“The majority of teachers are disillusioned by the way the Conservative Party has approached education in the United Kingdom,” declares Brittany Wright, a teacher of English in the Midlands who is also her school’s G&T coordinator (i.e: of students deemed to be ‘gifted’ and/or ‘talented’). Writing on the Labour Teachers blog, she is described as a “recent Labour party member who likes to read and write in her spare time”, which is a good thing in an English teacher.
Wright makes her assertion without any empirical evidence or verifiable statistical analysis. Her “majority of teachers” is probably gleaned from a couple of chats over coffee in the staffroom, which conveniently cohere with her own (evidently strong) anti-Conservative feelings. But that’s okay, because “it’s supposed to be light-hearted in tone rather than excruciatingly literal”, she explained on Twitter to Dr David James, who ventured to probe the veracity of her claim. “I apologise for upsetting u,” Mrs Wright added, “but I don’t know a tchr who is wholly+Tory policies. Blogging is subjective.”
I taught in a secondary school throughout the interminable Blair/Brown years, and I never met a teacher who was wholly in favour of Labour’s policies, either. In fact, I doubt any teachers have been wholly in favour of any education policy, all the way back to Forster’s Education Act 1870, by which the state system was established. ‘Wholly’ is a banal straw man: education bills are routinely chewed by so many competing interests and infested with so many compromises that it’s highly unlikely you’ll find an education secretary in history who hasn’t had reservations about their legislation, let alone a teacher. But Mrs Wright can amplify her empiricism into a romanticised majority because “blogging is subjective”. Can’t argue with that, can you?
I’d just expect an educator to exercise a degree of dispassion, not least because she has influence over impressionable minds who might chance upon her subjective musings and believe them. She is, after all, a G&T coordinator, and so must be well-versed in the basic principles of epistemology and the need to inspire and develop critical-thinking skills. True knowledge, as Polanyi said, is “impersonal, universally established, objective”, rather than the “personal participation of the knower”. Her students would comprehend her statement as universally valid fact; not passively-induced belief.
Seemingly unable to cope with two polite questions (mine and Dr James’), Wright threw in the towel: “Apparently I’m wrong about everything! #Corbyn4Leader,” she tweeted. I’ll resist the temptation to draw a correlation between the statement and hashtag, in case this sentence was also intended to be “light hearted in tone rather than excruciatingly literal”.
But it wasn’t the unverified quantitative assertion which irked so much as this teacher’s belief that the Conservative Party legislates for “education in the United Kingdom”. Did I mention that Wright is her school’s G&T coordinator? I hope one of them politely points out to her that public education in Scotland has been a devolved competence of the Scottish Executive since 1999 (i.e: 16 years of Labour/SNP policies); of the Wales Assembly since 2007 (i.e: eight years of Labour policies); and of Northern Ireland since 1999 (i.e: 16 years of Sinn Féin policies, interspersed with five injections of Labour direct rule).
Michael Gove’s Academies Act has effect only in England. It might also be worth reminding Wright that the Act was supported by the Liberal Democrats, since that period of government was a coalition. Perhaps one of her G&T students might care to read The Orange Book – Reclaiming Liberalism, co-edited by David Laws, and explain to her that what she terms “the rhetoric and the march of privatisation” isn’t exclusively Tory at all. Indeed, another of her G&T students might point her to the concepts of the ‘market socialism’ and ‘left-liberalism’, and then grapple with different forms of privatisation.
It’s a certain fact that Mrs Wright doesn’t know what ‘free schools’ are – believing, as she appears to, that existing schools have been forced to convert into them in order to “further the Tories’ ideological goal”. Academies result from conversion – voluntary or forced. ‘Free schools’ arise from no coercion or compulsion at all: they are start-up academies with no predecessor institution.
She says she can see that “a lot of young people are increasingly looking to the left-wing of politics for hope”. Her evidence is her school’s mock election, which the Green Party won. When I see how much ‘green’ propaganda is fed to students in PS(H)E or by teachers of the humanities, it comes as no surprise at all that the Green Party might triumph in a school election. One wonders if Wright is able to determine key variables – like whether GCSE textbooks counted toward election expenses; or if assemblies (‘collective worship’) that week focused on the importance of recycling; or whether the charisma and relative popularity of the candidates had any effect on the outcome.
Wright concludes that teachers need to make a stand: “For too long, politics has been about money,” she opines. I’m not sure where she’s been, but wherever governments tax the people, politics has to be about money. The accountability of the public purse is a democratic imperative, not only because of the associational sovereignty between the penny and Caesar, but because Mammon is the preeminent enticement to the abuse of power. But then she reveals her categorical imperative: “The only reason, in my view, that governments need to deal with finances is to ensure that effective public services are provided for the whole country.”
She might find this hard to swallow, but “effective public services” are what all politicians are concerned with: the contention is in how we define ‘effective’. And as for the assertion of “neoliberal tyranny”, is Wright aware that Ed Balls approved more academies than his five Labour predecessors combined? How “neo-liberal” was he? No-one in democratic politics believes that education is “just about money”. That is Wright’s rhetorical (ideological?) anti-Tory caricature, so favoured of the left, which none but the political theorists quite grasp. If you ask her to expound, she’ll waffle on about ‘Thatcherism’, ‘free-market fundamentalism’ and ‘aggressive individualism’, completely oblivious to the fons et origo in 19th-century ‘New Liberalism’, with its focus on the complex relationships between individualism and the general interest; and between progress, rationality and the limitations of responsible power.
The best way for teachers to fight for Wright’s alliterative “representation, resolution and respect” is not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but to liberate the teaching profession from the interminable tinkering of politicians altogether. To wit, I strongly urge her to re-direct her manifest passion and reformist zeal toward the stated objectives of the Royal College of Teaching.