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Wednesday 29 August 2012

The Pundit Disconnect

[Update at end of post]

Much had already been written about how many of those who pontificate about the state education system either have never been near a state school in their lives, or have not done so since they left the system, because they send their children to private schools. But the recent furore over GCSE exams and grade boundary movement has taken this disconnect to a new level.

Bit late for peace offerings, Max

Put simply, the pundits have so little first-hand knowledge of the subject on which they are writing, and have so little inclination to become knowledgeable, that they make themselves look utterly ridiculous. This leads them to proclamations and conclusions that bear no relation to what is actually happening in the schoolroom and the staff room. It renders them totally useless.

The disconnect can be summed up in one article from each side of the divide. Inhabiting the rarefied world of the pundit, we have Max “Hitler” Hastings, self-styled liberator of Port Stanley, formerly of Charterhouse and University College Oxford. And in the real world of education, a number of responses to Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove has been collated by the deeply subversive Guardian.

Who, me? Yes, you

Hastings does not even bother himself with the mildly inconvenient fact that thousands of pupils had the goalposts moved on them between the January and June examinations in the same subject, except to assert that if Gove stuck his oar in, or unduly influenced exam boards, that this was A Good Thing. Otherwise, he blames the unions, and accuses teachers of a “breach of trust”.

It’s a fair assumption that Hastings had not met previously with those whose opinions were recorded by the Guardian. “You have to resource school sport, not blame teachers”, “We cannot work until 8pm [and find time for marking]”, “You should not blame teachers for everything”, “There are big problems in my school and you are not listening”, and “We need more non-teaching time” are typical sentiments.

Instead, Hastings merely trots out the usual re-heated clich├ęs, making accusations of “Stalinist” behaviour and “Politburo-speak”, that “educationalists” are engaged in a “cynical and shameful campaign to hold down standards”, and that “the cruel truth is that state education is failing”. Privately educated pupils, on the other hand, are by default “decently educated”.

It would be a cruel person who locked Hastings and his fellow flat earthers in a room with a cross-section of the profession that they so willingly demonise in the obedient service of their editors’ and proprietors’ agendas, and left them to it. But right now I can’t think of a more suitable method for what is clearly a crying need for the urgent transmission of knowledge from latter to former.

Because the time has come for that demonisation to stop, and pundits to listen.

[UPDATE 1340 hours: the TES has now revealed that the number of pupils affected by the moving of goalposts - the grade boundary between C and D being the most obvious - could exceed 60,000, not 10,000, as previously suggested. As a C in GCSE English Language is effectively mandatory for those wanting to go on to further study, that's a lot of educational futures put at risk - or down the pan altogether.

To no surprise at all, there has been no word thus far from the punditry at the Mail, whose more urgent priorities include kicking the BBC for "insulting Muslims", which the Mail would never dream of doing. Yeah, right]

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