Dennis Sewell says that the political cage fight between the Tories and the educational establishment will be the most thrilling contest of Cameron’s first hundred days
The Russell Group, representing Britain’s top 20 universities, warned this week that Gordon Brown’s cuts would bring to its knees within six months a higher education system that has taken 800 years to create. The destruction of our schools system has been a slower, more drawn-out process. There is, fortunately, one last chance to save it. Of all the dramatic political battles that will begin only once the general election has been safely won, the most thrilling — and the one that more deserves to top the bill during David Cameron’s first hundred days — will be the cage fight between Michael Gove and the Blob. At stake will be our children’s and grandchildren’s futures and the Conservative party’s credibility as an agent of genuine social transformation.
In the eponymous 1958 film, The Blob was a protean jelly-like alien that terrorised a small Pennsylvanian town. Indescribable, indestructible and seemingly unstoppable, it consumed everything in its path as it grew and grew. Until, that is, the overblown amoeba got its comeuppance at the hands of Steve McQueen. The Blob entered the political lexicon in the mid-1980s, adopted by William Bennett, education secretary in the Reagan administration, as a term to describe the amorphous coalition of a bloated education bureaucracy, teacher unions and education research establishment that Bennett argued always obstructs or stifles school reform. After his resignation from Ofsted a decade ago, Chris Woodhead began to warn that British education was menaced by a Blob of its own, every bit as slimy, ruthless and voracious as the American original.
The Blob currently has the whole schools system firmly in its grip. From Whitehall it issues diktats: the Children’s Plan, Every Child Matters, instructions on personalised learning, safeguarding guidelines, frameworks and so forth.