EDUCATION'S TIPPING POINT - the politicisation of the English education system

Janet Downs's picture
 11

Posted on behalf of Trevor Fisher

Why are Westminster politicians so deeply resistant to evidence on educational issues? Expert opinion counts for little or nothing, and this is particularly so for New Labour. Professor Tim Brighouse, a key advisor after the 1997 election for a while, wrote later that

 “They got swept up by the machine... It was like they had got on a boat in a fast moving stream and I stayed on the bank and, bit by bit, they got smaller and smaller in the distance and...I kept waving from the bank...” (1)

 The experience will be familiar. But how did the boat of political strategy get to be caught up in a fast moving political stream? One factor was the speech by James Callaghan at Ruskin College, Oxford, in 1976, powerfully influential to this day in defining a new approach to School Politics. On October 15th, Ruskin is staging an in depth conference on the speech to which all LSN subscribers are invited. Forty years after, the speech can be seen as the tipping point for educational policy in England.

 As Nick Gibb, right wing Schools Minister in the current Tory government, said on April 27th   (2)

 “This year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan's 'Ruskin Speech', a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades.... In doing so, Callaghan was making a bold foray into... the 'secret garden', to which educationists had been granted exclusive access, and politicians and the public had never seen fit to tread.”

 The speech was unparalleled in its influence. The text is available on the internet as Ruskin Speech – though not the only one, it is unique and Callaghan himself said later this was his most well remembered. Yet many of our current concerns are not mentioned – nothing on grammar schools or standards not structures, nor anything to do with hyper accountability. Twenty years later, Blair appeared at Ruskin to make his own educational statement in the run up to the 1997 election victory.

 What mattered was not so much what was said, but who said it. No Prime Minister had ever made a speech on education before. Since then, politicians have hardly ever stopped talking about schools. The speech marked the politicisation of education and it is time to scrutinise what happened and why the stream of educational policy described by Tim Brighouse then moved faster and faster away from traditional Labour concerns.

FORTY YEARS ON

 Forty years to the day the speech was made, keynote speakers will open for discussion major issues relating to the speech. Lord Donoughue, Head of  Callaghan's Policy Unit and involved in the creation of the speech, will explain how the speech came to be written and amplify the statements made about the speech in his autobiographical writings. Professor Sally Tomlison, Emeritus Professor of Education at Goldsmith's, will assess the political climate in the mid-1970s and its effect on the Callaghan government. David Blunkett, Education Secretary in the Labour government from 1997- 2001, will describe the effect on the thinking of New Labour in the period up to the 1997 election.

 Setting the speech in a wider context, Warwick Mansell of the Guardian and TES, will outline the history of the Secret Garden concept and its influence, in a special workshop. Three workshops will be available after lunch to discuss further the three major themes discussed by the keynote speakers. The chair of the conference will be Professor Richard Pring, Emeritus Professor of Education at Oxford University, and there will be a special briefing booklet on The Roots of the School Revolution which will amplify the key concepts including a special essay on the Secret Garden concept written by Warwick Mansell. The briefing booklet can be purchased from SOSS at £5 including post and packing, or is included free in the conference booking fee - £20 waged, £15 media, £8 concessions.

 While this is a stand-alone conference focussed primarily on how Callaghan's speech pushed education policy passed a Tipping Point,  if successful it is intended to open a debate, into the politicisation of education and its effects on English schooling.

 Bookings can be made through the direct link – http://buytickets.at/soss/65622- the Roots of the School Revolution, 

Copies of the booklet can be obtained via the Symposium on Sustainable Schools (SOSS) website at www.soss.org.uk

 Trevor Fisher                                                   18 9 16

 (1) REVINVENTING SCHOOLS ed John Bangs, John MacBeath and Maurice Galton, Routledge 2011, p166

 (2) The Importance of the curriculum.

Share on Twitter

Comments

Leah K Stewart's picture
Mon, 19/09/2016 - 11:08

Thank you Trevor and Janet for this. As discussed Trevor, I'm looking forward to sharing this event, the turning point you're exploring, with my Politics in Education eCourse community in the next days. It's a worthy topic to explore, I'm certain they'll be very interested in it and in the work of the SOSS.


Arthur Harada's picture
Mon, 19/09/2016 - 11:29

This conference sounds interesting but nevertheless is pointless in my opinion. What has been said has been said. What has been written and said has taken place. Possible strategies for the future are yet to be discovered as world circumstances at the time of Ruskin etc are now totally different and there is no value in re-visiting the past. But the conference does keep some blasts from the past in the education public and for some it is a day out from the day room ( House of Lords)


Emma Bishton's picture
Mon, 19/09/2016 - 11:49

Is it really fair to attribute more blame to New Labour? Having done a fairly extensive analysis of the evidence cited (or rather, cherry-picked) by Gove in favour of Free Schools, for example, it is hard to see it as anything but 'policy-based evidence'.


trevor fisher's picture
Tue, 20/09/2016 - 08:11

In response to Emma and Arthur, Callaghan was not new Labour and this is not a conference about the Gove years. The big issue which is not understood is that a hands off approach was demolished and a hands on approach adopted from 1976 onward. The 1988 ed reform act starts here. And that was Baker well before New Labour or Gove. We have to understand that once politicians did not intervene, so why do they do so all the time now? The Chief Inspector called in Donoughue as she was not informed of the speech. She understood the Inspectorate was now sidelined. Wilshaw starts here - and Amanda Spielman.

And if Arthur you think that this is ancient history, the front bench of the Conservative Party would not agree. Gibb cited the speech in his April 27th speech, and you ignore this. Are you a supporter of the School Revolution? The best way to keep it going is to sneer that this is no longer relevant. It is the alpha to the omega of returning to grammar schools, academies and politicians laying down teaching policies on maths and teaching reading (phonics) - so why not come along on October 19th and hear where it all went wrong? Or buy the booklet and see why Warwick Mansell will be talking about the Secret Garden....Warwick of course writes a weekly column for the Guardian.

Most people now think that it is natural that politicians run education.. the most important issue we have to grasp is that this was not the cast till 1976 and what happened then dictates what happens now.


trevor fisher's picture
Tue, 20/09/2016 - 09:09

In response to Emma and Arthur, Callaghan was not new Labour and this is not a conference about the Gove years. The big issue which is not understood is that a hands off approach was demolished and a hands on approach adopted from 1976 onward. The 1988 ed reform act starts here. And that was Baker well before New Labour or Gove. We have to understand that once politicians did not intervene, so why do they do so all the time now? The Chief Inspector called in Donoughue as she was not informed of the speech. She understood the Inspectorate was now sidelined. Wilshaw starts here - and Amanda Spielman.

And if Arthur you think that this is ancient history, the front bench of the Conservative Party would not agree. Gibb cited the speech in his April 27th speech, and you ignore this. Are you a supporter of the School Revolution? The best way to keep it going is to sneer that this is no longer relevant. It is the alpha to the omega of returning to grammar schools, academies and politicians laying down teaching policies on maths and teaching reading (phonics) - so why not come along on October 19th and hear where it all went wrong? Or buy the booklet and see why Warwick Mansell will be talking about the Secret Garden....Warwick of course writes a weekly column for the Guardian.

Most people now think that it is natural that politicians run education.. the most important issue we have to grasp is that this was not the cast till 1976 and what happened then dictates what happens now.


agov's picture
Wed, 21/09/2016 - 09:40

Will anyone at the conference, which sounds interesting despite Blunkett being there (though I won't be able to attend), especially what Lord Donoughue might say about what Jim Callaghan really intended, if indeed he actually shared that information (which may be unlikely), mention that one reason MPs and government make a nuisance of themselves blundering around with education policy is that they have to occupy themselves with something and they gave away the vast majority of their powers and responsibilities to the EU thereby leaving themselves with not much else they are allowed to do ?


agov's picture
Wed, 21/09/2016 - 09:40

Will anyone at the conference, which sounds interesting despite Blunkett being there (though I won't be able to attend), especially what Lord Donoughue might say about what Jim Callaghan really intended, if indeed he actually shared that information (which may be unlikely), mention that one reason MPs and government make a nuisance of themselves blundering around with education policy is that they have to occupy themselves with something and they gave away the vast majority of their powers and responsibilities to the EU thereby leaving themselves with not much else they are allowed to do ?


agov's picture
Wed, 21/09/2016 - 09:44

And I have no explanation for that double posting other than to note that I opened a new tab, accessed my webmail, and found that the email had not arrived, so I closed the webmail and the tab; then opened a new tab and accessed my webmail to find the email had arrived.


agov's picture
Wed, 21/09/2016 - 09:47

Actually, there was another point. Although the message saying an email had been sent appeared the new text in the 'Add new comment' box was still being displayed.


trevor fisher's picture
Wed, 21/09/2016 - 09:56

I sympathise with agov for double posting, it happened to me. Seems to be related to two confirmation emails in the inbox.

The wider issue for education is the international context, and the role of the OECD and PISA. In this context what Sally Tomlinson has to say about the economic pressures due to the oil crisis will be interesting. However things have got worse. The PISA league tables for example.

However there is no doubt in my mind that at that point it was a political imperative due to the Black Papers. Hinted at by Callaghan but not stated. I will be asking Donoghue how much impact William Tyndale had - the attitude of keeping parents out of schools and allowing teachers total freedom was disasterous. I am chasing the story that schools had white lines painted on the playground with the legend "Parents go no further". Two people have said they saw this in different towns, but no one will write it up.

So if anyone has the evidence for this it would be very useful and I will quote them in the briefing document. We need to understand the past. And Blunkett is a key witness, as well as being on our side of politics. He recommended Estelle Morris as his successor, and then Michael Barber and Adonis took over in reality. Knowing who is sympathetic and who the enemy within is vitally important. I would have invited Blunkett anyway - and possibly could see a conference in the future with Barber and Adonis, as I am a historian: whether I agree with them or not is not historically important. But on the politics, lets be clear that Blunkett was trying to keep true to fundamental principles and keep the system working for local communities. It was after he left that the rot set in.

Trevor FIsher,.


Leah K Stewart's picture
Wed, 21/09/2016 - 10:36

Can't help with the "Parents go no further" evidence, but recently at Alison Peacocks Wroxham Primary School I got chatting with some headteachers who told me how refreshing it was to be free to talk with the students. They'd been on other educational/professional development school visits, they said, where any communication between delegates and children was explicitly forbidden. On reflection, after experiencing the environment at Wroxham, they found the idea that a 'learning environment' could be shattered by people talking with each other kind of scary/odd.


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.