One of my favourite television programmes is the American show Madam Secretary. (I blame Dallas – it’s a hard habit to break.) Apart from the fact that I love strong female characters (Jane Tennyson, Ellen Ripley, Lara Croft etc) I enjoy the premise of the story in that Elizabeth McCord is not a politician, but an expert on foreign affairs, covert military operations and dealing with difficult situations. She has a team of people around her to deal with the politics, speech writing and spin, she concentrates on the negotiation, decision making (following input from respected experts of course) and looking fabulous.
So let’s turn that around and apply it to the UK because I think we have an opposite problem.
UK “secretaries” are our experts in politics, not education, health or foreign affairs. They are (or should be) leading a team of people who work to bring together theorists and industry experts to the table to plan strategy, propose improvements, tackle issues and research new initiatives and their outcomes. Their job is to raise these proposals and issues for debate in the House so that improvements and progress can be made following input from representatives of the people, experts and the industry.
But recently I think we’ve all forgotten this. Not only the fact that they are not experts, but what their role, and the importance of it, actually is. They have (or the media has) convinced us that they and their bowler-hatted civil servants are the experts, that they don’t need independent and industry involvement, because the only thing that matters is the political agenda and keeping their job. They have stepped well beyond their remit, are ‘writing cheques their body can’t cash’ (to reference my favourite film), and, in the process, discrediting industry experts, devaluing independent appraisal and rubbishing democracy.
Take funding. Every time the issue is raised the response is “education funding is the highest it has ever been.” OK. Who is that statement aimed at? Is that in monetary terms? Per pupil? In relation to spending? Can you give us some detail because everything I’m reading refutes what you claim. It is like a company CEO saying “Turnover is the highest it has ever been” and everyone round the table knowing that the company is about to go under because uncontrollable overheads far exceed income.
So why not share the real issues (both actual and perceived) with us so that we can work together to resolve them? We all know a National Funding Formula isn’t a vote winner but to try to palm us off with the cobbled-together-ill-thought-out document that was recently presented as an NFF (you are beyond wrong on that) for “consultation” is, I’m trying to think of a nice word… reprehensible.
So here is my proposal to the new Education Secretary in June. For something this important for the nations future, its health and economy, let us both go back to our core skills. Let’s get respected on-the-ground education experts, head teachers and SBMs (not unions or anyone with a political agenda please) from around the country to get together and devise a new national formula that is fair, implementable without too much pain, and fit for purpose for the next 20 years.
We’ll then let you do your job and debate it through parliament, consult properly and agree a cross-party direction so that everyone has, by representation, approved it.
I sometimes think that surely it must be that I’m horribly naive and overly skeptical, maybe I don’t know enough about what’s going on across the country in school forums, maybe the media is reporting the truth. Or maybe I’m right and our democracy has indeed been shoved out the window?
Please could someone, anyone, enlighten me?