Magazine article The Spectator

The Enemies of Learning

Magazine article The Spectator

The Enemies of Learning

Article excerpt

SUMMER is slipping away now and in the educational calendar a new year is about to begin. We used to call them 'academic' years but, now that schooling has been comprehensively recast as mere preparation for work, that phrase seems as quaintly inappropriate as the names of the Christian festivals that once were used to mark its progress: Michaelmas, Lent or even Christmas. This time round, state-school children will not just be returning for new terms, but on new terms, too. The Department for Education and Employment has ordered that from 1 September schools must have a written `home-school agreement' in place, and as soon after that date as is reasonably practical all parents of pupils of compulsory school age must be invited to sign it. Education, like the employment that our rulers believe to be its sole fruit and purpose, is now a matter of contract.

Moreover, according to the DfEE's official booklet on the matter, Home-School Agreements: Guidance for Schools, governing bodies are `free to invite pupils to sign' this document `where the governors consider that the pupils concerned are sufficiently mature to consider the contents of the agreement'. After a couple of sentences arguing the case for such a practice - it will, we are told, make the children feel very `grown-up' - the text then turns to bold type: `The pupils' commitment is very important to the success of the homeschool agreement.' In case this typographical emphasis doesn't make the point strongly enough, the model agreement presented as an example for primary schools to follow includes a box for the child to sign under a list of promises he or she must keep: 'I will take good care of the equipment and building; I will walk inside the building; I will talk quietly; I will be friendly; I will keep my hands and feet to myself; I will be helpful.' It is clear that the Department for Education and Employment wants even the youngest of our schoolchildren to sign such contracts.

In National Post-Socialist Britain, what the DfEE wants is what the DfEE gets. Under Napsism, education is no longer the pursuit of what we used to mean by learning, but a medium through which to exercise political control. In the six years to last April, I saw for myself how this increasingly ruthless line-management works: I taught, until driven out by the system's anti-educational absurdities, in an inner-city comprehensive. The only way to survive such places (and many of the best of my colleagues, broken by stress and exhaustion, didn't) is to go through the externals of obeying the endless governmental edicts, follow their increasingly detailed script, and toe the party line. On 1 September, that line of management will be formally extended to include parents and children. You can be pretty sure that it will soon be the norm for five-year-olds everywhere to screw up their faces, hang out their tongues, and spell their irregularly capitalised names with fat 2B pencils below pre-printed promises to be co-operative, biddable and obedient.

Of course, as the explanatory booklet for schools concedes, neither parent nor child can be legally forced to sign, though such an admission is skilfully avoided in the information offered on the Internet to parents. But schools will be under enormous pressure to demonstrate that they have harnessed the co-operation of those parents by collecting their signatures. They have been told that they will be monitored to ensure that they comply with these legal requirements `primarily through Ofsted inspections'. …

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