The arrogance of government

Henry Stewart's picture
 19
"We won a majority and we expect to be listened to". That was the introduction from Lord Lucas, representing the Conservative government tonight at the launch of "Inspiring Growth", the CBI/Pearson 2015 education and skills survey.

That may be how our politicians think, but it felt odd to hear one say it out loud. I asked if perhaps they should also be prepared to listen. Lord Lucas was clear that was not necessary: "Will the government listen? No. We are too full of ourselves at the moment and we have our own ideas", was his response.

Most of the questions from the businesspeople in the audience were seeking a different approach in education. One of the speakers, Rod Bristow, argued, "we need a greater focus on communication, collaboration and resilience". Others talked about the need for schools to build character and teamwork and to avoid restrictive approaches like the ebacc.

The CBI recently supported the launch of the NUT's report on how schools have become exam factories. And John Cridland, Director-General of the CBI, has argued for the scrapping of GCSEs and for A levels to provide a balance of academic and vocational subjects. It is intriguing that the CBI seems to be closer to the NUT than to the DfE, and government education ministers, when it comes to what is taught in our schools.

But Lord Lucas was clear that the government had its own agenda and had no interest in listening to the CBI, to schools, to colleges or to businesspeople. Others tell me this is the attitude that is now common from the new Conservative government but I have to say I was staggered by the sheer arrogance of a government elected with the 2nd smallest majority of the last 40 years and just 37% of the vote.

Lord Lucas is not, of course, himself elected. The 12th Baron Lucas, his presence in the House of Lords results from the role of a distant ancestor in the Royalist army in the 17th century.
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Michele -Lowe's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 08:39

Nicola Sturgeon was making a similar point to yours yesterday about the fragility of the Tory majority. The trick is going to be articulating a positive, clearly-thought-out alternative to the current education agenda. The largest opposition party - Labour - seem to be too wrapped up in their own concerns to provide it. Scotland has its own education system as does Wales. England, as the electoral maths falls out, is heavily Conservative and I imagine Lord Lucas feels that gives them the right to be quite so emphatic.


Jenny's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 08:46

Actually I don't care if Lucas is not elected - so what? Can he think, is he educated, does he know about education, that is what actually matters, not whether his ancestor supported Charles I - actually that might tell you something about his politics but unless you have received a liberal education you won't know that.


Leah K Stewart's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 08:50

Here's a story about what I learnt from being a member of the UK Youth Parliament.

The teacher assigned to get students into this told me about it and I thought it sounded fun. Knowing I'd have to give a speech in front of several hundred people (and being introverted) I popped to the library and grabbed a book on presenting. After studying this book I simply applied what it said and got nearly a whole room of strangers to vote for me as first choice. This MYP title gave me some 'air' of authority in the school which I didn't like or understand because all I did was follow a book. All I wanted was for people to know that I'm still the same person! At the 1 week residential all the elected MYPs from across the UK met to create the Manifesto. Having an interest in our planet I went to the Environmental Group and we came up with words for our section of the Manifesto. Like as if we were the best ones to write those words without reference to people outside of that space? The whole experience confused me. Am I wrong to be confused about this experience?

Jenny's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 08:55

Youth parliament - what you learned was that to get elected you have to be able to present yourself. This will give you ammunition when you vote, or become in local or national politcs (almost unavoidable if you think) - you will know that what people say is promotional and that arguments have to be dissected and analysed for cant, political propoganda etc. You will also be able to ask the useful question: why is this person qualified to make decisions, does he know any better than anyone else? So you learned a lot from your experience. Why are you confused - unless you thought politics was honest and transparent?


Leah K Stewart's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 09:33

Thanks Jenny, haha, yes; my disappointment in discovering what politics is can't be hidden. What I am confused about WHY it is this way. Not that I have any answers, I'm still trying to understand it. Been reading around on politics/parliaments recently. If anyone here has any book recommendations I'd love to hear them.

On the lesson about 'to get elected I have to be able to present myself' that's one I knew anyway, hence why I got the book on presenting. On learning to ask useful questions like 'why is this person qualified to make decisions?' I'd rather that people who make decisions do it because they know what needs doing, not because they've presented their way into a position that then requires decision making. This is all fuelled, as far as I can see, when we praise elected people for being 'Strong Leaders' if they make decisions alone and stand firm in the face of criticism.

It was all a cool experience though; met some very interesting and colourful people; got a nice, flexible job out of it with an NGO while I did my A-Levels. It was... fun. There was just a hell of allot of depth. thought and real-world connection lacking compared to what I'd hoped it would be. Naive of me? Yes. But I'm glad I saw it.

Leah K Stewart's picture
Tue, 21/07/2015 - 11:02

Thank you Janet & Ed. Janet - I'll add those recommendations to my to reading list! It's certainly empowering to be knowledgeable of the psychology of language that elicits action in others. I'm fortunate that I've spent some time in corporate sales, so know instinctively the difference between a person trying to trick us harder (short-term perspective & goal driven), and a person genuinely trying to become better so that manipulation tactics aren't necessary (long-term perspective & service driven). The kinds of things I've been picking up are "Schooling and Social Change 1964-1990" by Roy Lowe and "The 5 Giants; A Biography of the Welfare State" by Nicholas Timmings, also writing from outside of the UK such as LesMis, Victor Hugo to feel what people wanted from a government on a ground level, before governments like those now existed, and "John Adams" by David McCullough on the creation of a brand new government and the thought/philosophy behind such a bold story in western history.

Ed- I've signed up for updates on your website and am looking forward to hearing more about your project. I've also added your book to my reading list too, so you might hear from me again once I've read through it. Thanks.

Heidi- your conference on Politics in Education seems more and more well timed the closer it gets! Nice one.

agov's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 09:39

Do you need a liberal education to have a concern for pluralism

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 09:47

It looks as if Education will be covered by "English votes for English Laws" - and the Tories have 60% of English seats, giving them a thumping great majority. That may explain why they are not in listening mode.


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 12:18

Leah - a useful book which shines a searing light on the 'waffle, fudging, obscurity, blame-shifting and point-scoring that separate the winners from the losers in every aspect of public life' is Robert Hutton's 'Would They Lie to You?'. It claims you will be able to 'steer a truck through the gap between a lie and the simple truth' after reading it.

Another book which describes rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama is Sam Leith's 'You Talkin' to Me?'. Rhetoric, the blurb says, 'gives our words their power to inspire - or bamboozle - others.' Very useful when listening to political speeches.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 12:23

Democracy, we are told, is a British Value. It's so important it must be taught in schools. But such a value can't just be 'taught', it has to be demonstrated. Anything less is just paying lip service.

Politicians who say they won't listen to the electorate because they know best haven't quite grasped what democracy is. But, as I've said before, they should beware hubris.

James Park's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 13:16

Henry, I keep on reading the quote in the second paragraph and am finding it hard to believe that anybody of a somewhat sound mind could say such a thing in a public place. Was he intoxicated? Can you get some audio or video evidence to confirm that is what he said. Flabbergasting!


Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 15:42

Drunk or sober, Lord Lucas is, according to Wikipedia, the current owner of The Good Schools Guide. Hmmm.


Henry Stewart's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 18:50

James, I wrote it down word for word. I swear he said it. And, yes, Barry ie is the owner of the Good Schools Guide.


Guest's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 16:00

I work in FE. Today our Director told us that in the past the government has always met and talked with the AoC, the 157 group etc. Now they are talking only to individual college heads adding that this was presumably those heads who are saying what the government want to hear. Very depressing.


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 16:37

Guest - when the Coalition came to power, the DfE was told to find heads who agreed with Gove's ideas. They could act as mouthpieces. The DfE made videos of some of them saying how wonderful it was when they became an academy, opened their free school etc. Or they provided testimonials. They were in turn rewarded by being name-checked by Gove and others - the Magnificent Seven, the Crusaders for Social Justice. Gove's favourite head etc.

On the other hand, anyone who disagreed with Gove was called a Marxist, enemies of promise etc.

As you say, very depressing. But also risible - especially as some of Gove's favourite heads have become rather controversial figures.

Ed Straw's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 17:17

On the fascinating and disappointing Youth Parliament experience, the reason it is that way is because the system of government the politicians work in makes it that way. This system has never been designed for its modern remit - spending 40% gdp, running a universal school system, handling the power of huge companies, etc, etc. Change the system and we will, for example, get consensus on schools - as they usually do in countries with proportional representation. First past the post turns what should be common goals into political footballs, especially when the egos at the centre are so large - 'we are better than them'. But the system has to be changed much more. The biggest hole is the lack of independent feedback on everything done by government - policies, programmes, legislation, etc etc. Organisations cannot function effectively without feedback - you may have noticed! If you want to see one new system have a look here http://www.treatyforgovernment.org/. It doesn't have to be this way, at all.


rogertitcombe's picture
Wed, 15/07/2015 - 17:46

You are so right Janet. The core of my headship school was the School Council. Ours was a proper one that long preceded the Government's 'Student Voice' nonsense.

In KS4, Form Reps were elected together with joint Chairs of School Council (one boy and one girl) and joint vice Chairs. The chairs and vice chairs were elected by a one person one vote electorate comprising all KS4 students and all school staff including non teaching staff (office, canteen, cleaners and site manager - all of whom were directly employed by the school under LMS - not contracted out as was the fashion). This comprised the School Council. There was an annual residential training weekend in a posh Lake District Hotel (the owner was sympathetic to what we were doing). The core of training was in conflict resolution and the passive/aggressive/assertive spectrum for managing arguments and debates.

Over time the peer group leaders changed from the fashionistas, wide boys and their molls, to the brightest and most effective leaders and deployers of rhetoric. Think ancient Greece. This really did change the culture of a white working class school in a severely deprived urban neighbourhood. Our students then educated their parents through the School Association (PTA).

The student dynamics of this were very interesting. Most years the elected officers were quite nerdy rather than a peer group fashion-based popularity contest that the cynic might expect. They almost all went on to be very academically and professionally successful. Our School Council also formed the core of the Barrow Youth Forum (now long gone). Community campaigning was encouraged. KS4 School Council members also attended all governors sub committee meetings. The School Council ran the peer-based anti-bullying policy/student relationships counselling service and gave a presentation to MPs inside the House of Commons. School Council members were also delegated to KS3 forms to help run the Lower School Forum on similar lines designed to prepare pupils for School Council when they moved into Y10.

Yes, school students do need to learn how to organise meetings, debate issues, campaign and learn the principles of participative democracy through doing it.

Our School Council were not headteacher selected servile 'goodies' and 'toadies' to be trotted out on public occasions.

Heidi Williams's picture
Thu, 16/07/2015 - 09:38

Hi Henry
Very interesting and one of the themes of an event we are organising later this year - The Politics in Education Summit, which takes place at The Royal Society on 2nd November. I would very much like to discuss the possibility of someone from the local schools network - yourself or Janet or Melissa maybe, contributing to our programme as a speaker as I think we are currently under-representing some important perspectives, which I've seen embodied here in several postings. Would it be possible to arrange a phone call, how can I reach you?

Henry Stewart's picture
Thu, 16/07/2015 - 13:48

Heidi, feel free to contact me on henry@happy.co.uk. sounds fun


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