Critical Professional Learning

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Books written, or in some cases, ‘written’, by politicians are usually devoted to self-justification. I have read a few. And very few of those few are self-critical.

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Reading many media comments on Mikhail Gorbachev who has died aged 92 he is presented to us as loved abroad but despised at home. We are supposed to be grateful to him for his leading role in ending the Cold War but also to believe that he is hated in Russia for dismantling the USSR. He certainly must take the credit for being the one who persuaded Reagan and Thatcher to follow his lead. And at home his attempt at Perestroika, a policy of restructuring and reforming the USSR so that independant countries remained friends, did not come off. It was a hugely ambitious policy and we probably forget that in the USSR around one hundred and thirty languages were spoken, giving some idea of the size and complexity of the task that he set himself and those he hoped to support him.

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How often do you hear people saying that? To limit myself to Tory politicians how credible is it to liken Harold Macmillan and Rab Butler to Johnson?

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Let me offer a number of different contexts to help us understand its significance.

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Born just in time to inspire the army to take on Rommel at El Alamein I punched my first bully in the playground when seven. Are you reading this Jeremy? Sat in the next desk to the first manager of the Beatles, twelve years after him. He was bottom of the bottom class so that made me second from bottom. First book I read was Biggles Sweeps The Desert. Always liked the Boulton Paul Defiant.

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For some countries Covid has revealed a good balance between inclusive social values and consensual government.

In the UK England in particular has suffered from commercial exploitation and government by imposition.

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That is the number of electors in the UK.

I woke up thinking of Pirandello's play, Six Characters In Seach Of An Author. Well, it just seemed an appropriate beginning to explore the meaning and the purpose of our government. And of the Official Opposition.

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School years traditionally began in early September. The State Opening of Parliament was a month or so later. When teaching government and politics I would often begin with the State Opening. Today I would use a video. Then I mostly had to paint pictures with words. Which is better? I don't know. Often young people had seen snatches of a State Opening on the telly so that could help.

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Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, known to teachers as Algorithm Man, supports Bungalow Bonce Boris in his Big Bang return to schools. Tests and masks are, however, not compulsory. They would be in my classroom mate.

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I needed (I still need) to find my party political bearings. For a while Jeremy Corbyn lent me his compass but it was knocked out of my hand and before I could pick it up some Queer Customer (QC) crushed it under foot. I fainted and fell into a deep political dream in which I kept meeting heroes from history. Such heroes. First one? I shall give you a clue. “He never uses one syllable when none will do”. You got it! Attlee. During the war when Churchill was using lots of syllables to make sure that history would remember him Attlee and fellow Labour members of the government were reduced to the second rank: to the rank of those that actually got the job done.

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Officially it is known as the Department For Education, although for some years professional educators may have seen it as the Department Against Education. It was 1978 when the Report on Political Literacy was published. As a member of the Working Party producing that report I felt optimistic that I would soon be living in a politically literate country: a country in which many of us would participate in the inclusive discussion of and consensual arrival at public values. Who became Prime Minister the following year? Even so Government and Politics was a popular subject in schools. And then we got the National Curriculum. Remember Kenneth Baker? I was present when he was asked why government and politics was excluded. Thinking on his feet he said it would be a 'theme'. It soon faded. Ofsted were not interested.

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Who wants to be a COVID MARSHALL?

Do you get a uniform? Has anybody seen the job description? Is it like being a traffic warden inside a shop?

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Kid Piffle gathers his gang round a table in the back room of the Dominator Saloon. He gives the order, "Masks on". There is only one item on the agenda, "Which stagecoach shall we rob next?" Eventually it is agreed that it will be the Welfare Stage because the horses pulling it are old and tired and the guard's gun has no bullets left. Everybody thinks that the Kid is in charge but after the gang have dispersed he must report to the real owner of the saloon. To signal his approach he whistles 'I've Got to Leave Old Durham Town.' It is their password and the door opens for him to receive further orders.

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POOR LIVES DON'T MATTER (except at election time)

Remember Grenfell? Remember the pledge to remove cladding? Our government certainly does not wish us to remember. It set itself a target. It loudly proclaimed its intention. Why did it do that? We can only conclude that it was to shut us up. It now seems that it shall miss its target by a spectacular distance. That virus has come in handy. We now have government by distraction. Instead of getting ourselves worked up about another governmental broken promise we are expected to occupy our minds with by how much the two metre rule is to be shortened. The cladding removal failure demonstrates, once again, that when it comes to private landlords and big companies Tory politicians simply do not put the boot in.

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When I taught and examined government and politics I often thought that I should really be in the business of Media Studies. It is a subject that is very easily mocked, particularly by politicians who belittle it as merely asking young people to watch the telly and read a few newspapers. No quadratic equations. Not serious. Before writing a GCSE exam in Government and Politics I did, in fact, read a lot of newspapers. The most important one to read was (can you guess?) The Sun. Where I live it is not possible to walk into a newsagent and pick up a copy. People would look at me very strangely if was to sit in a pub or café openly reading it. And yet, because I needed to know how and what prejudice was being peddled to the public, it was essential for me. I often used to reflect that the paper had once been the Daily Herald, edited by the grandfather of Angela Lansbury before he became leader of the Labour Party. The phrase 'You never lose money by going down-market' was well applied to Rupert Murdoch. And a friend once described The Telegraph as 'The Sun with a Thesaurus'. The idea is not to challenge prejudice but to confirm it, sometimes with short words and sometimes with long ones.

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Socialists often come with labels derived from a phrase or two that they have used. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon shall always be associated with the phrase "Property is theft". There was, however, more to those three words than it might seem.

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Dear Angela,

I once saw you generate tears of hope in the eyes of experienced primary heads when you talked of bringing humanity back into the classroom. But now I find you as deputy to someone who supports a regime in Israel that employs snipers, holding British manufactured rifles, to shoot at the knees of indigenous primary aged children as they walk towards the houses and the land from which their grandparents were expelled at gunpoint by Europeans and Americans with not the slightest legal or historical justification for doing so. That is inhumanity. Please allow me to make some points.

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“Dear Demokratia, I need reassurance. Sometimes when I enter your temple, along with many others bringing our votive offerings, I have the fear that it is not you sitting there but instead it is the Goddess Oligarchia disguised as you. Does she, I wonder, take all those offerings and hide them away in her crypt to use for her own purposes? How can I tell if it is really you sitting there or the imposter?”

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What is the point of the Tory (Irish for robber) Party? It long ago saw itself as conserving the stability of society. It is a traditionalist party. In other words it maintained social stratification. Yes, a few bottom rung people were allowed from time to time to climb a little of the ladder. That is necessary to avoid social disturbance. We can't have that. Overall, however, the rich man controlled the castle while the poor man sat at the gate.

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BREXIT is like the patients in a hospital declaring that they wish to be free of experts, disconnected from life support and to do without those pesky nurses that give them pills and wipe their bums.

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Sir Robert Peel's Principles of Law Enforcement 1829 - Comments and questions

1828 saw Catholics admitted to Parliament. 1832 gave us the Great Reform Act extending the franchise, although it has to be said that the G-Word was used to cover up the fact that it was really the Timid Reform Act ensuring that democratic participation did not rock the boat of privilege. And we had, from a Tory Home Secretary, principles of law enforcement that, if produced today, would have Robert Peel hounded by a rabid Tory Media Machine as a leader of the ‘loony left’. The theme of his principles was policing by consent.

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Not having posted on my website for more than a week here are some thoughts about what I might have written. It is my current list of concerns.

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A FORCE FIELD AGAINST REASON - A response (perhaps a rant) to Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis

Varoufakis is not and never was a professional politician: an old hand at the game of gaining power, keeping power, compromising with power, adjusting to power, submitting to power and, whatever the price, maintaining a position close enough to power to smell it in his nostrils and stroke its shiny skin. That was and is not him. For all of his tenure as Finance Minister, during a time when his country was nailed to the cross of capitalism; when Germany in particular was perfectly willing to forget its historical debt to Greece and, once again, to destroy democracy: for all of that time he was struggling to persuade the powerful to accept the obvious point that Greece was being sacrificed to support a system that favoured very few and even fewer inside Greece.

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It is late June 2018. It is very hot, reminding me of 1976. That was three years before Thatcher. Tory-minded people will tell you of a time of over-mighty unions and inflation. They will not tell you about the increase of inflation under Thatcher; of her more than trebling unemployment, despite many changes to the way that government counted people who were out of work so that the figures looked lower; of her destruction of industries and the communities that went with them; of her celebration of greed; of her council house vandalism; they won’t tell you of her waste of North Sea Oil revenue that could have been used to benefit society (she told us there was no such thing as society); and they won’t tell you that she squeezed out the remaining, often irritatingly patronising, charitable instincts within the Conservative Party that had for years maintained the post-war political consensus. There is now hardly any evidence that it ever existed. As you will have guessed, I am struggling to keep this list short and have, for example, left out the disaster of privatisation.

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In 2002 Greg Palast wrote THE BEST DEMOCRACY THAT MONEY CAN BUY. Today social media plays a big role in the commodification of both policies and voters. It has not caused corruption but merely given corruption more levers to use in order to suck democracy out of the system and make government incompetent.

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Here I want to say something about Further Education (FE). My first reference is to a book inspired by a Grimm Brothers tale of escape by twelve princesses from nightly imprisonment. They escape to dance all night. Before daybreak they are back in their locked bedroom ready for inspection by their father. I would have called him King Ofsted.

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GETTING THE EAR OF NEW LABOUR POLITICIANS Or Attempts to turn a political sow’s ear into an educational silk purse

Working in higher education I sometimes felt that politicians have a picture of Brideshead Revisited in mind when they think about the work that gets done in a faculty or department of education. When he was Secretary of State for Education Charles Clarke made a speech that conveyed something of that perception. On behalf of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) Mary Russell (as what is now called Chief Executive) wrote to him asking for a meeting. He agreed and as chair of the UCET CPD Committee I wrote the briefing paper below.

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After Retreat Advance

Can we imagine ourselves writing the education component of the next Labour Manifesto? We shall have to concentrate upon England because it is the biggest UK country and has suffered most from shortsighted instrumentalist policies. Here are some assertions to consider and a few comments on each.

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I was sitting one evening in the Punchbowl Inn, Sefton Village, when in walked virtually the entire Liverpool team. Brian Hall spotted me and came over. We had played against each other at Liverpool University. I say ‘played’ but though much slower than me it was more a case of standing on a bit of grass while he ran round me.

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England, especially, has been bedevilled by the target setting culture. A while ago I saw experienced headteachers with tears in their eyes listening to Angela Rayner, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education. Those were tears of hope that professional life might once again be devoted to the enablement of learning instead of what it has become: the infliction upon children not only of a target culture but also of officially approved methods, content and “correct answers”.

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Tony Blair’s contribution to the lumpenisation of society - A fragment of what should be a long piece

Have we been made lumpen by the powerful? Possibly ‘lumpenisation’ encapsulates the intentions and effects of people of power. Is society intended by the powerful to be a conglomeration of manipulable people to serve and respond as required? If you cannot position yourself to stand among the powerful then what are your choices? Tony Blair made it very clear that if one word summed up New Labour it was ‘choice.’

Who decides what can be chosen? Can we all choose the same thing? Are we sometimes persuaded to choose unwisely? Do we choose to empower those that disempower us? We enjoy the Welfare State and the NHS given to us by Robin Hood so why do we vote for the Sheriff of Nottingham?

If we do not like our responses to the above set of questions what can we do about it?

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News of the death of Roger Bannister reminded me of one of Britain’s greatest athletes, Alf Tupper. A welder by trade Alf would often have to work all night to finish a job. Then he would grab his kit, especially his spikes, and hitch a lift on the back of a lorry to get to a meeting. Before entering the stadium he would buy fish and chips, always wrapped in newspaper, often eating them by the track much to the disgust of some official in neatly pressed trousers, a double-breasted blazer and a panama hat.

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As I type the opinions of some are changing. As I type others are digging trenches to defend red lines. As I type the redlines won’t stay still. As I type facts are uncovered and facts are challenged. As I type new facts are being invented. As I type Boris is planning a garden bridge over the Channel and an electronic device for managing movement between the London Boroughs of Eire and Ulster (really the six counties).

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While attention has been focussed on the eugenicist, supremacist, Toby Young perhaps people have overlooked the new Office for Students itself, the Office that government wanted him to be part of.

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In memory of Emile Zola, 1898

A (short) Charge Sheet Against our Current Government

And an appropriate memory of Oliver Cromwell

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Empty Man


We know that John Stuart Mill used the word ‘stupid’ to label Conservatives (not quite all of them). Mill wanted votes for women. We also know that Nye Bevan once said that Tories were lower than vermin. Bevan created the NHS against all the efforts of the Tory Party to prevent it so this expression of his gut instinct is understandable.

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Carry On Theresa

SHALL THERESA CARRY ON? - This government is so open to ridicule, so easy to caricature as a comedy. Can’t you imagine Theresa May returning from Carry On Up The Conference and declaiming to her husband. “Infamy, infamy. They’ve all got it infamy”?

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To What Are The Conservatives Clinging?

'Power' is an easy response to the first question. The second question prompts thoughts about a stratified society that sustains the possessive individualism of a few at the expense of the many. The Tory trick is to persuade the peasantry who have benefited from Robin Hood to vote for the Sheriff of Nottingham. They can usually count on one quarter of the electorate supporting them. The three quarters that don’t either do not turn up to vote or vote for a variety of other parties.

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To Autumn - Season of Plots and Political Craftiness

I did not like New Labour but at least Gordon Brown was a grown up. In 2010 Ant and Dec took charge and in George Osborne we acquired the worst Chancellor of the Exchequer since Churchill. The gap between rich and poor and our national indebtedness are both so huge now that politicians would rather look away than see them.

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Brexit and how not to do Government - A Rant

For the Tories Brexit was an exclusive game of thrones. As Michael Gove’s missus said to him when the result of the referendum came through, ‘You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.’

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I began writing about SOCIAL FRACKING as the Coalition Government was taking over in 2010. It seemed an appropriate description for the effect of its policies. David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ (remember that?) was a fatuous cover for the further dismantlement of local government and the democratically accountable bodies that maintained our physical and social infrastructure.

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Thesaurus Rex roams the White House while all are asleep and devours laws, agreements, human values, words, punctuation, rules, conventions, the constitution, the environment and common sense.

As he roams he sings to himself from his favourite song,

‘All the little birdies go Tweet, Tweet, Tweet.’

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One Hundred And Forty Characters

ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR (acknowledging Pirandello but dedicated to Stanley Unwin in the fundermold) - ACT ONE - Trump gets up in the middle of the night to empty his bladder, picks up his i pad and settles down to tweet yet another new policy. Suddenly 140 characters appear demanding that because they exist they need him to form them into words. Nobody, they tell him, is better at this than he is. They also say that they don’t have to be existing words: that he can set free his creativity: MAKE AMERICA’S WORDS GREAT AGAIN.

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Imperfect Humanity or Perfect Inhumanity

CONSERVATISM MEANS PRIVILEGE - INDIVIDUALISM MEANS GREED - THEY GO TOGETHER - A LOOK AT TEN THOUGHT PROVOKING SOURCES - Below are a few links that I hope may stimulate discussion. For most of them I have written a short introduction. Occasionally I have gone on a bit longer. It bothers me that at times the pursuit of decent and humane values can produce results that are anything but decent and humane. Nevertheless, I choose imperfect humanity over perfect inhumanity. Working towards humanity is not easy and it is fraught with dangers. Attempting to define humanity is difficult enough. Working towards inhumanity is much easier. That is one reason that some politicians choose to do that, though they often wear a cloak labelled ‘humanity’. It would not do to tell the truth.

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Foodbanks and Social Fracking

There was no leak of the Conservative Manifesto because so few members of the Conservative Party were aware of its contents. Theresa 'no mates' May is known inside the Party for her dislike of working inclusively. She does not like dissent, difference or disagreement. She does, however, like control. The link below is to the Conservative website. Prominent as you click around are the words 'me', 'my', 'I', ‘strength’ and ‘stability’.

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Before Blair the Labour Party felt connected to a relatively cohesive social group upon whose votes it could usually count. Its support was not confined to that group but in terms of public values there was a discernable harmony that generated reliable votes.

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Then it was 1997. Now it is 2017.

It was as if the humiliating defeat of Portillo on the First of May 1997 lanced the boil of Thatcherism. Since 1979 the body politic had suffered from a monetarist, neo-liberal experiment first trialed by Pinochet in Chile . But let no one tell you that it was Tony Blair and New Labour that provided the indispensable winning ingredient bringing victory twenty years ago. The evidence is that had the party been led by John Smith, Gordon Brown or our cat the result would have been little different . Tony Blair’s reason for replacing Old Labour with New Labour had far more to do with his need for a personalised vehicle than it did for any wish to restore to us the values of a government such as Attlee’s.

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General Election

Questions for Theresa May

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MIKO PELED - An Appreciation

I was reading his book, The General’s Son, as my train pulled out of Liverpool. All around me were smiling, happy people talking about football. Reading Miko’s description of the funeral of his niece killed by a suicide bomber I was weeping. Crossing the River Mersey I emailed his sister Nurit to tell her. She replied to say that she would tell him. Later he joined in and so I came to review his book.

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The Washington Post reported recently on the people Donald Trump has been talking to about schools. Advocates for community based public schools were not noticeable.

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Froth is not Beer - Decoding a confusing vocabulary

Donald Trump is setting out to destroy, among many other things, the educational system of the USA. Its connection with communities was already severely damaged. Tony Blair, following Margaret Thatcher, disconnected schools from democratic communities, differentiated and commodified them and separated children according to religion; and as a declared disciple of Blair Michael Gove was an enthusiastic educational fracker. Ultimately, of course, it is society that is fracked.

One reason why we have Brexit and Trump and policies that damage society is what has been a deliberately induced poor level of political literacy. Beginning in 1971 a determined effort was made by the political education movement to improve political literacy. Once, however, Kenneth Baker introduced his National Curriculum and Kenneth Clarke launched Ofsted the curriculum narrowed to what politicians felt ought to be measured. Those of us who were part of the political education movement saw our efforts gradually marginalised and the return of Citizenship as an optional school subject. None of us in the UK is a citizen, as it would be understood in France for example: we are subjects of the Crown . And now we have a Prime Minister, Theresa May, who does not hide her wish to make huge changes affecting our values and our livelihoods by means of the Royal Prerogative.

What follows is my attempt to re-examine some of our political vocabulary and to offer new terms that better describe what I believe really happens. I do not expect total agreement with what I have to say and it is hardly an exhaustive discursion on the subject. I do, however, wish to stimulate discussion.

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Rocket Science

1. Take a tube, pointed at one end and open at the other. 2. Stuff it full of propellant. 3.Light it at the open end. 4. And, the difficult bit, point it where you want it to go.

Exchange children for tubes and there you have it: government education policy.

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The policy must get through

1975 and two books caught the mood of professional self-confidence that had been growing since the Newsom Report of 1963. Lawrence Stenhouse’s An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development encouraged schoolteachers to see themselves as researchers with HMI in support. Try to imagine such a thing in England today.

Denis Lawton’s Class, Culture and the Curriculum proposed a form of National Curriculum based upon prior collective professional discussion of social values. Lawton was a member of the Politics Association, set up in 1971 for teachers of politics. Emerging from that Association was the 1978 Report on Political Literacy .

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The proposed A-Level Politics - Government demotes feminism and relegates women thinkers

Perhaps it is time that the Department for Education substituted the word against for the word for. I keep thinking that battles have been won only to discover that prejudice and ignorance remain a powerful combination. For me politics is about the inclusive and consensual arrival at public values: a process that precedes policy-making. Now it has been exclusively decided that the voices, perspectives, power to critique, values, knowledge, experiences, insights and concerns of women are to be drastically diminished and devalued as we learn to participate in politics. Feminism is a battle that should long ago have been over: a footnote to history: a non-issue. But it is not. Government points out that its proposals are out for consultation. Oh yeah!

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We multiplied Thatcher by Blair. The result was the decline of government and politics and not just in the UK

There are many links in this essay and descriptions of books plus some anecdotes. I have generally tried to treat them as ‘asides’ indented and set in italics. My success may be variable. At times I write as though holding a conversation. This can mean rhythms meant to be certain become uncertain. But I seem to remember that Thomas Hardy asserted that it was imperfection that made Tess of the d’Urbervilles beautiful. I find that reassuring.

Near the end I have placed the link to the document that may encourage you to critique the essay.

If you bought every book on Thatcher/Blair your shelves would groan under the weight so please do not imagine that my selection is anything remotely exhaustive.

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Support or Constraint for schoolteachers in England

We await a new Standard for Continuing Professional Development - I recently received a ‘call for evidence’. You might note the possessive apostrophe accompanying ‘DfE’ in the first line of this call for evidence below and perhaps raise an eyebrow when you come to the word ‘independent’. It is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that an ‘independent’ body can be said to be owned by government. Such is how we do things. As a result there are tensions and they just might be creative. If, however, there is a clash you can be sure that possession shall trump independence.

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The Charge Sheet against Anthony Charles Lynton Blair

The charges are as follows:

First count - That in 1997 you did deceive the electorate who voted to rid the body politic of Thatcherism. Instead, under deceitful labels such as ‘aspiration’, ‘choice’ and ‘modernisation’ you promoted greed and avarice, widening the gap between rich and poor.

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Yo Blair - Speech for the defence

Members of the jury, you see before you a man of nobility, a man of humanity, a man of whom this great nation of ours can, nay must, nay shall, be proud. When called upon for selfless sacrifice did he demur? Did he hesitate? Did he hide away from destiny? Not he! Tony Blair, for it is of him that we speak, fearlessly sacrificed the lives of millions. He did this so that we could be proud and, carrying forth the torch passed to us by ancient sons of ancient Empire, continue to paint the globe red: red with the blood of those that tried in vain to hold back the march of progress.

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Miscellany 2

This is my second attempt to gather a series of endnotes from something I have been writing and to present them (with a few changes and specific sub-headings) as though they might make sense without the text. Well, I did say ‘attempt’ and I do not hide my views. You shall judge. The proper bibliography follows below.

1. The meaning of politics In 1962, when Bernard Crick published In Defence of Politics, his intention was to restore the meaning of politics: to remind us that it is about public values. Fifty years after Crick’s book went on sale Michael Flinders, a successor of Crick’s at the University of Sheffield, published Defending Politics with a similar intention. Why, we should ask, is it necessary from time to time for us to have to be reminded that politics should be an inclusive public activity and not one exclusively limited to a few people making policy?

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Perspectives from Time and Place: Three writers to think about

In 1997 when Tony Blair formed his first government he was asked to identify his priorities. He replied that they were Education, Education, Education. His chief of staff gave him that phrase. He ought to have said, Society, Society, Society.

Education is not an activity to be treated in isolation so I want to look at some of the significance of three writers that any politician with views on education ought to read but won’t.

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What follows is a collection of endnotes, slightly re-worked to include some personal reminiscence and reflection (headings usually in italics), from a forthcoming essay on themes and phases of education policy since WWII. There are more items to follow. At the rate I am going the endnotes will be longer than the essay.

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The Children of the Gap: Remember the great exchange of limericks on the Professional Assessment for Californian Teachers (PACT)?

David Laws, our Minister of State for Schools, probably favours the first one. He now wants to know what universities can do to help trainee teachers learn how to close the gap in performance between ‘disadvantaged’ children and the rest. It is as though the social and educational policies of government are not relevant: it is down to the teacher and those that trained the teacher.

Closing the gap has been an aspiration for a very long time. It keeps coming round every time we get new ministers with no relevant memory and very little relevant knowledge. In my view there is much that can be done at the stage of professional formation to help provide techniques and insights that could help to close a gap. To be effective, however, and to avoid simply showing trainee teachers the tricks of pushing a child temporarily up a grade or two, the work of HEIs needs to be part of a concerted, strategic and inclusive effort involving much change to how government perceives learning and the measurement of performance. Done in isolation during a period of policy turmoil it is less likely to be effective and may, therefore, be used in evidence against universities.

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Govian Social Fracking: A short polemic

Tony Blair’s priority of education, education, education gave us more Green and White Papers, more Bills and Acts of Parliament and more restructuring and initiatives than you could shake a stick at. What possibly prevented it all descending into chaos was the New Labour approach to government, which was to performance manage an entire nation. Essentially, educators and others were all part of a series of ever changing business plans, each with its own jargon that had to be learned quickly in time for the next performance management conversation or the next inspection. At General Election time it seemed as though the electors, not the politicians, were being appraised and held to account. Government set the targets: we had to hit them.

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A few thoughts on the notion of a Royal College of Teaching Or Carthage defies Rome one more time

I sat down to write feeling optimistic because so many people that I admire seemed to be putting their energies into making this happen. Then I picked up a rumour that Michael Gove was trying to appear disinterested and not wishing to influence things.  Has he changed his spots? Doubt it! What follows has a pessimistic tone.

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Making sense and ascribing value Or, to put it another way, assessment and evaluation (we shall come to impact later)

Years ago I taught a masters module on assessment and evaluation. I taught it in two countries. I always began with the concepts represented by the words. I would wax lyrical about the concepts being connected, even overlapping, but made sure to emphasise the differences. When, I would say, we are assessing we are making sense of things, even critical sense of things. When we are evaluating we are moving towards ascribing a value to what we have just made sense of. How easy it can be to delude yourself into thinking that as a teacher you have cut through all the confusion and clarified the minds of your students by the use of just a few clever sounding phrases.

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Education policy created without politics: six possible professional responses

Anti-political behaviour by politicians creates a distance between policy-makers and those for whom the policies are intended. It turns teachers into instructors who are under instruction to implement received policy. It requires performance management of teachers so that targets can be hit and, as a direct consequence, the behaviour management of children so that they conform. Since the days of Kenneth Baker the required professional role for teachers has been reactive and responsive: creativity confined. Anti-politics avoids the difficult and, for impatient politicians, tedious process of consensually arriving at values that can lead to policy. Instead it gives us policy out of power. Genuine politics is slow cooking. Power is microwaving.

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The fourth professional dimension

Once upon a time my colleagues and I enjoyed the pleasure of the company of a team of Her Majesty’s Inspectors for a very extended visit. They began their task half way through one university academic year and did not finish until most of the way through the next one. It sometimes felt that if you opened a cupboard there would be an HMI with notebook and pencil waiting to ask seemingly innocuous questions that, if miss fielded, could have led straight to the professional dole queue.

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Gone to the doggerel (15th version)


A Garland of Scurrilous Rhymes, Parodies and Rants
To Greet our New Political Masters
Composed “In the Nation’s Interest”

O for a Jonathon Swift to prick our P.R. Politicians with his pen. Maybe those Lib Dems chosen to make a deal with the Tories thought they were discussing proportional representation. They weren’t: the letters P.R. only ever stood for public relations.

Here we humbly present some scribbling thoughts that you may in consequence be enlightened and relieved that you are not alone; whilst also being inspired by knowing that a standard of versifying has been set, below which you, esteemed reader, could not possibly fall.

Some of what follows is best sung with gusto, particularly the two parodies of The Red Flag. Can you detect the quotation from Fats Waller or the shameless theft from Milton?

Please join in.

Contributions from Anon are also welcome.

Just remember the motto of ConDemNation: ‘Bad politics begets bad poetry’. ... ...

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From Reforming to Deforming and the Consequences of Eating Gerbils

We hear the word 'reform' a lot from politicians these days. It reminds me of the time when Kenneth Baker stopped what had mostly been professionally led curriculum development and forced us instead to swallow his centrally  prescribed Great Education Reform Bill, known in the trade as the Gerbil and later to become the 1988 Act. From that point most professional learning was about digesting policy.

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Educational chaos theory comes to England

We heard recently from Nick Boles MP, an influential supporter of the government and former flatmate of Michael Gove, that planning is a waste of time and that what we need is chaos. Now I am beginning to perceive a political theory underpinning what has been happening in our World. It goes something like this. I think.

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Silly Policies for the Silly Season: Dressing too quickly in the dark

At the start of the 2010 summer holiday a friend sent me a doctoral assignment to look at. It traces and makes sense of the many changes of policy over the last thirteen years for the education and assessment of young people 14-19. The last section describing the current state of affairs uses the word ‘chaos’. Well, what word would you choose to describe the succession of mistakes and changes we have witnessed recently?

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Thinking the unthinkable

The privatisation of the railways was an astonishing leap for Margaret Thatcher’s government. Her adoption of the so-called free market ideology propounded by the Chicago school of economists had already led to the privatisation of British public utilities; but many of us thought at the time that surely no-one would be foolish enough to impose this religion upon our railways. We were wrong: she was; and we have had to go on living with the consequences.

Memories of this are prompting me to wonder where we might be heading with our universities... ...

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The near future for the professional learning of educators: Who will capture it?

I want to proceed to address the question of who will capture the professional learning of educators. Here is the outline of the article:

1. Might it be the political parties?
2. Might it be the Select Committee of the House of Commons?
3. Might it be faith groups?
4. Might it be big corporations?
5. Might it be universities?
6. Might it be parents?
7. Might it be management buy-outs?
8. Might it be local government?
9. What group have I left out?

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Open Letter to the Secretary of State for Education

Dear Secretary of State,

You called for early debate on what we should expect of young people at sixteen.

I want you to put research before debate. Well-founded expectations help us to understand progression but debating them over a short time-scale will create more noise than wisdom.

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