David Blackburn

The government’s greatest failing is ignoring advice

The government’s greatest failing is ignoring advice
Text settings

On matters of mechanics, I take my mechanic’s advice; there would be little point in paying him if I turned around and thought: ‘Who needs brake pads, what does he know’. The government labours under the misapprehension that it is omniscient: the final extension of ‘nanny knows best’. But 12 years of Labour government has increased the gulf between rich and poor and educational standards have regressed. Advice that suggests an alternative path from that which was pre-ordained is dismissed, as if it were an unwanted cappuccino.

Today sees the publication of a report into primary school education. 28 research surveys, 1,052 written submissions, 250 focus groups, written by 14 authors, 66 research consultants and a 20-strong advisory committee of educational academics produced a report that concluded:

‘The report notes the questionable evidence on which some key educational policies have been based; the disenfranchising of local voice; the rise of unelected and unaccountable groups taking key decisions behind closed doors; the 'empty rituals' of consultations; the authoritarian mindset, and the use of myth and derision to underwrite exaggerated accounts of progress and discredit alternative views.

The government's standards agenda has not only been unpopular, but less successful and more problematic than government is willing to admit.’

The report should herald the end of SATs, league tables and top-down directives, which the Tories are promising. However, ministers dismissed the comprehensive report as ‘out of date’.

The usually cheer-leading teaching unions are at the vanguard of condemnation of the government. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said:

"This comprehensive study of primary education must be taken seriously by government. The fact the work in progress has been completely ignored by the government is a sign of weakness. This report is truly independent, unlike work commissioned and controlled by the DCSF [Department for Children, Schools and Families] which largely says what it wants to hear. There are recommendations in this report that could transform the Primary ethos and turn pessimism into hope."

And Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"It is absolutely extraordinary that the government has decided to ignore the Cambridge Review recommendations. Any government worth its salt, particularly in front of an impending general election, would have embraced this immensely rich report as a source of policy ideas. It is not too late for the government to recognise that not all good ideas emanate from the minds of civil servants.”

As with the instant canning of the Milburn report into social mobility, children, especially from underprivileged backgrounds, are the victims of the government’s intransigence. Expert advice recommends dramatic policy change, but the aptly named Mr Balls’ unshakable ideological delusions will not countenance change. Socially divisive mistakes are perpetuated; that is Labour’s greatest failing.