what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

policy amnesia


Daily news is so deafening that we often forget significant items. Last October there was an independent report in Britain of which I've heard nothing since. It gives marvellous material for a case study in policy-making and implementation.
It was the biggest independent inquiry into primary education in four decades, based on 28 research surveys, 1,052 written submissions and 250 focus groups. It was undertaken by 14 authors, 66 research consultants and a 20-strong advisory committee at Cambridge University, led by Professor Robin Alexander, one of the most experienced educational academics in the country”

The Guardian presented the report in vivid terms -
In a damning indictment of Labour's record in primary education since 1997, a Cambridge University-led review today accuses the government of introducing an educational diet "even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools".
It claims that successive Labour ministers have intervened in England's classrooms on an unprecedented scale, controlling every detail of how teachers teach in a system that has "Stalinist overtones
". (Guardian 16 October 2009)
It says they have exaggerated progress, narrowed the curriculum and left children stressed-out by the testing and league table system.

To me, the most significant part of the paper’s coverage was the following sentence – “The report notes the questionable evidence on which some key educational policies have been based; the disenfranchising of local voice; the rise of unelected and unaccountable groups taking key decisions behind closed doors; the 'empty rituals' of consultations; the authoritarian mindset, and the use of myth and derision to underwrite exaggerated accounts of progress and discredit alternative views”.

It was all supposed to be so different. When New Labour gained power in 1997, the papers which flowed from their new Strategy Unit in the Cabinet Office spoke of a new dawn – “open, evidence-based policy-making”. And, since then, we have been buried by an avalanche of papers saying what progress is being made. The paper which set the tone can be found here In my more cynical moments, I wonder whether the net result of decades of reform has not been simply to give those in power a more effective language to help hold on to that power while changing as little as possible! I have a theory that the more an organisation talks of such things as “transparency”, “accountability” and “effectiveness”, the more secretive, complacent and immoral it is! Emerson put it very succinctly almost a century ago - “The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons!”

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