Nonetheless, the itinerant economists last reported at the bus stop are still at it in Block 4: ‘it all depends on the per person cost, though’ while their peers content themselves with whooping wordlessly at the weather.
What could cloud our horizon? A visit from the regulators, obviously, as they’ve been roaming the fields locally. However, news arrives that our window (for them to climb through) is open until September 2025. One takes this phlegmatically, with a pinch of salt, using the School Plan as a fan. I calm myself looking at the A level Art exhibited for the moderator in the gallery, and the occasional poem.
Not that this one was much comfort: Rue by Ian Duhig, poem of the day last Thursday:
Rue Jo Cox, Députéé Britannique
a street sign in Burgundy reads,
Assassinéé pour ses convictions.
No British road is named after her,
I found on returning home, for fear
it could have proved controversial.
I remembered in Shakespeare rue,
even for ruth, called ‘herb of grace’
because it was used in exorcisms,
by the angel, to clean Adam's eyes
and Gulliver, back home for his nose
against the smell of his countrymen.
For fear it could have proved controversial. Does the assassination of a politician, for her convictions, have to be marked in another country in case anyone’s offended? Do we give murdered French politicians such courtesy? What on earth has become of us? Who decides this stuff? He’s right about the smell of some countrymen: that’s been pretty overpowering of late.
Have we always been so easily offended? I’ve been watching A Small Light, an eight-part drama about the people who helped hide the Frank family in Amsterdam during the war. It’s an exhausting, stressful watch because you’re waiting for the ghastly ending, despite the desperate hope. I think its very well done, but you know what? The warning on the titles infuriated me each time. This is a drama about war, about the holocaust, about the murder of children, of whole families, about starvation and human wickedness as well as human endeavour. But did the titles cover that? They did not. The trigger warning was ‘contains images of tobacco use’.
Tobacco use? I was raised among smokers and I know it kills millions and we need to be wary of its zombie death-dealing persistence or reappearance – but was that the warning we needed? Were smokers the villains of this piece? Should our response to murderous invaders be calibrated by their tobacco habits? What does this warning convey to the young, or to someone unfamiliar with these particular crimes against humanity? What regulator decided smoking might be the cause of offence in this drama?
Some of our young people were at the Carnegie Awards (for children’s literature) this afternoon, part of the great shadow judging scheme, filmed in their deliberations. They met with acclaim, almost passed out with excitement at meeting Lauren Child and negotiated canapés, not bad for a Wednesday afternoon. But the purpose of the event wasn’t any of these. The purpose was the literature, and reading whole books, and the lifetime’s learning and pleasure this can bring.
It's like the purpose of exams, they don’t define education, but plunge a dipstick into it. The grade is a judgement of memory, yes, but also of potential ability. It’s the same with inspection. The purpose is to see if children are being educated well, not to find out how schools can jump through hoops. The purpose of memorials isn’t to avoid offence, but to commemorate human worth. The purpose of drama is to cast a light on the human soul. The purpose of parents evening – where I write this - isn’t to present a seamless corporate image but to reinforce a meaningful relationship with children’s homes and families.
We had a great visit last week from two members of the Lords’ Education Select Committee on 11-16 curriculum, fact-finding. We talked deep and openly about the curriculum we want and try to teach and the things that prevent us, internally and externally. It was an uplifting experience. We didn’t have to present anything or account for ourselves using a particular framework, but talked of the purpose of schooling and the power of knowledge.
When the Lords asked for a sum-up from each of us, I said ‘suspect every proxy’, by which I meant – dig a bit deeper. What is this number or performance indicator or statement actually trying to measure? What complex activity might be skewed by this simplistic approach? What perverse incentive is launched into the system? Yes, we have a human duty to end smoking but we should be really careful not to undermine other duties. Anyone not watching A Small Light because of the smoking will have missed knowing something that, in a small and desperate way, tried to change the world for the better.
I’ve often rather rudely compared regulators to barbarians, when terror and preparing battlements overwhelm daily life. But another tiny poem came my way this week:
The barbarians are rarely at the gate. They are usually living with you.
They will show you the invitations you sent. When you ask for it. Which you do.
We need to be very careful not to internalise the wrong proxies. Our young people need the truth.