Ofsted: Gove’s Trojan Horse

For some time now it has been clear that Ofsted functions as the political instrument of central government.  Until recently this instrumentalization was mostly manifest in general terms; for governments intent on scapegoating teachers for the many failings of British society, Ofsted’s inquisitorial inspection system constituted a useful blunt instrument for intimidating and bullying schools, subjecting the entire education system to factory-style production quotas and markers of achievement of the type that Stalin would have approved of.

Initially introduced by John Major as a means of empowering parents, Ofsted has become a tool of both Labour and Conservative governments, enforcing and imposing constantly shifting educational targets and criteria that too often appear designed either to gain political kudos for raising ‘standards’, on one hand, or for ensuring that schools fail and fall short in order to justify the further privatisation of schools and the dismantling of the state education system.

Under the Coalition, Ofsted has essentially acted as a battering ram for the government’s academy/free schools program.  In 2010 new inspection criteria introduced under Michael Wilshaw resulted in an exponential increase in the numbers of schools downgraded or placed into special measures, and a concomitant decrease in the numbers labelled outstanding.

This system has had an extraordinarily destructive impact, which I have seen here in my own town, where two fine schools were savaged by recent Ofsted inspections,  one of which was placed into special measures.    From the government’s point of view, all this has been extremely convenient, because the more schools fail, or are seen to fail, the more it can present academies and free schools as a solution.

This has been the essential project of Michael Gove, one of the most blinkered, ideological, egocentric and incompetent education secretaries in modern times.  Gove is a man who has spent much of his time peering at the world through a very narrow keyhole, who despises the state education system and anyone who disagrees with him – a category that includes a lot of people.

In Ofsted chief inspector Michael Wilshaw, a former academy head teacher, he appears to have found a more-than-willing accomplice.  Like Gove, Wilshaw is clearly an ambitious man who cannot be accused of a lack of self-regard, and he has generally done what the Education Secretary expects him to do.

This collusion  was blatant enough even before the Birmingham ‘Trojan horse’ scandal, but the events of the last week have comprehensively destroyed Ofsted’s claims to be impartial and free from political interference.   As a result of Gove’s wildly over-the-top response to a hoax letter concerning  a purported Islamist plot to take over Birmingham schools, Ofsted re-inspected 21 schools, six of which have been placed under special measures.

Two of the schools it downgraded had been previously found to be outstanding. These reassessments were not based on educational criteria, but on the supposed promotion of a conservative religious agenda in Muslim-majority schools – an agenda that Ofsted, like Gove himself, has mindlessly and dangerously conflated with ‘extremism’.  Not only has Ofsted avoided any attempt to define what exactly constitutes ‘extremism’, but it has admitted in its own report that it did not find any evidence of it.

What it did find was somewhat inconclusive evidence of some attempts to promote/impose a religious education into some of the schools inspected, that included a school trip to Mecca and Medina, a statement rejecting evolution, and an attempt by some school governors in one primary school to ban same-sex swimming classes.

There is certainly an argument to be had here about the role of religion in the state education system – particularly in its more reactionary manifestations, whether Islamic or Christian, and also about the undue influence that school governors may have on particular schools.

But this is not the discussion that Gove and Ofsted are interested in having.   Long before Gove assumed his gimlet-eyed grip on the education system that we have all come to know and love, he was a British neocon, who echoed the ‘moral clarity’ idiocies emanating from the likes of American war on terror ideologues like Richard Perle and William Bennett.

In his book Celsius 7/7, Gove warned of a ‘widespread reluctance to acknowledge the real scale and nature of the Islamist terror threat’  in Britain, which he attributed to ‘ the failure to scrutinise, monitor or check the actions, funding and operation of those committed to spreading the Islamist word in Britain’.

For Gove, and for those who think like him, the ‘Islamist word’ is a fairly broad category, which enables him to imagine a seamless conveyor belt that starts with segregated classrooms and swimming classes and ends up with suicide bombers.  Like Melanie Philipps or Bat Ye’or, Gove imagines ‘Islamism’ in essentially conspiratorial terms, and is certainly not the type to look skeptically at allegations of an Islamist ‘trojan horse’ – especially if uncovering such a conspiracy is likely to further his political ambitions.

To its eternal discredit, Ofsted and Wilshaw have done everything possible to help make Gove’s fantasies real.  Like so  many managerial bullies, Wilshaw likes other people to fail, not himself.  In his letter to Gove he is at pains to point out that culture of fear and intimidation has developed in some of the schools since their previous inspection.’ One of those schools is Park View academy, which Wilshaw personally visited in 2012 when Ofsted rated it ‘outstanding.’

Wilshaw was fulsome in his praises of the school declaring ‘ If a school like this does well, why shouldn’t any school do well?’  Now Park View has been placed in special measures, and one of its governors Tahrir Aram- who was also present during Wilshaw’s 2012 visit – has been singled out for promoting this ‘culture of fear and intimidation.’

Having exonerated himself from any involvement in this outcome, Wilshaw goes on to indict everyone else in accordance with His Master’s instructions.  Yet despite the excessive Islamism that Wilshaw attributes to certain governors and schools,  which has mysteriously sprouted up since he last visited them,   Ofsted has found no evidence of extremist behavior amongst any pupils or staff.

Knowing that this won’t be good enough for Gove however, Wilshaw nevertheless indicts Birmingham’s schools for having failed to protect students from ‘the risks’  of radicalisation and extremism.  In Oldknow primary, Wilshaw declares that ‘ pupils and staff are poorly equipped to understand, respond to or calculate risks associated with extreme or intolerant views.’

Birmingham City Council, on the other hand, is accused of failing support schools ‘in their efforts to keep pupils safe from the potential risks of radicalisation and extremism.’  What are these ‘risks’ or ‘potential risks’?   And what makes Ofsted qualified to assess them?  What in fact does Ofsted understand by ‘radicalisation and extremism?’

Ofsted doesn’t say and clearly has no interest in finding out.  Instead it merely parrots the empirically-dubious conceptualisation of Islamist ‘radicalization’ that seeks to explain political violence in terms of inherent cultural or religious practices.  It also assumes that the government’s ‘Prevent’ program is the antidote to such radicalization, without any attempt to assess whether these strategies are even effective.

Even the Gracelands nursery is accused of being ‘unaware of local authority or government guidelines on the prevention of extreme and radical behavior.’   Given that the pupils at Gracelands range from three to five years old, more rational observers might  conclude that preventing extreme and radical behavior was not a high priority.

But when the pupils are Muslims, it’s clearly a different matter, and Wilshaw, like Gove, appears to assume that without due vigilance these kids would probably be bowing down to their dark cult or strapping on toy explosives.  In the same way Wilshaw worries that the inspected schools ‘ do not ensure that a broad and balanced curriculum equips pupils to live and work in a multi-cultural, multi-faith and democratic Britain’ and that ‘children are not being encouraged to develop tolerant attitudes towards all faiths and all cultures.’

Is that a problem in these schools?  Maybe or maybe not, but I really doubt Ofsted’s ability to assess the matter dispassionately one way or another.   And in any case these criticisms have a very different weighting when applied to Muslim-majority schools.  My daughter, for example, when to a Church of England-aided primary.   During that time I don’t remember any attempts to ‘encourage’ the children  to develop ‘tolerant attitudes towards all faiths and all cultures’, though I do remember a fair amount of Christianity.

But ‘intolerance’ whether real or imagined, always has more sinister ramifications when Muslims are involved, at least according to Gove and Ofsted.  And now,  the antidote to their intolerance is a good dose of ‘British values’ in order to help Muslim children prepare to live in a multicultural society; the imposition of a new policing regime based entirely on Gove and Ofsted’s limited understanding of terrorism and terrorism-prevention; and yet another recasting of British Muslims as cultural aliens and the enemy within.

So Ofsted and Wilshaw must surely be congratulated for contributing to this outcome.   They may not have found a Trojan Horse, but no one can fault them for trying.  And the rest of us can only think ourselves lucky once again that the nation’s education system is in the hands of such wise, thoughtful, and enlightened men, who will always put the public interest before their own.

 

How the Greens Subverted the Nation’s Children

Michael Gove has been in the papers a lot recently.  I still can’t think of him enthusiastically describing London as a place to have ‘loads of hot sex’ without feeling a combination of astonishment and faint queasiness in my stomach.

The juxtaposition of Gove and ‘hot sex’ is such an unlikely and unappetizing combination for so many reasons, and the fact that the Education Minister would use this expression at all merely confirms him as one of the most obnoxious and revolting characters amongst the strange and grotesque collection of gargoyles that the British electoral system has inexplicably propelled into positions of power over the nation.

Be that as it may, there are many more reasons to be repelled by the Education Secretary/Minister for Hot Sex.  And just when you think you have exhausted all the possibilities, Gove can always be guaranteed to provide another.    Take yesterday’s report in the Daily Mail that ‘eco-activist’ teachers are poisoning  the minds of the nation’s children with ‘green propaganda’.

These allegations are based on the report Climate Control: Brainwashing in Our Schools by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a thinktank set up by climate change ‘skeptic’ Nigel Lawson, which supposedly found that eco-activist teachers were being given ‘free rein’ in the nation’s schools, and that innocent pupils were being transformed into ‘foot soldiers of the green movement.’

The report strongly suggests that these developments are part of a global conspiracy to ‘indoctrinate’ children and promote a ‘sustainability agenda’ supposedly dating back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.   Naturally the EU is involved, as well as UNESCO, the UN, and the IPCC, all of whom share the same dark desire’  to ‘ link primary and secondary schools across Europe to discuss, engage, and commit to undertake actions to limit the change in climate.’

Goodness, I hear you cry, can it really have come to this?   But the plot thickens drastically, as we learn that educational initiatives such as the Climate Change Schools Project are engaging in Maoist-style attempts to ‘train children to police their parents’.   And then there is the sinister Geographical Association, which wants to use geography lessons to ‘encourage children to think about issues such as the alleged imminent exhaustion of fossil fuels, and what concrete actions – taking showers rather than baths, cycling rather than using cars, recycling newspapers and so on.’

No!  Please don’t go on!  I hear you saying.   Can these climate changers really be so evil and so unscrupulous?   Yes they can.  There are Environmental Science exam papers which ask pupils to write a letter explaining ‘ why recycling is a good thing/what things should be recycled/where to put items for recycling.’ 

The report found that teaching on ‘sustainability’ and green issues pervaded the whole  curriculum, from French to religious education, and that one RE exam asked children to ‘explain actions religious people might take to look after the planet’ accompanied by a marking scheme whose suggested answers included ‘avoid polluting the world’, ‘recycle’, ‘reduce carbon  footprint’  – and even ‘protest when necessary’ and ‘join action groups such as Greenpeace’.

By now you must be as sick to the stomach as I was, but stay with me reader because the worst is yet to come.   According to the report, the ‘curriculum has been undergoing a long process of subversion, one that is now largely complete.’   And this process of ‘subversion’ has deliberately reduced our children to gibbering terrorized babes, peering out above the blankets at a climate change education syllabus in which ‘ the slant is on scares, on raising fears, followed by the promotion of detailed guidance on how pupils should live, as well as on what they should think.’

The report also found ‘ widespread evidence that children are becoming scared and disturbed by the constant refrain of doom from their teachers.’   This ‘evidence’ consisted of a survey of  500 American pre-teens which found that ‘ one in three children aged between 6 and 11 feared that the Earth would not exist when they reached adulthood because of global warming and other environmental threats.’

Another 2007 survey in the UK ‘ showed that half of young children aged between seven and 11 are anxious about the effects of global warming, often losing sleep because of their concern ‘,  while a UNICEF study reported that ‘ three-quarters of 11 to 16-year-olds in the UK were worried about how global warming was going to change the world.’

The report does not show that any of these conclusions were the result of actions by teachers.  Nor does it consider another possibility, namely that children might be afraid of climate change and concerned about the future of the planet because of what they see on the news rather than because of ‘brainwashing’.

Last July Gove was obliged to backtrack on plans to remove climate change from geography classes at key stages 1-3, following pressure from teachers, environmentalists, and scientists.   Over 21,000 pupils signed a petition protesting the government’s plans to change the syllabus.  No one has ever suggested that teachers or ‘eco-activists’ made them do this.

Nevertheless the Minister for Hot Sex doesn’t like to be thwarted,  and he has told the world that he views the GWPF’s report ‘with concern’. and warned head teachers that ‘Schools should not teach that a particular political or ideological point of view is right – indeed it is against the law for them to do so.’

So now it could be against the law to teach kids that it might be a good idea to recycle?   Anything is possible in the Minister for Hot Sex’s world.  After all, one of Gove’s spokesmen says

‘Ministers are clear that the new national curriculum must equip young people with the core knowledge they need to understand the weather, climate, the Earth’s atmosphere, physical geography and the interaction between nature and the environment. That means in both science and geography, pupils must learn the facts and processes which underpin public discussion of climate change. They must not be directed towards a particular campaigning agenda.’

It’s in moments like this that you are reminded why the fate of the planet is in peril.  It’s not just the almost psychopathic indifference to the disastrous events that we have already seen in this country and in many others, or the constant stream of warnings emanating from scientists about the catastrophic possibilities that might lie ahead, it’s the sheer gimlet-eyed stupidity and fanaticism of the individuals who actually have their hands on the levers of power.

Lawson’s organization is – mystifyingly – a registered charity, even though it functions as a lobbying group to express its concern ‘about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated’  to mitigate global warming.  Nigel Lawson has business connections to coal-producing companies including Europe’s biggest single polluter,  the Belachatow Power Plant.

Who actually funds the GWPF and why won’t it say?  Could these connections also indicate an ‘agenda’?   Don’t expect the Minister for Hot Sex, or the Daily Mail, or James Delingpole to ask these questions, in their rush to protect the brains of the nation’s children which merely demonstrates an alarming lack of activity in their own.

Three Cheers for Jess Green

Anybody who is or has been a teacher in the UK, or is living or married to one, will recognize the reality depicted in Jess Green’s searing and witty indictment of Michael Gove that is currently picking up thousands of hits on Youtube:

And anyone who cares about the future of the country’s education system should see it too.  Because Green’s mini tour de force isn’t just a stinging indictment of one of the most repellent politicians in the Coalition’s gallery of ghouls: it’s also a brilliant and passionate corrective to the endless attacks on the teaching profession emanating from the government and its mouthpieces.

For decades now, teachers have become scapegoats for pretty much every failing in British society.   No other single profession has been so relentlessly attacked by the political class,  and no other profession has been subject to such relentless contempt from people who know very little about what teaching actually entails or what happens in a classroom.

Both Labour and Conservative politicians have approached the whole subject of education from the starting point that a) they know more about teaching than teachers themselves b) without their interventions and reforms the education system would collapse c) teachers are not to be trusted d) any teachers who complain about their endless tinkering with the education system are merely defending their own mediocrity,  ‘making excuses for failure’, or pushing some ideological agenda etc.

The belief that teachers are inherently untrustworthy, lazy and unprofessional has resulted in the imposition of the primitive and bullying micro-managed inspection regime of Ofsted – a hateful organization which has effectively subjected the entire profession to a culture of bullying and fear in an attempt to ‘drive up standards.’

Ofsted’s management style is embodied by its chief inspector Michael Wilshaw, an arrogant, smug and self-regarding Tory apparatchik, who, like Gove himself, interprets any criticism from teachers as a sign that he is doing everything right.  In 2011, shortly before Wilshaw became chief inspector he delivered a valedictory speech from the Mossbourne Community Academy where he had been headteacher, in which he quoted from a letter written to him by an ‘underperforming teacher’, describing  him as  a ‘crude and inconsiderate’ man, with ‘the manners of a guttersnipe’,  who had been a ‘disaster’ for the school’s once happy teachers.

For Wilshaw, such accusations were a source of pride. ‘The lesson of that,’ he crowed, ‘is that if anyone says to you that “staff morale is at an all-time low” you will know you are doing something right.’

What a jerk.   Wilshaw is a strong supporter of performance-related pay, who has said that teachers who are ‘out of the gate’ at 3 pm shouldn’t be promoted or paid well.  Of course Wilshaw knows perfectly well that most teachers who are ‘out of the gate’ don’t stop working just because they aren’t in school, but he would rather reinforce the public stereotype of whinging teachers swinging the lead

In January this year Wilshaw insisted ‘ there is a difference between a professional with a legitimate criticism and a serial complainer with another moan. One tends to be listened to; the other does not,’ in a speech describing the fact that ‘nearly 40 percent’ of new teachers leave the profession within five years as a ‘scandal.’   Whose fault is that?  Naturally,  according to Wilshaw, its was the quality of teacher training, not the institution that he heads – a problem that he promised to resolve by ensuring that Ofsted would ‘get tougher’ on training providers.

The evidence emanating again and again from the teaching profession is that Ofsted has got tough enough.   At its 2012 conference, even  the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) voted by a massive majority in favour of the motion:

‘Successful careers are damaged or destroyed on a daily basis as more schools are put into categories. Fear reigns and confidence wanes as Ofsted waves its stick. We must stand up to the bully-boy tactics of Michael Wilshaw. We deplore his negative rhetoric which is demoralising our members and is creating a climate of fear in schools.’

I have seen the destructive impact of these ‘bully-boy tactics’ twice in the last few years in my local town.   In 2011,  the local secondary school that my daughter attends was threatened with ‘special measures’ on the basis of new data criteria introduced by Ofsted’s chief inspector Ofsted in 2011.  That inspection was preceded by the kind of fear and dread that would have made Kierkegaard seem chilled-out by comparison, and its report describing the school as ‘inadequate’ was a massive kick in the teeth for the staff, children and parents.

That same academic year the school  achieved  a 99.6% A level pass rate 60% of results at grade B or above, in addition to 70% of students earning 5 A*-C grades at GCSE.  In September 2012 the school was upgraded in a follow-up inspection to ‘good’ – a category that is as meaningless and arbitrary as Ofsted’s earlier verdict.

Then last year my daughter’s former primary school was placed in ‘special measures’, and this year its headteacher – the same one who was there when my daughter attended the school – was suspended after a group of parents wrote to Ofsted calling for her to be sacked.

During this time I read the utterly ignorant description of both schools as ‘failing’ schools in the local press – and in the latter case on the BBC.

I did not always see eye-to-eye with that headteacher when our daughter was in the school, but it is shocking and lamentable than a woman who has dedicated her whole life to children and her local community should have been forced to end her career in this way.

That schools should be inspected and improved is beyond dispute, but the idea that the education of the nation’s children depends on the imposition of this culture of fear, intimidation and public humiliation is a travesty.   Most teachers accomplish more in a single day than your average silk-tied politician achieves in an entire lifetime.

Instead of blame, bullying and intimidation, they deserve support and help, so that they can do their job better.

Michael Gove and Sally Morgan: Alien versus Predator

To say that I don’t hold Education Secretary Michael Gove in high regard would be understating it considerably.  But the ongoing pseudo-row about his refusal  to extend Ofsted chair Sally Morgan’s contract is one thing that I am not going to hold against him or get particularly exercised about.

With an unvarying eye for whipping up storms in teacups that characterizes our woeful political class, Labour and the Lib Dems appear to be intent  on transforming  ‘Baroness Morgan of Huyton’ into  the victim of a politically-inspired Tory purge of the nation’s public institutions,  and have accused Gove of removing Morgan in order to replace her with a Tory.

Well sorry if I don’t give a damn.  Firstly, because I regard Ofsted itself as a uniquely hateful institution which has contributed nothing to education, except to terrorise  teachers into a state of demoralisation and act as a battering ram for privatisation.

I loathe its philistine utilitarianism, its meaningless league tables, its vacuous ‘standards’, and the punitive and inquisitorial powers that it has acquired.   It was only two years ago that it reared its ugly head in my own town and savaged the local comprehensive  which my daughter goes to,  on the basis of the new data targets introduced by Gove and his hitman Michael Wilshaw.

Incredibly, the school was threatened with the dread category of ‘special measures’ even before the inspectors had seen it,  on the basis of these figures.    So the question of whether Ofsted is run by Tory political appointees is not, to my mind, the most burning issue concerning an organization that I would love to see tossed onto the garbage heap of history.

And then there is the question of the ‘Baroness’ herself, whose illustrious career is worth recapping.   As Blair’s ‘Director of Government Relations’ Morgan played a major role in the political preparations for the Iraq war.  She was one of the recipients of the ‘Downing Street memo’ who were informed that the ‘intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.’

Morgan also did some fixing herself.   Together with another Blair apparatchik Lord Falconer, she is alleged to have exerted major pressure on the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith into suppressing his own reservations about the legality of the war.

Since then, like all Blair’s cronies, Morgan has done well, very well in fact.  First there was the 2001 peerage (what was that about political appointees?).    Then there was an ‘executive directorship’ of Carphone Warehouse worth £59,000 a year, another £45,000 as a director with Southern Cross Healthcare, Britain’s largest private healthcare company, and £25,000 for sitting on Lloyds Pharmacy’s health care advisory panel.

Like so many members of Blair’s crazy gang, the more you have, they more you need.     Between 2005-2009 Morgan claimed  parliamentary expenses of £38, 370 on the £1.1m Wandsworth house that she and her husband own, where she stays ‘for the purpose of attending sittings of the House.’

Morgan lists her main home in Hampshire, which enabled her to claim the £174 a night  which peers can claim when they stay in a London flat or a hotel, even though she was staying in her own house, in addition to £22, 975 in ‘subsistence expenses.’

But Morgan really was perfect Ofsted material.   Both her kids went to private school.    She is an advisor to the Ark charity, which runs some 12 academies – a role that led to suggests of a conflict of interest when she first got the Ofsted gig in 2011.   Well that’s not a conflict that would bother Gove, especially since Morgan is also an advisor to the New Schools Network,  which promotes free schools.

The Baroness is clearly singing from Gove’s hymn-sheet.    After all this was a woman who last year said that children should be able to go to school from the age of two or three – a recommendation that she called a ‘ big bold brave move’ that would counteract ‘generational disadvantage and poor social skills.’

Two years old readers.   What a time the kids of the future will have if these lunatic schemes go ahead, and the way things are going there is nothing to think that they won’t.

So really whether Morgan is a Tory or Labour appointee is kind of irrelevant.   And yet despite all this,  it seems, we are now expected to regard Morgan as a victim and her sacking as a cause celebre.    The one time geography teacher-turned- propagandist-turned Baroness  has described herself as ‘ the latest of a fairly long list of people now who are non-Conservative supporters who are not being re-appointed. I think there is absolutely a pattern. It’s extremely worrying.’

Yes really.  Its positively worse than McCarthyism.  Or Dreyfus.

Except that it isn’t.   And what is really worrying is that someone like Morgan ever got to rise so far in the party that Keir Hardie once founded,  and that there are so many people just like her.