NuLabour buries toxic waste under Jackson tributes

The sudden and premature death of Michael Jackson has a silver lining for a NuLabour government that has more toxic waste than the banking sector.   It is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to bury bad news, really bad news, when the news agenda is otherwise engaged.  So who gets the prize for quick thinking in charge of a disaster?

Step forward Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.  He has ‘let it be known’  that the government is to abandon what the Guardian describes as “Tony Blair’s Flagship schools reform” and “the most significant education reform of the New Labour era“, namely the Stalinist national strategies for literacy and numeracy in primary schools.  The changes will end the centralised prescription of teaching methods whereby Ministers tell teachers how to do their jobs.

As Jenni Russell, also in the Guardian, points out results have been disastrous. 

Teachers feel helpless when they are in front of classes that aren’t grasping the points at the speed the national timetable lays down. There is no flexibility. The national plan compels a teacher to move on, no matter how many children are being left behind. Frantic booster classes at ages seven and 11 teach children the short-term tricks they must know to get them through Sats tests.

Results did improve in the first few years of the National Strategies but only because teachers were learning to teach to the test; once they had done so results predictably stagnated and it soon became clear that children were being turned off education by their stultifying experience of it.

However, it’s not just educationally that the National Strategies have been such a disaster.  Delivering them has involved massive expenditures on consultants; abandoning them could save £100 million per annum on the governments contract with outsourcing firm Capita plc.   In other words, NuLabour’s centralised command and control approach is not only a technical failure but also a financial failure.  

This is, of course, not a one-off failure confined to education only.  The development of a centrally-directed system that Stalin would have approved of is very much at the heart of the new NuLabour project and much of the excessive growth of government in recent years is attributable to it although, in fairness, one should point out that, as with so much else, Labour’s claim to fame is not that it originated this approach – that credit goes to the Thatcher-era Conservatives – but that it developed it to the current obscene level.

Meanwhile what of Ed Balls?   His news management strategy is working well so far.  Last night’s News at Ten on BBC1 slipped in only a brief mention of his change of plan just before the end of the bulletin and Newsnight made no mention of it at all.  Accordingly he has, in the time-honoured way of finessing a catastrophic defeat, declared victory and moved on. 

His latest wheeze is to redirect the money saved to schools to help them build networks with neighbouring schools thus driving up standards and exam results.   How wonderfully cuddly and, well, Internet-friendly  those ‘networks’ sound – it must seem to the poor souls like a shoo-in.   It won’t work of course, but hopefully NuLabour will be long gone before too much more damage has been done.


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