My head still rotating on its stalk I stepped out into the corridor for un-Goved air. I exchanged cordial greetings with the young people and advised on matters from precise location of the Exams Office to the correct carriage of a basketball in an enclosed space. They smiled and grumped their way to class in this corner of world city where ‘immigrant’ really only means that you might speak more languages than the next person tripping over his feet.
It’s a stupid smokescreen from one of the great communicators of modern politics, part of a revisionist plot to remove the impact of funding from the legacy of the London Challenge. Simultaneously saying that non-immigrant parents aren’t involved in schools or want great things for their children while saying that immigration works in London but not in the north he only manages to illuminate the thing he tries to mask. It’s the economy, stupid.
People from all over the world make London a wonderful place to be no matter what, but schools don’t run on ambition and aspiration. If that was so, Oxford and Cambridge would be full of the children of the poor. Schooling for social mobility works when aspiration is generated, harnessed, transformed into a successful education by gifted and valued teachers in stable and respected schools. One of the things the London Challenge tackled from 2003 was the unhelpful distribution of those schools. Expensively, government set about four controversial policies to improve London’s education: the challenge itself, which involved school-to-school support and big data; Teach First; the academisation programme and higher expectations of challenge and support from local authorities. London children were funded well in schools who were given the cash to release teachers to share and learn across the city. It worked, demonstrated by the well-worn but nonetheless remarkable statistic that London thereby became the only capital in the world where achievement is higher than the national average.
What Gove doesn’t say is that before he got involved in 2010 there was investment in teaching, training and release time, for thinking and learning, and that there was money to go with the aspiration, and a plan. He doesn’t want to say that because he took the money away and, as a slavish backbencher, he has to support a range of harmful and destructive policies. There will be no release time in the future. There will be no training in the future. There will be no sharing of good practice and no learning from the best. There will be fewer teachers, not more – 6% fewer applications this year at a time of shortage - and there will be little support from the local authorities now almost starved to death.
Oh, and those ‘refugees from Somalia or Kosovo’ who arrived new in our schools? They were welcomed with language programmes, counselling when they needed it, tailored curricula and intensive intervention to get them up to speed. Their parents looked for help from an education system for which they’d travelled halfway round the world, and they got it. Where the journey had nearly killed them, we helped put them back together. Now we’re taking it apart.
And why hasn’t that happened for refugees from the same places who fetched up in Sunderland or Scunthorpe? Follow the money: it was underfunded schools that will stay underfunded while London schools become underfunded. It was grinding poverty with no shiny city on the doorstep. So when Gove says that success in London was solely because of the aspiration of children and their parents he says it because that comes free, in the free air of the world city – so we can do it without the visionary public investment we once had. Shame on him.
In better news, the Year 13 BTEC farewell music performance by Streamlined was sublime. The Danes who visited us and built recycled models were charming. The Tallis Centre for Contemporary Arts is beautiful. The pi competition was sheer entertainment. And in my close surveillance of year 8s some of whose habits are not yet Tallis Habits, I’ve chanced upon a tiny diverting commentator whose favourite adjective is ‘tedious’. Gove is tedious. Back in the bag with him. As the King said ‘If that’s all you know about it, you may stand down’.