Ha, Ha, Ha: Education is sorted out by Hutton, Heffer and Hartley Brewer


Newspaper columnists are like buses you wait for ages for one to write about education and then suddenly three columns turn up at once. Hutton, Heffer and Hartley-Brewer responded in today’s Sundays to the sad, early death of Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools.

Will Hutton wants everyone to get on his bus. His piece begins in tears and ends in hopelessness. Hutton brought his kids up in Oxford and thought the local comprehensive schools were good enough for his children despite the opinions of those middle class parents  who sent their kids to the local private schools. Hutton argues that when Chris Woodhead became head of Ofsted the view of those middle class parents were echoed, he said that there were 15,000 teachers who should be sacked: “…his excoriation of soft teaching methods and praise of his insistence that kids needed to acquire both skills and knowledge for knowledge’s sake.” Hutton says this was echoed by Gove: “…that we need yet more of that [Woodhead’s] energy now to mount the ongoing fight against the liberal/left blob still defending the indefensible.” Then comes an odd bit of logic:

“Except there has been a quiet revolution taking place in our state schools, especially primary schools, which would be hard to imagine if the blob really was as effective in sustaining mediocrity as its critics say. The inconvenient truth is that the state school system is in the round good and improving. Sir Michael Wilshaw, who enraged so many educationalists by insisting when he took the job as chief inspector of schools that he would tolerate no excuses for failure, now declares that after 7,000 school inspections over the last year, 82% of primary schools and 71% of secondary schools are good or outstanding.”

Doesn’t this undermine Hutton’s position somewhat? Wilshaw, it could be argued, is ‘son of Woodhead’ and would this ‘quiet revolution’ have taken place if Blunkett, Woodhead, Gove, Wilshaw et al, not taken up the cudgels against ”blobish’ progressivism’? As Hutton says, the blob:

“…probably did over-emphasise comprehensiveness over excellence in the 1970s and 80s, but those days are long gone. Today’s left/right blend of commitment to universality, less bad funding, rigour and leadership has worked.”

Has it worked because of ‘the blob’, in spite of ‘the blob’ or because of the whole shebang: the deriding of the teaching profession, ofsted, and the heavily top down central diktats from Government? I’m not sure what Hutton is getting at. However it is clear what he wants, a fully comprehensive system where all go to their excellent local state school: “…in a system that spelled out their togetherness while teaching them with rigour. The English tragedy is that we will never get there.” And this, it seems, is because of the parents, in Oxford, and other places who opt out of the system and go private.

Meanwhile, over at the Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer has it all sorted, under the headline ‘The Tories must sort out this Marxist education mess’ he feels that since Tony Crosland’s boast that he would close ‘every fucking grammar school’ in Britain the Tories have done little to:

“Undo this social and intellectual savagery”

Most notably under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher who abolished many grammar schools as Education Secretary. But Heffer’s real enemy is:

“The Leftist bureaucracy in local authorities and the hard leftism of teacher training establishments, which pushed “progressive” values: but no-one took them on.”

Except, it seems, John Patten, a Tory education secretary who was not in awe of “the Marxists” but, apparently, John Major cut him ‘off at the knees’. Woodhead arrives somewhat heroically into this scene but made a mistake talking about substandard teachers: “It may have been correct but it lacked evidence and failed to emphasise how many teachers were exceptionally good…”

Gove, like Patten, was axed, apparently, by Lynton Crosby for upsetting the NUT… Then Heffer goes into English tragedy mode in which we: “…have created a society in which dysfunctional and ‘alternative’ families may flourish…” I wonder how many of these alternative families send their children to Bedales? And: “Too many children go to school feral. Even teachers who merit respect find it impossible to command it in classes polluted by such delinquents.” This, it seems, is why State schools are so important, to make up: “…for the increasing deficiencies of parents.”

Heffer also has a solution, though not the same as Hutton’s:

“…end all local authority control; end teacher training as we know it; give greater scope for severe punishments for parents who do not control their children; reform the examination system, which is beyond parody; sack bad teachers and pay good ones more…; create more selective schools; and provide proper vocational schools for the non-academic.”

Some of this makes me wonder whether Heffer knows what has been going on in Education over the last few years…

Over at the Sunday Times, Julia Hartley-Brewer believed that Chris Woodhead led a revolution in the state education system, this was a revolution clearly missed  by Hutton and Heffer. However, Hartley-Brewer, feels reformists: “…are still fighting ‘the enemy within’ or… ‘the blob'”. Again 15,000 useless teachers raise their ugly elbow patches and “fashionable teaching methods that didn’t work.” As Heffer points out we have no idea how many incompetent teachers there were and, no matter how hard people try to repeat it, we don’t know whether progressive teaching and learning was endemic in bad schools and missing from successful schools. Hartley Brewer goes on to explain that progressivism meant:

“…throwing away textbooks and fact-based knowledge and… ditching the use of phonics… as a result a generation of children were doomed to failure – and even those who succeeded were outstripped by their better qualified peers  in private schools…”

Some of this might be true, though which generation has been ‘doomed to failure’ I do not know… I would like to know, I want to know… what does Hartley-Brewer mean by ‘failure’? And these better qualified peers in private education…? Some of whom were taught in extraordinarily ‘progressive’ places, I mean our heir to the throne probably hates progressive education because he was taught in what many consider to be a ‘progressive’ establishment… I digress…

Hartley Brewer quotes a ‘senior government figure’ who echoes Hutton: “There is no reason why every local school shouldn’t be a great school…”But what stops them from being so is: “educational faculties in universities… where they are still fighting the use of phonics, textbooks and a knowledge-based curriculum.”

Hartley-Brewer writes:

“In many British schools textbooks are still only used for 10% of lesson time — in sharp contrast to the high-performing Finnish education system where they are the basis of 95% of classroom learning.”

But despite the hope that Hartley Brewer has in Free Schools, Wilshaw, and I paraphrase, ‘sending in hit squads to replace failing Heads from day one in coasting schools…’ she seems to not believe the ‘senior government figure’; she believes the one key reform as argued by Woodhead, is one that is ‘completely off the cards’ and that is….

“A return to academically selective schools…”

She finishes her piece saying that:

“Woodhead, the man, has died, but his dream of expelling mediocrity, failure and complacency from our schools lives on.”

The argument seems to be Hutton and the Government aiming for ‘good local schools’ against Heffer and Hartley-Brewer who want a return to selection. Add some phonics, text books and severely punish alternative and dysfunctional parents and their feral children, get rid of rubbish Head teachers in coasting schools and stop middle class parents sending their kids to private schools, or at least the progressive ones…

and the blob, blobs on… either as Marxist insurrectionists or quiet pro-Wilshaw revolutionaries…

Meanwhile teachers and children return to school tomorrow and take out their text books…


And the conversation goes on

4 thoughts on “Ha, Ha, Ha: Education is sorted out by Hutton, Heffer and Hartley Brewer

  1. Thanks Martin. Such a great review! I have to say that my heart sinks every time I read in the press about generations ‘doomed to failure’ or all that talk of a ‘lost generation’ when I was in education during the big crash. We’re not lost, or doomed… because we’re not dead. The only thing those headlines contribute to is a greater possibility of a self-fulfilling prophesy by hitting people’s confidence and a general public feeling of; oh well, let’s just try something else on the next lot and hope they turn out better. It’s such an odd way to talk about people. Perhaps this kind of talk is only accepted because those who say it aren’t all that used to people talking back?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s