“Hmm. Col Gaddafi – International Relations? Martin McGuinness – knitwear?”
Michael Gove’s education policies, as I think most of us agree, are one of the very, very, very, very few things David Cameron’s abysmally dismal Coalition has got going for it. That’s why, as dear brave Katharine Birbalsingh and Toby Young find every day, the lefties have been driven into such paroxysms of sphincter-bursting rage. But Gove does have his critics on the right, too, the most sensible of whom is surely the mighty, great and wise Chris Woodhead.
Woodhead’s argument as expressed in Standpoint is an impeccably free market conservative one.
The voucher is the key to the schools revolution Gove wants to initiate. It would increase demand for private education and attract more suppliers into the market. The state monopoly would be broken. There would be real competition between schools, as there is in the independent sector. And competition means that schools would have to respond to the aspirations of their parents and potential parents. If their teachers chose to pursue the ideological enthusiasms of their predecessors in the Sixties, then they would be likely to find themselves out of work. A handful of Guardian readers might hanker after child-centred progressive schooling, but the vast majority of parents would, I predict, want the traditional approaches to education that for so long have been derided and ignored.
In other words, if schools are really to be set free from the shackles of the liberal-left educational establishment, they must be exposed to the full force of the market. Only that way will it be revealed conclusively what parents really want for their children when given genuinely free choice. (Probably what parents really want will not differ greatly from the kind of core liberal arts curriculum that Gove’s department is seeking to impose on them, nor on the classics heavy curriculum Toby Young is planning for his free school. But that’s besides the point. What Woodhead means here is that a) top down directives are against the principles of real conservatism and b) if a liberal arts curriculum and rigour generally become too closely associated with a Conservative-ish administration, then of course the first thing the left will do when it regains power is set out to dismantle it.
Anyway, I mention all this in relation to the Dream School being set up by TV chef Jamie Oliver. Suppose such an academy were to be established just down the road from you and this is something Jamie really wants to do one day how happy would you be to send your kids there?
Personally, I’d rather be eaten alive by bullet ants.
David Starkey teaching history? No complaints there.
Simon Callow teaching drama? Very important, I’m sure, for the young thesps of the future to learn that being an actor is like trying to climb Mt Everest with a shark strapped to your back.
Mary Beard teaching classics? Splendid.
Alvin Hall teaching maths? Alvin can sort out my kids’ finances any day.
But wait, just when it was all starting to look so promising, why in the name of Satan and all his monstrous hordes did Jamie have to include the following:
Alastair Campbell teaching politics?
Cherie Blair teaching human rights?
These choices horrify and appall me on so many levels I’m not sure I’m quite capable of expressing just how bad and wrongheaded they are. In fact, they’ve definitely joined my growing list of Reasons Why I’m Definitely Going To Get Out Of This Doomed Socialistic Hell Hole The Second I Get A Decent Job Offer From America.
All right, so Campbell and Cherie aren’t actually Tony Blair himself, but they’re about as close as you can get. And what does Blair represent? Why, almost everything that has gone wrong with Britain in the last fifteen years. So among the values Jamie’s wonderful new school will apparently be celebrating are: the “I know my rights” culture of greed, selfishness and entitlement; the endless growth of tiresome bureaucracy and regulation; cultural relativism; the spivvy new Uberclass of media-friendly chancers who continue to earn a fortune even as the rest of us starve; style over content; spin over honesty. Great!
I can only assume that some unutterable prat obsessed as is the way of our state-funded TV stations with “balance” insisted on tossing these two into the mix to make up for the known right-wingness of David Starkey. I refuse to accept the alternative: that Jamie, dear nice heroic Jamie Oliver who has done so much good in the world, can seriously have selected them of his own volition.