Part 1: Thursday 25 June
You were spotted in SW1 earlier this week and the fieldman’s report (I’m reading Le Carré) classified you as ‘preoccupied’. I’m not surprised. I feared for your state of mind before the current shenanigans began and I can’t imagine what it’s like navigating the corridors of power with your colleagues. Seeing them on the telly requires nerves of steel.
Unlike watching us! Tallis was on the box on Monday. BBC London came and filmed a newly-regathered half A-level Psychology class, interviewed Mr Smith, four thoughtful youths and me. They said that being back helped focus their minds: I said that having no children was scrambling mine but that the 2m rule would need to be gone – and all the bubble talk – before we could reassemble.
So we plugged the gogglebox in the dining room in on Tuesday lunchtime to watch the PM forecast the future. Social distancing meant those at the reception end needed binoculars, but never mind, I had a front seat. Good news: everyone back to school in September! That’s exactly what I wanted to hear and I tried to encourage moderate cheering. Some HTs are worried about the detail, but I’m sure you have it all under control. In fact, my pavement artist (Le Carré again) said it looked as though it was all in your bag.
Perhaps one of those bright young things who nip around ministers fore and aft could sort it out a bit for you, though? Headteachers are fussy and we like things to be clear. It would be great to see which rules we have to follow in school, which are optional, which just occurred to a front-bencher while they were cleaning their teeth, which have been abandoned, which denied and which are ideas being road-tested before becoming policy which may never be heard of again. My primary colleagues, blessings on their tiny furniture, were certainly shocked this week to be told that 2m in school had never been a rule for them. Are you sure?
And what about this rumour afloat that the exams might be pushed back a few weeks next year to maximise teaching time. That’s partially a good idea – but oh my, wouldn’t it have been better to test it out below decks before musing from the bridge? Now everyone’s asking about it and no one has the foggiest.
And without wishing to reopen a wound, since The Drive To Barnard Castle the whole cabinet’s seaworthiness is questionable, like a teacher who lost control of a class in October but has to survive until July. Was he worth it?
Mr Williamson, I’ve been thinking about exams too, nursing a fond hope that the experience of this year might usher in a better future. Why have GCSEs at all? Why not base the 16-year-olds’ passport on teacher assessment, moderated in the way this year’s will be, properly evaluated and monitored by nerdy subject-based inspectors who really know their stuff? That’s who Her Majesty’s Inspectors were before Ofsted was invented. Wouldn’t it be great to liberate learning by dispensing with GCSE? Wouldn’t it be great if year 11 marked their transition without the examination hall as the rite of passage? Remember, it only remotely works for two thirds of them.
Like the hapless October teacher we’re not very good at some kinds of learning so we end up having to keep promising the same changes time and again. I took two years out of teaching before I had my children and worked as a Community Relations Officer in the midlands. The 80s were a time of disturbance in Birmingham and London which resulted in a significant amount of Home Office funding for projects to tackle the racism and social exclusion. Most of the focus was on anti-racism training for individuals, but we understood about institutionalised racism and encouraged institutions to scrutinise their processes to combat it. Fifteen years later there was the McPherson Report. Now, twenty years after that, ten years after the Public Sector Equality Duty, where are we, exactly? And how can any government mired in the Windrush depatriations and the Hostile Environment be believed?
I saw a photo in the paper of a novel idea in a Chinese school to keep small-ish children apart. They had very serious expressions for persons in purple paper wings but it just goes to show that children will accept anything as normal if an adult tells them so. Children will believe a lie if someone they trust tells it. That’s why we have to tell them the truth and that’s why we can’t keep fobbing them off with change tomorrow.
Education, equality and justice are really hard to get right. Your Shadow has fallen today. You’re picking your way, Mr Williamson, through very difficult circumstances and you don’t look very steady on your own feet. Tell us the truth, talk to us and trust us and we can rebuild something righteous and grand, together.
Yours, at some distance.