Dear Mr Williamson
I hope you’re familiar with Eddie and the Hot Rods’ magnificent 1977 hit ‘Do anything you wanna do’. I heard it again last week and thought of you. Though you were only one when it bounced up the charts I expect your parents took the trouble to introduce you to its lively beat and compelling chorus. I know Scarborough a bit and I can well imagine that later, you’d be keen to leave it all behind and search for adventure, that you must then have got tired of doing day jobs with no thanks for what you do and other sentiments so briskly expressed by Mr Rods.
Now you’re grown up and in your quest to become someone I note (from your twitting) that you’re looking forward to working hard, so I investigated your areas of responsibility to find out what on. You’re in charge of early years, children’s social care, teachers’ pay, the school curriculum, school improvement, academies and free schools, further education, apprenticeships and skills and higher education. Dearie me, what an exhausting list.
Even on first glance this landscape is littered with potholes: troubled families, the death of nursery schools, austerity’s child poverty, catastrophic teacher recruitment failures, Ofsted’s key stage saga, improving a zero-sum performance system where half of schools and a third of children have to fail, sorting out school place planning without any place planning, unconditional university offers and that’s just the stuff I know about. It’s a good job you’re an up-beat, can-do sort.
However, I bring tidings of great joy. All of these areas of work are overrun with highly trained people who are obsessed with making them better. They’ve committed their lives to this, regardless of pay, working conditions, public recognition etc. They like children and are brim full of resilience, optimism, pluck, determination and all the other attributes that people like you like. They can easily help you with the challenges you face.
Exempli gratia, a few thoughts from me. Reinstate Sure Start, reinforce nursery schools and the fabulous pedagogical skills of early years teachers. Work with colleagues to sort out low wages and benefits so that families can eat without relying on foodbanks. Build social housing so that families can set up home with stability and dignity. Make good on the jolly recruitment advert with the science teacher and sort out entry into teaching, pay and working conditions (#everylessonshapesalife). Make the National Curriculum binding on all schools and decide openly on what you want, without using Ofsted as underground shock troops. Fund inspection properly so they can do a thorough professional job. Remove the language of pass and fail at GCCSE: the grades speak for themselves. Give school place planning back to the local authorities so we don’t waste money and trap children in schools that are failing or will never get off the ground. Tackle university entrance with a proper, lengthy, serious commission of inquiry. That should get you started.
I expect you think of yourself as an alpha male and having been a Chief Whip, I’m sure you know how to get the best out of people. Anyway, you might like this exchange overheard at the end of the day:
Year 11 tutor: In you come chaps, coats off.
Year 11 boy: But I’m an alpha male, sir.
Year 11 tutor: Then you won’t need any help with the buttons.
Sometimes even the best of us needs help and it would be a wonderful novelty to work together. So as the man says, why don't you ask them what they expect from you? Why don't you tell them what you are gonna do? And, a radical thought for a new decade, why don’t you do it in that order?