I visited the Houses of Parliament for the first time on Monday and felt like a star-struck tourist – what a place is the Palace, despite its current arthritic state. I was lucky enough to have separate meetings with a number of MPs, both Conservative and Labour, as well as meeting up with my brother, himself a political special advisor. I found all the MPs positive, principled and professional – it’s such a shame that they are often characterised as having their snouts in the trough.
The subject of the meetings was ‘Education’, and linked in some part to my visit to Sierra Leone next week. However, it’s impossible to talk to MPs without the shroud of Brexit hanging in the air somewhere. It’s just there, being battled over like the startled child of two warring parents.
My own feelings on Brexit have altered recently. Surely, if people are serious that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, then they have to do things in an almost revolutionary way, something that is a huge change to the current status quo. Because anything else would end up being more of the same, except a lot worse. We’d be the kid nobody wants to play with at the birthday party, banished forever to the naughty chair.
Of course, outstanding leadership could have avoided it all entirely. It could have influenced the EU’s (and the UK’s) future from a seat of importance, gravitas and respect. Imagine the money saved, the influence extended and the focus, on our own issues (education being one of them), intensified.
For the record, my preference would be to return – a much more optimistic and brave verb than ‘remain’. I’m a returner.
But as that seems unlikely to happen, I think next best is an acceptance that we might have chaos and economic hardship for a few years, but that a new model may emerge bright and modern behind it.
So what’s this got to do with education? Well, I think quite a lot. Because it occurred to me that we may have done exactly the same in education regarding our obsession with destroying local education authorities, ‘banging on’ about academies, free schools, grammar schools and any other type of school that’s (allegedly) free of interference. Like the hated EU, we have concluded that it’s impossible to work alongside obstructive local authorities, let alone try and challenge their more silly ideas. Too much like hard work.
Instead, just like with the EU, we just turned our back on them, changed the structures and hoped for the best. Which is exactly where we are now.
We are now finding out that the replacements to local education authorities, multi-academy trusts (MATs), are themselves turning out to be a bit of a mixed bag – some appear full of principled, honourable public servants, some typified by faceless paper-shufflers and ‘Apprentice’ wannabees, and some a little duplicitous and quite attractive to empire-building sociopaths. Erm, pretty much the same as LEAs then.
I return to the central theme of this blog; that an absence of talented, principled and committed leaders will render any system a failure. Is it really worth spending so much money on changing a system to be left with ‘more of the same’?
I cannot see the point of leaving the EU only to be left with a neutered version of what we had before. It’s a sinful waste of money. And for the same reason, I’m not sure that ‘setting schools free’, only to see them revert to compliance and dull standardisation, is what we intended either.
But let’s be optimistic. In the end, fabulous leaders will make the difference, not structures, and there are plenty of good ones around, and, yes, that includes those in the Palace of Westminster.