial length by members from both sides of the House with notable contributions from those members of the constituencies most effected in Liverpool, Sheffield and other neighbouring areas of the North West of England.

The debate commenced at 5.42pm and went on to 10pm and I could not possibly do it justice by commenting on it, save but to urge you that rather than reading about it in the particular prism of a party-political media outlet, you should consider reading the minutes of it verbatim here on Hansard.