Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The winner of the 2001 George Orwell prize writes ...

In his latest col (btw Dave, your jokes are like anchovy paste; they're not bad but a little goes a long way), the following sentence:

Mr Blair wants new schools to be set up more easily, good schools to be able to expand, most schools to be more self-sufficient and independent, for good practice to be developed and spread through formal and informal contacts, and for social entrepreneurs of various kinds to get stuck in.

Jesus fucking Christ, Dave, did that one not stick in your throat as it came out? (Professor Jacques Derrida writes from beyond the grave: eet is 'ardly, 'ow you say, un coincidence that ze last trois werdes of zees sentence are "get stuck in"). It's the most woeful piece of buzzword bingo I've seen in the Times this week.

More to come (note that the first couple of paragraphs are full of the Henry Jekyll invocation: "I am an unreconstructed old leftie ..." The Guardian's Norman Johnson column is spot on with respect to this one)

update here's more. Fellow contributors, do feel free to chip in.

update update Congratulations to Matthew! "Aaro - Government education reforms, how the left made similar complaints about tuition fees which proved groundless.". No actual mention of tuition fees but a lot of banging on about why The Left are all hung up on shibboleths and totems, so I think this is spot on. Matthew is now on a two week winning streak with respect to Aaro columns and must surely be the bookies' favourite for Aaronovologist Of The Year. I think I got NC on Fathers4Justice too so we are really cooking with gas at the moment.

It's real Aaro benefit-of-the-doubt stuff on a lot of issues; apparently selection would be bad, but it's OK because this proposal isn't really about selection. All right, it has a bit of selection in it, but not much selection. Well, maybe quite a bit of selection, but look, selection's not the important thing all right? The important thing is that it's going to benefit the very poorest children and stop the ghettoisation of education. Well, all right, as it stands it will probably make that worse, but there are "all sorts of incentives" that can be put in at a later date to sort that out. The important thing is that it's new, and it will therefore unleash all sorts of creative energy and beneficial change, because everybody knows how much teachers like regular wholesale reorganizations of the education system. The idea is that individual schools will all spontaneously organize into a Hayekian order to co-operate on commissioning big projects that span different education authorities. And more fabulously still, this administrative miracle will all happen without any actual paid administrators, so there will be a substantial cash saving that can be reinvested into the system! At least Aaro has got the message about dabbling in amateur economics, so we are spared the homilies about "the market" and "the benefits of competition" which usually festoon this kind of article on education policy.

The fact is that there is really no evidence that this sort of thing works. There are encouraging bits and pieces from American voucher experiments (albeit that the UK is not actually proposing anything like a voucher scheme), but they tend to melt away when exposed to the glare of rigorous statistics, and to be driven more by self-selection by articulate and committed parents rather than anything else. It's pretty clear that what this White Paper is actually proposing is a return to the system of Grant Maintained schools, which did not exactly cause the sky to fall in when they were brought in in the 1980s, but on the other hand nor were they such a rousing success that anyone thought they were worth defending against abolishment in the next round of bungee policies. As Aaro more or less admits, the central goal of New Labour education policy is to take the advantages currently enjoyed by the richest and most articulate parents (let's call them "Daves") and extend them to the slightly less rich and slightly less articulate (let's call them "Nicks"). Pupils whose parents are poor and not articulate are obviously the source of funds for this scheme, but it's OK because there are plenty of people who are poor but articulate to provide political cover by working the system like Ma Boswell from Bread and then appearing on TV to explain that this proves the system works.

And of course, it is all a definitive answer to a question nobody asked. There is, in fact, no crisis in British education; it's actually pretty good and steadily improving by all the metrics we have. The reason that it has been targeted for another round of bungee policies is that Aaro and his political equivalents have detected a deficiency of newness and thus declared that a "step change" should have happened and hasn't. "The status quo is no longer an option", the leper's bell of the modern managerialist idiot; if you don't recognise the governing aesthetic strand of Aaro's politics, go back and have a look at the David Cameron articles.

Social entrepreneurs, ye gods. I believe that these are the people who were formerly branded "busybodies", "well-meaning reformers", or "pains in the arse". And presumably still are, when their entrepreneurship leads them in the direction of something one doesn't approve of. And this is what it has come to? (Yes. And note the subtle dig at Nick where Aaro endorses faith schools). Blood and bloater paste sandwiches. It is perhaps a tribute to Aaro's skill as a journalist that he does, in fact, identify all the important issues with respect to education policy in this article. It is a tribute to something else that he talks such a fearful stack of bollocks (the SI unit of bollocks is the stack) about all of them.

7 Comments:

Blogger Matthew said...

To be fair to Dave I don't think he uses the word 'vouchers', which usually in this kind of thing are taken as solving everything, immediately.

To be perhaps unfair to Dave I can't help but think one reason people with children in expensive private schools like this idea is that if you create hundreds of different types of schools that different people exercising their right to choose use, then you can convince yourself, and others, that the difference between you and the rest is just a matter of degree. Though perhaps this is what he would argue, except he would argue that it actually would create that situation, rather than the impression of it.

1/24/2006 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic perhaps, but DA won the George Orwell prize? What on earth has he ever written that merits that?

Orwell may have had his faults but I'm not aware that his virtues were that of making a comfotable living by writing unchallenging vacuous nothings for the establishment press.

Who awards this prize, presumably people who would, if asked, award the Nobel Prize for Litterature to Jeffrey Archer?

1/24/2006 08:32:00 PM  
Anonymous evil bruschettaboy said...

I don't know who hands it out. Remember that Aaro is actually a pretty damn good writer when he wants to be, and he presumably won it for journalism in 2001, when the "Decent Left" did not exist in its present form.

1/24/2006 11:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evil Bruschettaboy said:

"Remember that Aaro is actually a pretty damn good writer when he wants to be..."

Ummm, you couldn't give some references, could you?

As things go I am in a bit of a quandry, perhaps Orwell wasn't that good after all. He's a bit of a secular saint despite his finking on 'communists' in his later years.

Many of us were introduced to socialism via Orwell. Homage to Catalonia showed it was possible to be a socialist without, and in spite of, obeisance (spelling?) to the soviet union.

It's all a bit depressing to think that maybe Orwell, after all, deserved the David Aaranivitch prize.

1/25/2006 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschetta Boy said...

No he is. He actually comes up with a good phrase quite regularly. Paddling to Jerusalem sounds like a pretty good book, and I still treasure his description of David Cameron's face with "eyebrows forming the shallow V of toff earnestness, so often seen on the face of royalty visiting bomb sites". Have a look through the Guardian archive pre-9/11 and then come back and tell me he isn't good.

1/25/2006 11:30:00 PM  
Anonymous stan said...

Sneering at and caricaturing your opponents arguments are no way to conduct a rational argument.

You just expose the shallowness of your own thought processes!

1/30/2006 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sneering at and caricaturing your opponents arguments are no way to conduct a rational argument.

that's what you say

1/30/2006 05:47:00 PM  

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