Labour Twigg’s Time Warp: An Office for Educational Improvement, Evidence and Standards

The BBC reports today that Labour education spokesman Stephen Twigg has called for the creation of an independent office to raise standards in education in England.

On so many grounds this is a mistake. We have written at length about standards in the past but it is clear that Time Warp Twigg, new to the job, has a lot of catching up to do.

Given this, we thought it would be useful to bring Twiggy up to speed.

Firstly, you don’t teach your Grandma to suck eggs, they say, so why does Twigg think that setting up a “Office for Educational Improvement” will make any difference? The only difference it will make is to the public purse as taxpayers will have to shell out for a bunch of self-appointed experts to run around justifying their jobs with endless meetings, publications and presentations.

Secondly, the whole notion of objective research is a myth. Kids are not rats in a laboratory. If you want to know what works, leave it those on the ground who know best i.e. leave it to the teachers. Seeking objectivity in education research is a Fool’s Errand.

Thirdly, why do we need to be compared internationally? In fact, why do we need to be compared at all? Education is not a competition, with winners and losers, but a human right. Competitive international comparisons are used by authoritarian regimes to brag about their achievements. Is that what the UK has become?

Fourthly, standards are only as good as the paper they are written on. In fact, that is their only value. Apart from this, they simply confuse the teaching process, and waste valuable time and money. Educating is not something that lends itself to standardisation because teachers and pupils are people. They are not robots.

Lastly, “evidence, evidence, evidence” to Twigg most probably means top-down, detached and anachronistic social science. Instead of pointless large-scale research studies like these why not let teachers and schools work with the evidence they already have to hand i.e. their students? They only have to ask. Why bother with a study that is out-of-date before its findings have even been published?

Twiggy says that “Evidence is something that is shockingly undervalued when it comes to education reform.” Yet, this is a lie. Teachers and schools work with evidence everyday of their lives. It is politicians who ignore the evidence or, as in the case for the War on Iraq, make it up.

Twigg’s language is a bad omen for teachers and a bad omen for kids. It is also a sad indictment of the state of political thinking on education in the UK. Both parties are so bereft of ideas that they can’t engage in anything other than the discourse of standards, evidence and research, which was discredited years ago.

A couple of other points: Twigg accuses his Tory counterpart Gove and the far left of being dogmatic. Is this a joke? Does he understand what dogma means?

And on his comment that “Too many of our educational cures are aimed at seeking sympathetic headlines,” does Twigg not think this is a little hypocritical given that he is talking to the BBC?

Now we have a lot of time for Twigg – or did – as he is a proper state school kid but his recent forays have been woeful. 3Rs? Standards? Is that the best this guy can do?

Unfortunately, however, the problem with education is actually much bigger than the whimsy of Twigg or Gove. The real problem is that education is in the hands of politicians at all. Until the task of educating the next generations of citizens is returned to the people, we can expect partisan politicians to belittle the achievements of the past, invent problems that don’t exist, pretend they have the answers to these problems, and refuse to listen to the people at the front-line who actually know what they’re doing.

The solution is then not an “Office For Pretending To Be Doing Something to Justify My Job &/Or For The Purposes Of Rewarding My Friends in The Civil Service”, nor is it a set of mythical standards or the red-herring that is objectivity in social research.

No, the solution is a non-partisan and truly free education system.

We live in hope.

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