LSN quiz: Are you a member of the Blob?

Janet Downs's picture
Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to destroy the Blob. The Blob, he says, stands in the way of his reforms and must be eradicated.

So who are members of the Blob? David Green, Chief Executive of think-tank Civitas, identified one on Newsnight*. He said fellow panellist Fiona Millar was part of the Blob because she was a Chair of Governors and an activist. This led Fiona to light-heartedly tweet if Toby Young was also in the Blob because he’d been Chair of Governors at West London Free School.

According to Young, Fiona is the “Blobbyest member of the Blob in the history of Blobbery.” His reason: because of her connection with the Welsh Assembly's Ministerial Advisory Group specialising in education and (here’s the clincher) “26 per cent of the Welsh population over 16 have no recognised qualifications.”

Quite what the paper qualifications of the entire adult population for Wales from teenage school leavers to centenarians tell us about the Welsh education system in 2014 is unclear. But leave that aside. Take the LSN quiz and discover if you too are a member of the Blob.

Answer Yes or No to the following questions:"Are you now or have you ever been…

1A teacher who has not been publicly praised by Michael Gove?
2A teacher trainer?
3A member of a teaching union?
4An elected representative to a local authority?
5An employee of a local authority whose job, however indirectly, involved education?
6A member of a governing body in a maintained school?
7A member of a university education faculty?
8A critic of any aspect of Gove’s education policies?
9A member of the Welsh Assembly’s Ministerial Advisory Group specialising in education?

How did you score?

If you answered Yes to any one of the above then you are part of the Blob. You must be destroyed. You will have your ideas misrepresented (you support “child-led” anarchy in the classroom); you will be told you are complacent because “one in five children leave school unable to read and write”; you will be personally attacked as an “Enemy of Promise” peddling bigoted, backward policies; you will be on the receiving end of hysterical articles in the Telegraph and the Mail.

The GERM** will do all it can to kill the Blob. But there are encouraging signs it won’t succeed. Read this summary of an address by Pasi Sahlberg, an education expert (and therefore member of the Blob).


And where did I find this subversive, Blob-inspired speech? It was on the website of the Department for Education.

*The Newsnight episode is currently available here. The interview starts about 12.35 minutes into the programme. Note that the head of the free school on the panel favours “child-centred” education. He is, therefore, a member of the Blob.

**GERM = Global Education Reform Movement. Symptoms: a belief that competition between schools will drive up standards; standardised curriculum and benchmarks; test-based accountability to the extent that it governs teachers' pay and careers; a belief that "choice" for parents will increase competition. This link to the DfE explains GERM.
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Phil Taylor's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 10:31

Re 'child-centred', even the clown who was there to spout Goveyisms had to withdraw from 'child-centred' eventually and use the term 'child-led'.

Does anyone seriously believe that the problem with our schools (if there is a problem apart from the destruction of the whole system which is underway) is that they are 'child-led'?

It's farcical. But also tragic.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 10:56

Phil - David Green, like so many who attack the Blob, misrepresent "child-centred" as "child-led". The latter, of course, implies anarchy where children please themselves.

Another example of deliberate misrepresentation is in this article praising Gove for taking on the Blob (David v Goliath, apparently). "Collaborative learning" becomes "15-year-olds chatting among themselves."

Funny, when I was teaching "collaborative learning" meant activities such as setting up and running a business, producing a newspaper in a day, devising a mini-lesson or poetry performance and presenting a summary of points learned.

Didn't realise the pupils were just chatting among themselves.

Jane Eades's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 10:37

Funnily enough when I first glanced at a reference to the blob I thought it referred to Gove! I did think that, although it might describe physical appearance, the word implied inactivity which did not describe his actions - on the other hand, it doesn't describe Gove's blob either. Let us keep up the opposition. Hail to the Blob.

Andrew Bethell's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 11:07

What was also interesting about the Newsnight encounter was that although Green turned on Fiona accusing her of being part of the 'Blob', in fact Robert Wilne, Head of London Academy of Excellence an ex-public school teacher was displaying all the characteristics of the 'Blob". He saw inter-school collaboration as a prime ingredient for improvement and even, god forbid, was quoting Piaget. the problem for Gove is that the only real definition that works for membership of the 'blob' is: "those who disagree with Gove". Trouble for Gove is that is not a group not confined to a few lefty academics and campaigning journalists. It is more or less the entire education profession including those working in the schools that Gove seems to approve of.

FJM's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 11:11

I have encountered a member of the Blob, an LEA adviser of some sort. He was complicit in the persecution of a member of my department, unprofessional in his lesson observations in this role, and silly enough to admit to others in the school that he did not really understand what was going in on science lessons, without realising that he was so despised that all of this would find its way back to me. I was amongst a number of staff who complained about him, and I wrote a long letter to my Head expressing my feelings about him in absolutely unambiguous language, which I think helped to reduce the frequency of his visits to the school. This creature, whom I would charitably describe as an unprincipled careerist, is now in a senior position in the LEA, which I shall obviously not mention, and, thank goodness, I am now in another part of the country. My experience with Ofsted inspectors, however, has been entirely positive, so perhaps other contributors to LSN will understand why I am sometimes less than enthusiastic about LEAs and not so hostile towards Ofsted. This can obviously all be written off as an anecdote, but I still feel strongly about it, having seen a number of careers wrecked by LEA intervention.

FJM's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 11:18

Children working in groups definitely has an important part to play, as in science practicals, for example, but many of my pupils are also happy to engage in what many educationalists call 'passive learning', a put-down for 'listening to the teacher.' A boring teacher will produce boring lessons, no matter how many different activities are organised, whether group work, sticking post-it notes all over the place, making posters, watching video clips, looking at power points etc etc. Some teachers can hold the attention of a class for an hour, talking, taking and asking questions and so on. If it works, it's good. This, I believe, is the current Oftsed approach, whereas I think what Mr Gove characterises as the Blob, unfairly perhaps, stands for minimal teacher direction.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 13:27

Janet - This is brilliant. So is the link to the address of Pasi Sahlberg.

In my next post I will show that the Blob also infects the commanding heights of the English public school system. It is just mainstream, evidence-based, educational practice all over the world where standards are high.

Brian's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 14:27

'I have encountered a member of the Blob, an LEA adviser of some sort.'

You seem to have encountered a poor (in your opinion) LA adviser and therefore said they are a member of the 'Blob'. I don't see the logic of that... all LA advisers are members of the Blob? The Blob is a place for bad people so anyone you don't like is a member? Gove's definition of 'the Blob' appears to be anybody who doesn't agree with him. I didn't think it was repository for anyone who seems to have been not very good at their job ... or maybe very good at their job. My experience is that the adviser focus is on securing the best education for pupils, not coming first in a popularity contest.

FJM's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 15:33

I am sure Gove would agree that being first in a popularity contest does not matter. I felt that the LEA blobbist's behaviour and approach was beneficial to neither my colleague nor the pupils, but he has now ascended to higher things. Funny that some mishap at an academy can be used to condemn the whole idea, but LEA personnel are infallible.

Phil Taylor's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 15:41

I'm sure that Give would agree with you but I think you'd be hard put to find many people who would disagree with the notion that Gove courts popularity, with what he hopes is a dominant section of his party, every time he opens his mouth.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 16:09

FJM - criticising the flaws in the academy system or exposing the propaganda that surrounds the system that one is criticising individual academies. Many academies are good or outstanding and when they are they exhibit the same qualities as good or outstanding non-academies.

That said, if a fault is found in an academy which points to a fault in the system (eg lax oversight of trustees' use of taxpayers' money) then it is right to point out the flaw in the system.

No doubt that makes me a member of The Blob.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 16:11

FJM - It doesn't follow that meeting one incompetent adviser means that all advisers were incompetent. Neither does it follow that in criticising the academy system that LA personnel are beyond criticism.

Brian's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 16:52

Who said LEA personnel are infallible? Creating your own fallacies in order to attempt to make a point seems a bit Govian to me.

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 17:50

I really enjoyed working with the last Welsh Education Minister, Leighton Andrews. He put in place several excellent initiatives designed to address some of the weaknesses in the Welsh school system. He was advised by several heads as well, but I daresay head teachers must be now consigned to the blob too.

FJ Murphy's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 22:27

I think Mr Gove firmly believes that what he is doing is good for education, and any popularity is incidental. In the same way, I am sure that the unions who oppose every reform have the children's interest at heart, fingers crossed.

FJ Murphy's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 22:28

Please remind me how the Welsh education system came out in the latest PISA tests.

FJ Murphy's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 22:30

I expect Gove would convict him of Blobbery.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 07:40

FJM - believing something, however passionately, doesn't mean the belief is based on firm foundations. Gove's reforms are based on misrepresentation supported by divisive rhetoric. His latest attack on the Blob is typical - this takes attention away from well-argued criticisms of his position to OTT warnings of the enemy within.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 07:47

FJM - Wales did poorly in PISA as you know. But there have been criticisms of PISA methodology and it is unwise to judge a school system on the basis of one set of results.

That said, countries have used PISA results to kick start reforms. Germany, for example, is slowly moving away from its selective system and its PISA results have improved. So has Poland. Correlation isn't causation, of course, but if England were to follow these examples then the few remaining grammar schools would close and become comprehensive.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 08:56

FJM - Gove would accuse anyone who criticised his policies as being a member of the Blob. You criticised his ideas for an extended school day - that makes you, too, part of the Blob.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 11:43

FJM - The principal function of trade unions is to protect and enhance the pay and working conditions of their members. They don't have to apologise for that. You are a direct beneficiary. The teacher unions at present are fighting an attempt in the Academy and Free School sector to degrade pay and impose what amounts to zero hours contracts, not just onto their members, but potentially all teachers. You, too may potentially benefit if this fight is successful, and suffer if it is not. The teacher unions are also currently fighting government attempts to impose degraded pensions even though the teachers' pension scheme is not a drain on the taxpayer. If they succeed, you will benefit from that too, despite apparently your being a freerider.

A very important part of teachers' working conditions is working in successful schools with happy teachers, pupils and parents. Teachers' unions don't oppose all reforms. For example teachers' unions supported the Raising of the School Leaving Age even though it brought considerable challenges to their members; likewise comprehensive reorganisation.

Of course you have the right not to join or support a teacher union, but it is wholly understandable if those that do (I am a retired member) find your constant sniping tiresome.

A Cooper's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 21:57

I scored 5 in the quiz. Shall I get my coat?

agov's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 11:47

You should be pleased.

I only got 2. I somehow feel cheated.

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