Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Naughty tale. And an unlikely moral ending

We all know the scene from the worst kind of school novel.

The little boy, bitter, embarrassed, furious is standing on the square of carpet in front of the headmaster’s desk. To one side is the teacher he cheeked.

“Well, Gove Minor,” thunders the headmaster. “What have you to say for yourself?”

“I’m terribly sorry, Mrs May,” mumbles Gove, staring at the floor in front of him, and refusing to look the teacher in her eyes.

“Yes, well, that’ll have to do. Now bend over.”

“Yes, Mr Cameron,” says Mrs May, for it is she who is about to receive the caning, not Gove at all.

In the corner, ignored by the main actors, is Professor Wilshaw, School Inspector-in-Chief, observing the scene and noting “Outstanding approach to discipline.” Unknown to anyone else, and indeed unknown to him, in two weeks time he will review that judgement and replace it by “Inadequate understanding of justice or the purpose of punishment.”

The book has no sympathetic characters and fails, in consequence, to engage readers. After selling poorly for five years, it is remaindered in May 2015 and unsold copies pulped soon after.

We’re living through that story in England now.

An anonymous letter, now widely believed to have been a hoax, announced some months ago that schools in Birmingham were being taken over by a conspiracy of Muslim fundamentalists intent on turning them into hotbeds of extremism or even terrorism. Some of the schools were inspected by the Schools Inspectorate, Ofsted, headed by Sir Michael Wilshaw, gave them a clean bill of health, occasionally even handing out the highest grade, 

When the allegations, now known as the “Trojan Horse”, surfaced, Ofsted visited 21 schools. We’ve now had their report. Two schools previously found to be outstanding were downgraded to “inadequate”, the lowest possible grading. No evidence was found of Islamic extremism, though there was evidence of a climate of fear and an increasing emphasis on Islam in the schools, some of which have a Muslim intake of over 90%.

Meanwhile, Michael Gove, Secretary for Education, had let it be known that he considered Theresa May, the Home Secretary and therefore Minister in charge of counter-terrorism, responsible for the shortcomings. In response, the Home Office put on-line, at midnight, a letter from May to Gove in which she pointed out that he had known about the Trojan Horse allegations and demanded to be told why he had taken no action in response.

As the spat intensified between May and Gove, both leading contenders to replace David Cameron at the head of the Conservative Party when he loses office, he called them in and dressed them down. Gove was forced to apologise publicly to May, but May took the more serious punishment: she had to fire one of her favourite special advisers.

Uneasy neighbours on the government front bench
Isn’t it lovely to see the Education Minister behaving like an unruly pupil in one of the schools he oversees, and being reprimanded in much the same way?

No-one emerges from this story with any credit. Not the Muslims who are trying to convert secular, state schools, funded by the taxpayer, into centres of Islamic faith. Not the writer of the Trojan Horse letter who clearly massively overstated the problem. Not May and Gove doing their pot and kettle act. Not Cameron trying to re-establish his authority over a government that seems completely out of his control. And finally, not Ofsted or Wilshaw who seem to completely elastic in their assessment of schools, shifting their evaluations from one extreme of the scale to the other in response to scandal.

And the worst of it all? None of this would even be contentious if these schools were faith schools – of which we have 6000 in England.

Yes, state, taxpayer-funded confessional schools.

Gove may be upset about the Islamic takeover of schools in Birmingham. But he’s very much in favour of faith schools generally and would like to see a great many more of them.

I don’t like schools becoming centres of Islamic indoctrination. But I don’t like acting as centres of Christian or Jewish indoctrination either. That’s what we have Churches, Mosques or Synagogues for. Very few people go to them, but that’s their choice. I see no reason why the power of the State and the money we provide it should be used to make up for their indolence in religious practice, by teaching their kids at our expense what they refuse to study themselves.

They want faith schools? Let them found, and fund, their own. That’s what the French do: private schools can be faith-based, but the public sector is strictly secular.

A secular state school system? Now that would be a response to the Trojan Horse allegations we could be proud of.

Not likely to happen any time soon, though.


Anonymous said...

I think you just stated that you rant British and have no sence of patriotism whatsoever ever.

David Beeson said...

How does one rant British?