In the late 1980’s I was part of a small group planning some research work into remedies for school truancy. We made a pitch for publishing our output to the Centre for Policy Studies and were interviewed by a couple of plummy types, who rejected our proposal on the crackpot grounds that truancy was a good thing.
Aside from nutters like that (neo-liberal ? anarcho-libertarian ? gated-community plutocrats ?), most politicians of goodwill and humanity (e.g. DK, see here) would agree that education is the primary vehicle for social mobility and general emancipation.
Conservatives would also surely say that we want children to be schooled in the middle-class virtues of hard work, discipline, fair competition, personal and team endeavour, and general all-round decency.
In order for this to happen, we need teachers who themselves embody the professional, middle-class life. Yet for decades, this has not been the case in much of the state sector:
- the sector is stuffed full of doctrinaire leftists, many of them with malign intentions;
- for a long time the pay wasn’t adequate for a teacher to live a middle-class lifestyle;
- teaching is not a profession at all in the recognised sense: its unions are producerist lobbies that have no regard for maintaining the standards of their members or the quality of their work (DK again);
- successive governments, particularly since 1997, have loaded social-work and social-engineering objectives onto teaching.
In consequence the percentage of ‘top graduates’ going into teaching has plummeted from the levels of 30-40 years ago - just one of many symptoms of Something Badly Wrong.
David Cameron is right to seek to turn around this horribly off-course supertanker. It will be seriously difficult. The eternal shame of NuLab is that they wasted 13 years in which they had the resources and parliamentary elbow-room to do whatever was right, however difficult. Cameron is likely to have neither: but he should still set out to do important things like this. If the turnaround on teaching is not to start in 2010, then when ?
Good luck, mate. This really matters.