Saturday, 20 June 2015

The (we're not in) London Effect

Not so very long ago the OFSTED hordes descended upon Cumbria, appearing shortly after Michael Gove had made a speech saying many of our schools were failing. Unsurprisingly, OFSTED duly came along and decided that many of our schools were failing. In something that felt more like the Visitations (with many schools being placed in academy status to boot), we were told that for all we were doing, we were not doing enough, or at the very least not doing it well enough.
Fair enough. I’m sure the same is true in every school. And you’ll not find too many teachers or leaders opposed to the idea that we could do better. And in the 18 months or so that have passed since, those schools that came through that wave of inspections have been working hard to do what OFSTED have deemed they should do in order to become more like the kind of schools OFSTED have deemed they should be.
But something grated. And it grates still. Perhaps it was the impression the whole event gave of being politically motivated, with judgments already decided upon before any inspector had so much as purchased their train ticket and made their way to the Glorious North. Perhaps it was the sense that our interrogators knew little of the battle which we fight, and cared less about it either. Or perhaps it was the high-handed hand-wringing, in politics in general, but with OFSTED in particular, heralded as we are with pious appeals to what children deserve, to what we owe to the kids in our schools, to what all parents have a right to demand – as if we rustics were ignorant of such moral imperatives and simply needed educating in the ways of the virtuous.
And of course all of this was, and still is, given the seal of authenticity by the achievements of a certain Mr Wilshaw, he who talked the talk and walked the walk, and other standout examples intended to demonstrate just how achievable transformation is if we could just get better at our jobs and stop failing children with our low expectations. After all, it worked at Mossbourne Community Academy, didn’t it? And Lord knows he’s dined out well on that one.
And yet one thought, time and again, presents itself: could he have done it in Millom? Or Clacton? Or Rhyl?
And do you know, I’m not so sure he could. Or at least, if he did, then he wouldn’t have done it in quite the same way. I’m not arguing that Wilshaw didn’t have a very difficult job in Hackney, or that he did not achieve astonishing success in turning things round – but he also enjoyed some crucial natural advantages, which other places do not have.
As such, packaging this success up as a morality tale simply to be exported to the regions smacks of an ignorance and imperialism which simply assumes that if the natives emulate their betters then we’ll soon be able to fit that square peg into its round hole. Yet the challenges faced are different; this means the solutions must be different too. To claim otherwise is the equivalent of telling Leicester City that all they need to do to win the Premier League next year is copy what Chelsea did, before deducting points from them when they fail to do so – resources, facilities, investment, infrastructure and personnel be damned.
What are these natural advantages? Well, they’re varied and variable. Some places will experience them more acutely than others. And one need hardly point out that of course there are certain advantages enjoyed which London schools do not have. Still, in general terms, there are five key advantages which, one can hope, might inform discussion about the success of London schools, and understanding of why we in the regions might have a different set of challenges to overcome.
Recruitment – apparently all you have to do to improve schools is employ better staff. Which is fine and dandy if you have a large pool to choose from, but more of a problem when recruiting any staff at all is a challenge. There are plenty of schools in many regions that simply do not have the kind of recruitment pools available in the bigger cities, and London in particular with its huge graduate population. Indeed, in many regions there is not much of a graduate population at all, and for a kid to even get a degree they may have to leave the area, meaning recruitment generally relies on inward migration. And since some places struggle a bit on the ‘pull factors’, merrily asserting that they should simply bring in a better calibre of people is less than helpful.
Demographics – We are regularly told that immigrant children tend to be good for school progress, largely because of the ‘higher pupil aspiration, ambition and engagement among migrants’ . We are also regularly told that the white working-class are the real underachievers in schools today, and boys in particular ‘are not making the same progress that pupils from most ethnic minority groups are making’. Well, if that’s the case, then it might be worth keeping in mind the added challenges faced by schools, especially in old industrial towns, in which the vast majority of the population is British White and/or working class. Such as Whitehaven (96.3%), or Easington (96.86%), Barnsley (95.1%) or Merthyr (95.33%).
Funding – Yes, I know, funding is calculated according to needs-based criteria to ensure they are robust and fair and yada yada. Well, it’s not working. And so, just as other seemingly fair distribution criteria have been looked at with newly critical eyes (for example in housing allocation) and been found wanting, we need the same for school funding. An example? Look at the map below*:

Now, bear in mind that in 2014/15, eight of the top ten highest funded (per head) authorities were in that Inner London region: Tower Hamlets (£7,014.38), Hackney (£6,680.05), Lambeth (£6,384.03), Hammersmith and Fulham (£6,248.47), Islington (£6,229.3), Camden (£6,205.29), Southwark (£6,123.79), and Greenwich (£6,005.70).

Compare that with, say, Bodmin (£4,396.58), Stockton-on-Tees (£4,486.55), Grimsby (£4,545.73), Barrow (£4,448.63), St Helens (£4,463.14), Rotherham (£4,844.16), and Blackpool (£4,458.91).
Yes, I know, expenses are higher, not least staff costs, though it should also be noted that pay scale differentiation for Inner London is lower in proportion than the extra per head funding London receives. Equally, I know there are explanations such as deprivation indicators, EAL and the like (as I said, I get the funding formulae have a rational methodology), but this does not cost in the boon from these communities either. The point is the current funding system has worked for London, and congratulations are rightly due – but it hasn’t worked for the rest of us.
Resources and facilities – in some places, taking students to the theatre or to a decent museum means time spent on coach or train, with resulting travel costs few departments can afford and many students are unwilling to pay. As such, when they do happen, they tend to be set-piece yearly events, open only to a relatively small number of students, trying to cram as much as possible into a one or two day slot. In other places, however, these kind of opportunities are on the doorstep. For free. Every, single, day. And as it goes with theatres and museums, then so also for galleries, opera and various important national and international cultural events. This is important, in the sense that the milieu in which children are educated is important – simply having the opportunity to sample the finest cultural experiences is a crucial benefit, yet something which many schools struggle to access. If social capital is as important as everybody has recognised it is, then there is a real inequality between the metropolitan hubs and the outlying regions regarding access to the accumulation of it – and this is not irrelevant.
Culture – Tough one to explain this. In the bigger cities, and in particular London, there is a vibrancy and a buzz which permeates the culture of the city. Wherever you are, you’re always just around the corner from the manifestation of a high-achieving, successful, dynamic culture. Seeing people in suits is not unusual; witnessing young people, of all backgrounds and cultures, being successful not at all uncommon. Now I’m not denying there is a cocoon effect into which kids in some areas can be drawn which isolates them from the positive impact of the wider London success story, any more than I am saying that beyond London there is nothing but the dreary and the drab (as a proud Northerner I would contest that vigorously) – but what I am saying that if we want to model success to our kids, to help make them realise what they can achieve, then the big cities, and London in particular, provide ample opportunity for that. There may well indeed be Two Nations in London, with economic inequality meaning that the lives of the successful can be seen as entirely alien to children in London’s toughest schools, but there is nonetheless also a cultural and social vibrancy, a dynamic locale, which is lost to many old industrial towns, still managing the effects of their decline. This impacts on children – their expectations, their normative frames of reference, even their basic access to social variety and difference. And this is the upside of prosperity and living in a city that is thriving.
I should add, as a final disclaimer, that none of this is intended to defend the status-quo, so if any are inclined to use this as an opportunity for a bit of public virtue-signalling then please do so in the knowledge that you are a bore. It is not excuse-making. It is pointing out lived realities in an effort to make people think about how we might address them, in a manner more effective than writing Terribly Earnest Blogposts implying that if only folk cared about kids a little bit more we’d make more progress. Because making progress is what we should all be about. And sometimes it might need something more nuanced, and more imaginative, than simply telling us we should be more like London.


Sunday, 24 May 2015

Things the Candidates Won't Say

Whilst all the candidates for Labour leadership have been very explicit in pointing out that we, as a Party, have lost our connection with those whom we seek to serve, no candidate has yet proceeded beyond their comfort zone in seeking to address why that might be. Each have tried to present a silver-bullet issue as the answer to their deliberations of ‘What Went Wrong?’, usually immigration or being 'anti-business', which serves only to enable the uncomfortable or inconvenient to be ruled out from the outset. As such, our candidates are unwittingly replicating precisely that which is the real answer to their question: that we, as a Party, have lost the ability to accept the legitimacy of alternative worldviews to the wholly dominant liberal paradigms within which the Party operates, and to build effective coalitions out of them.

So, below are a few contributing factors to the loss of that ‘emotional connection’ (to use Burnham's terms) - not exhaustive, nor complete as an explanation, but factors we will rarely heard spoken nonetheless.

Liberal activists – whilst believing themselves to be disseminating the enlightened and the moral, the reality is that our liberal activist core can come across as nasty and downright hateful to anyone who happens to hold an alternative point of view, caricaturing and demonising long before coming into contact with the actual people who hold such views. There is not only an unwillingness to listen, but even a hostility to the possibility that any other view might be legitimate. Whilst this could conceivably (if not desirably) prove an electoral advantage if the target is opposition parties, nonetheless the often vitriolic demand for conformism has oftentimes isolated our own core vote. In short, denouncing your own natural allies is an ineffective way of building the kinds of coalitions that win elections.

AWS – whilst an item of absolute faith within the party (witness the reams of abuse hurled at those who have ever questioned it) AWS is actually unpopular. Not only has it alienated plenty within local associations, in which we really do need to engage in some serious bridge-building, but it also lacks support among the population at large – all sectors of society, by age, gender, political affiliation and social class, reject the idea as unjust.




Identity politics – Divide and conquer is an effective strategy for beating an opponent. It is a disastrous way of treating your own supporters. Labour’s focus on identity politics has too often left us slicing and dicing our own natural constituency, creating foes where there ought to have been allies. It has also got us into some ridiculous situations in which the logic of identity politics has been paraded in all its baffling glory, much to the bewilderment of the electorate – whether it is #killallwhitemen or denouncing everyone as bigots, identity politics has pulled the rug from underneath any concept of solidarity. Or in the words of Ed West:

Labour is in danger of becoming toxically progressive to the majority of people who do not identify with 1968 derived politics. ‘Left-wing’ is already a derogatory term in many working-class areas of South-East England, not because people oppose the idea of greater equality, or fairness, helping the weak or protecting workers’ rights, but because the left has become associated with obscure and intolerant sexual politics, utopian universalism, nonsensical doctrinal purity and state-enforced equality of outcomes.

Man Problem – In short, Labour has a man problem. Those who have given up on the party are disproportionately male, just as those who are moving from Labour to UKIP are overwhelmingly male, too. This is not coincidence; there must be reasons why a disproportionately large group of males do not feel Labour represents them anymore. For any politician to publicly reflect on this, let alone suggest anything might done about it, would be political suicide. Which tells you just about everything you need to know.

AmoralityFrank Field has put it best: ‘A significant proportion of deserting Labour voters… are hostile to the kind of society they perceive Labour is now in the business to promote… They witness a Labour Party that too often stands for a distribution of public services that they find repulsive; a housing allocation system that favours the newcomer and the social misfit over good behaviour over decades. They see Labour as soft on vulgar and uncivilised behaviour that plagues their lives and from which the rich shield themselves. Moreover, they witness a leadership that never expresses the anger they feel as the world they stand for is mocked and denigrated by hoodlums for whom official Labour always seems to have an understanding word.’


Intolerance – Put short, the party will brook no dissent on an increasingly large palette of issues. We show ourselves not only willing to stand back and watch as our own people are demonised, but willing to stick the boot in too. Labour has not yet found a way to reconcile its theoretical approaches to freedom with the ways in which this has meant that dissent within the Party, and increasingly within society, is shut down – often to cheers and applause from the Party itself. In this sense, Labour teams up with the Establishment, indeed often is the Establishment, to mock and alienate the already culturally and democratically dispossessed.  Instead of trying to bring these voices back into the fold, we choose instead make political hay by continuing to mock and alienate them – before then blaming them when, all of a sudden, we fall short at election time.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Pro-Life Life - and Carlisle Election Candidates

Last weekend and this weekend, every church in Carlisle (so far as I'm aware) had leaflets handed out detailing the responses of the Tory and Labour candidates on two questions regarding pro-life issues. The questions focused on two issues deemed to be particularly pressing with regards to legislation, or the likelihood thereof. The details of the responses by the five main candidates to these questions are below (I confess I do not know if the independent candidate, Alfred Okam, received the chance to respond to these questions – if you’re reading this Alfred, I’m happy to update the post to include your views).

Personally, I find these pre-election exercises important and frustrating in equal measure – important, because they usefully outline candidates’ views on what ought to be our ‘red lines’, though frustrating because they often display a narrow focus. On a local level, with an individual co-ordinating responses at their own expense and time, this is logistical reality, and a great many thanks are owed to those who perform this service for their fellow churchgoers in Carlisle or anywhere else. Yet, to make a broader point, we must also be wary of reducing the pro-life vision down to a clutch of ‘yes or no’ questions, in isolation from the broader coherence and beauty of the pro-life vision - see the SPUC voting guide here for an example. This frustrates because it sells short – like explaining the depths of love by putting on a Hollywood RomCom. 

This, of course, impacts on the questions asked, even the questions deemed legitimate, and one often finds a lack of recognition that the pro-life agenda encompasses the economic too, so that social justice is a legitimate item for discernment under the pro-life banner. Whereas it has become commonplace for people to question how orthodox Catholics can remain part of the Labour Party (an issue I addressed in the Catholic Herald here), nonetheless one might be inclined to suggest that those Catholics who dismiss issues relating to a pro-life economy and the welfare state are putting their politics before their faith every bit as much as those whom they accuse of doing the same. One can accept that there is an issue of degree here, and there is a hierarchy of importance – but we must at least allow the idea that some cast their nets wider and consider issues that exist further down that hierarchy. After all, our narrative is broad and wide – if responses to immigration encompasses watching poor immigrants drown in the Mediterranean, is that a pro-life issue? If responses to austerity involve limiting child welfare to two children (one can only wonder what that will do for the abortion rate), is that a pro-life issue?

Which brings us back to the specific. On the day these leaflets were given out, one young-ish Mass-goer explained to me that he was a Labour man, but that he could not vote for the current Labour candidate after reading her responses to the questions asked. I’m sure he won’t be alone in thinking that. And, as a Labour supporter myself, it does present a problem. We have a candidate that would not represent our views on these matters, standing against a Tory candidate who has (on these particular issues – though not on issues of, say, welfare, or immigration, or the economy). It is no secret that Labour’s hold over the ‘Catholic vote’ (loosely termed) is on the wane (see here) – the results of this brief survey point toward to just one of the wider reasons why that might be.

All of which means that, for some, the pen might linger longer over the ballot paper than it might otherwise have done. Whereas, from a party perspective, left-leaning Catholics might hope this does not translate to more Tory votes, nonetheless could we really blame those who find it difficult weighing their commitment to social justice, and the pro-life narrative it encompasses, against their pro-life commitment on the more explicit issues of euthanasia or abortion? Come voting day, Catholics must make their own decision according to their conscience – they, we, believe we answer to a higher power than just the temporal.

Catholics will not find a party that neatly encompasses and manifests our unique vision of the Good Life – there will always be a reason not to vote for someone.  Catholics, like everyone else, are seeking a 'best-fit' party. Whichever way the vote goes come May 7th, we should continue to work ceaselessly for a genuinely pro-life society, in all its richness and beauty, touching every aspect of life and the way we, as a society, choose to value it.

Anyway, the two questions asked, and the responses from each of the five main candidates, are below (note: I have edited out more generalised comments and included the specific responses to the questions asked) :

I would be most grateful if you could let me know your views on, and likely support for:
1) Any proposal to introduce "assisted dying", (as recently promoted by Lord Falconer, for instance).

Labour - Lee Sherriff (@MissLeeCarlisle)

[These answers were given via a meeting and the detail provided is from the questioner] Ms. Sherriff said that in principle she is not against allowing the medical profession to actively assist in the death of a patient, but that there should be safeguards. She is not fully acquainted with the details of Lord Falconer’s Bill, but would support it.

Conservative - John Stevenson (@John4Carlisle)

In response to your questions, if I am re-elected as MP for Carlisle I would vote against Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. The question of assisted dying is an incredibly morally complex one, but I believe that such a change in legislation, even with safeguards, would be a dangerous step too far. I believe this particularly in respect to the elderly and vulnerable in our society.

Lib Dem - Loraine Birchall (@LoraineBirchall)

My belief about assisted dying is that it should be allowed, but only with extensive legal and medical safeguards to ensure that this is the genuine wish of the individual involved.    

Green - Helen Davison (@HelenDavison1)

With regard assisted dying, as I understand it from looking at Lord Falconer's proposed bill it is talking about physicians being able to prescribe medication for an individual to self-administer and only to someone who has been assessed as being terminally ill and able to make a mentally competent decision (so not clouded by a treatable condition such as depression). I understand too that it is different from assisted suicide (for people who have chronic conditions or disabilities who are not dying) and voluntary euthanasia (where the doctor administers the medication to the individual). The draft bill sets out strict regulations under which it would occur and also ongoing monitoring of it by the Chief Medical Officer.  In theory I am not against this. If someone has reached that point towards the end of their life that they really cannot bear the suffering they are under and palliative care is not alleviating their symptoms I would like them to have the opportunity to make that choice. However, as I understand it the BMA remain against it and I would want to understand their reasons for that before saying yes to it. I would also want to be sure that it was not open to abuse and that, within our healthcare set up as it is that it would work. This again leads back to the need for a better funded adequately-staffed health service which the Green party is fighting for.

UKIP - Fiona Mills (@FionaMillsUKIP)

For 'assisted dying,' I would need to be convinced that there were robust safeguards in place so that there could be no instances of coercion or foul play. 

 2)    Any proposal to reduce the time limit for medical abortions below the current norm of 24 weeks

Labour - Lee Sherriff (@MissLeeCarlisle)

Ms Sherriff said that she had always been a strong supporter of Women’s Rights, and appreciated the difficulties women faced. She felt the critical issue was viability of a foetus outside the womb and would not support any reduction in the current time limit.

Conservative - John Stevenson (@John4Carlisle)

In regards to the issue of time limits for abortion, I do support a reduction in the current limit. It is my view that we should be in line with other European countries who have shorter time limits. I would vote accordingly in Parliament.

Lib Dem - Loraine Birchall (@LoraineBirchall)

As for your second question, there have been a variety of debates since the law was changed to reduce the time limit from 28 to 24 weeks and discussions are still ongoing regarding dropping the time limit to 22 weeks.     I do believe women should have the choice but I'd like to know more about the impact of reducing the time limit before making my decision and have asked for more information on this subject.

Green - Helen Davison (@HelenDavison1)

With regard to reducing the age limit for abortions from 24 weeks. Firstly I think it is important to recognise that abortion is not something that women undertake lightly. It is a huge decision to make. Much as I personally feel uncomfortable that foetuses are aborted, I would not want us to go back to a situation where people feel compelled to use back-street abortions, with the inherent health risks to the mothers. And so it remains important that it is available to women in a safe environment. I assume there were good reasons as to why the limit was set at 24 weeks originally and would want to see good evidence as to why it should now be reduced before doing so. I am aware that some women do not discover until the 20 week scan that there are abnormalities with their baby and they need the time to make the right decision for themselves. 

I think in the wider societal context we should be doing more to reduce the need for abortions in the first place and Green Party policy would support this happening. Counselling should be offered to every woman considering an abortion. We would seek to significantly improve sex and relationship education at schools with appropriate education about the consequences of sexual activities at an age before they are likely to become sexually active, alongside providing young people with parenting skills, so they may feel more able to deal with pregnancy should it happen. We would want to ensure adequate provision of free family planning advice by properly trained health workers and counsellors. Our policy is also to ensure adequate financial and social support for parents, particularly lone parents and those with disabled children, so that women do not feel pressure to terminate a pregnancy purely because they would be unable to make financial ends meet.

UKIP - Fiona Mills (@FionaMillsUKIP)

Regarding the 24 week time limit for abortions, I would be supportive of reducing that limit.


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Porta Fidei - or, What the Cool Kids Are Doing on June 27th

Michaelmas term, dark night, deluge outside, beer in hand, sparsely lit back room of a quiet provincial pub – a school chaplain and an RE teacher plot.

Or at least, that’s how I’d write it if this were a (clearly scintillating) Hollywood plot line. Alas, it’s not, and so I suppose I ought to lay out the banal reality – we (Fr Millar, our school chaplain, and I) decided one night in the Autumn term that it would be great to organise a conference in Carlisle, roughly equidistant between so many important centres of Catholic thought and practice, to facilitate a discussion about the Catholic education sector and, to pilfer a book title from the venerable Will Hutton, The State We’re In.

Well, I’m delighted that, thanks to the personal kindness and commitment of so many who were willing to support the event, even at personal cost, that original idea has now borne fruit.

As such, we hope to bring together a range of voices for an honest discussion of what life is like in our schools, to identify our successes, to assess the obstacles before us, to explore what we can realistically do to confront the challenges we face, and to sketch out what the future might hold for us. This means academics, but also school leaders, diocesan education officers, governors, parents, those involved in politics and policy, and, of course, teachers - the thinking goes that these groups too infrequently get chance to come together to thrash out ideas and discuss solutions, and none of us benefit from this.

It should be said that there is no editorial line and the day is an honest attempt to facilitate discussion in an atmosphere of collegiality and friendship – under the recognition that we are all seeking to walk the same path and deliver for our students the best education we can provide. If you have a view at all then you already meet the qualification criteria - come along!

As such, the intended audience is… well anyone with an interest of faith schooling, really.  Whilst the conference will hopefully prove to be of interest to leaders and aspiring leaders in the Catholic education sector, we hope there will also be enough to entice anybody interested in the broader principles at stake as the faith school sector seeks to faithfully live out its mission in rapidly changing socio-political contexts.

The format will consist of two keynote papers and four seminar sessions (and food, obviously. Mustn't forget the food). The keynote papers will be broad-based reflections focusing on, firstly, the challenge contemporary liberalism presents to the Catholic vision of education and, secondly, what Catholicity means in the context of Catholic institutions and how we might look to both preserve (and expound?) that identity and ethos. The four seminar sessions - two in the morning and two in the afternoon - will comprise of two papers presented for informal discussion and are entitled: What makes a Catholic school Catholic?; Faith and Leadership; Challenges at the Chalkface; If not this, then what? [Alternative models of Catholic education]

We have a variety of speakers - from academia and school leaders, to teachers and public policy experts - presenting papers on themes as diverse as the formation of Catholic teachers, the unique vision of Catholic education, and the challenge of teaching RE in a post-Christian, pluralist society. 

The event is organised in association with the Diocese of Lancaster Education Service and the current speaker list is below.

Bishop Michael Campbell (Diocese of Lancaster)
Professor Robert Davis (University of Glasgow)
Professor James Arthur (University of Birmingham)
Dr. Ros Stuart-Buttle (Liverpool Hope University)
Dr. Adrian Pabst (University of Kent)
Dr. Phillip Blond (ResPublica)
Dom Antony Sutch (Downside)
Charlotte Vardy (Candle Conferences)
Mary Clarkson (Labour councillor, Catholic voices, Chair of Governors)
Andy Lewis (RE teacher, Head of Year, Brentwood Diocese)
Mr Stephen Tierney (Executive Director of MAT - Christ the King, St. Cuthbert's and St. Mary's Catholic academies) 

The event will commence at 10:00am, with lunch and refreshments provided throughout the day. Tickets are priced at £25 and all leftover funds will be donated to Mary's Meals

And why Porta Fidei? Well, for the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic Letter entitled ‘Porta Fidei’, meaning ‘door of faith.’ It was a reflection on Acts 14:27, and at the start of his letter Pope Benedict reflects: ‘It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.’ Perhaps in those words, in that imagery, we see already a model of what a Catholic school is called to be, and indeed to do.

If you would like to attend then you can book your tickets here: Porta Fidei

If there are any questions or inquiries regarding the event, please do contact me using the contact link within the Porta Fidei ticket page above. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Blue Labour

I wrote a while back that Labour really needed Blue Labour in order to ‘get back in the game’. The phrase came from an interview with a Labour MP who, talking on Labour’s prospects in the North, had said that when he goes into pubs and clubs of his constituency all talk is about UKIP and Labour are not even in the game.

Which one might find odd, considering clich├ęs about Labour’s strongholds. But then we had confirmation of much the same yesterday, with an ostensibly working-class (and certainly Northern) male, talking with Ed Miliband and recounting a conversation he recently had in his local, noting that talk was of turning away from Labour and backing UKIP.

One thing we must get straight: UKIP is not the problem for Labour. No, as things stand, Labour is the problem for Labour. Which, on the plus side, means that the answer to the problem is Labour too. Not as the assertion that we’re right and everyone else is wrong, but in the recognition that our tradition is right and that to exclude huge swathes of those who authentically articulate it has been terribly wrong.  

Nonetheless, the (selection) arteries are clogged up, and seeking to move toward diversity - the genuine sort - will need concerted action from the centre. But to do so, to take such drastic action, requires first the articulation of this long excluded voice, to provide an infrastructure of thought and expression that can proclaim the Labour vision in a concrete and compelling way. Without that, there is only nostalgic sighs and apathetic shrugs.

Which is perhaps what the Blue Labour collection of essays, due out next Friday, could be – the flesh on the bones of a movement that currently exists as the echo of a nearly-forgotten tradition, that yet contains within it a rich seam of thought, with the potential to address in new ways those anxieties that are the mark of contemporary times. 

To declare an interest, I have a chapter in the book, but don’t let that put you off – there are plenty of impressive voices in there too, from a range of backgrounds (Rowan Williams, Ruth Davis, Maurice Glasman, Arnie Graf, Rowenna Davis, Frank Field and Tom Watson to name but a few)

Labour really needs to get back in the game – particularly in those places it has long thought impregnable. Even if Blue Labour is not the entire solution, it can certainly help us better understand the problem. And that is in all our best interests. 



Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Changing Face of Racism

Writing on the evils of racism is fairly easy – one can assume with relative certainty that most of those who read it will agree with it, whilst there is little risk involved socially or professionally to those who do so. Which is good, since racism is wrong, and must forever be denounced, lest it creep back in through lack of watchfulness on the part of those who thought they had defeated it.

However, writing in defence of those who have been wholesale denounced as racist is a little trickier. In what follows, I hope folk take this as it is intended to be – an honest attempt at trying to grapple with the difficult questions we must all face, on an issue that is in one sense very clear cut (racism is wrong) but at other times rather more difficult to disentangle (people who say x are racist).

This blog first took seed when I noticed this post by @Samfr on Twitter:



For what it’s worth, I don’t think Sam was falling for the temptation, into which so many fall prey, to point mockingly at the rustics whilst lauding the perceived multicultural and tolerant London. Rather, he was identifying an occurrence that neatly illustrates the grey area over which so many in the commentariat would blithely march in their single-minded determination to head for the moral high ground – in reality, where certainty exists for some, debate and disagreement exists for others.

Not that certainty, and strong denunciation, is always a bad thing – after all, shame and social censorship is a long established way of ensuring members of a society uphold its moral norms. However it is tinged with danger as ratcheting up the rhetoric can entrench attitudes, leading one side to think it monopolises tolerance whilst the other grows more and more resentful and willing to contravene precisely those codes in response. 
It is one thing to tell Joe Bloggs we ought not use certain words because of the harm they can cause - it is quite another to tell him that his mother and father, grandparents and siblings are all racists, because they use a word Joe thought everybody used, and certainly not with any intended racist connotation. If our recent political history tells us anything, it is that such an approach drives essentially good folk away from the mainstream and toward those with more malign intent.  

Besides which, allowing one side to think they own this debate might just mean we miss the evils of racism when it lurks in precisely those places where we would last expect to find it. Liberals might think their noisy denunciations make them impervious to accusations of racism – in reality they have their own charges to answer.


And now for the difficult bit.

My childhood was split between army camps all over Britain, old Lancashire (Salford) and North Yorkshire/County Durham (Stockton-on-Tees). Speaking to a teacher colleague, who grew up in an entirely different part of the country, we were discussing the latest UKIP fiasco and went through the words we used as kids which we would never consider using, or endorsing, or condoning today. And, in truth, it was appalling. Words long since abandoned, and thankfully so, were just a normal part of our lives. They may make us wince now, but not then. They were the norm, used by adults and kids alike. Part of this might have merely reflected our backgrounds (‘northern, respectable working class’) but more likely it spoke of our time as children of the 80s and 90s. And I’d wager that, if we felt able to be honest, most of us would admit to the same.

Some examples. Well, when I was a kid, it was standard for any show of tears to be greeted with the phrase ‘don’t be a poofter,’ meaning stop showing emotion and being ‘soft.’ I vividly remember being in junior school, where a group of us were perplexed as to why one of our number had just been told off for calling someone a ‘spas[tic].’ I remember a colleague of my father’s in the army was called ‘Midnight’ and introduced himself as such. I remember the word ‘paki’ was common currency, less so as an insult, but more often to refer to the ‘paki shop’. Indeed, when I took my Indian heritage then-girlfriend (now wife) to first meet the family, one older relative (whose identity I shall keep concealed) asked us ‘would you nip to the paki shop [in which this relative worked] and get us some flyers?’ Flyers, for those unaware, were tubes of liquorice with sherbert in the middle. About thirty seconds later, the blood drained from this person’s face as they realised what they had said and apologised profusely – the language was racist, but the person really was not.

And I could go on, and on, and on. Granddads and generally older male relatives are particularly rich sources for examples – perhaps unsurprising, certainly according to this article here, painting older, northern males as being particular culprits - but I could include examples from male and female, teachers and professionals, sports clubs and public figures, tv shows and celebrities. Indeed, recent years have been particularly plentiful in the ‘gaffe’ department, particularly from football culture (itself often associated with the working class male) – be it Joey Barton’s apparent sexism, or Robbie Fowler’s taunting of Graeme le Saux, or Alan Hansen referring to ‘coloured’ players, or Jose Mourinho’s use of homophobic language (though, to illustrate the point I am trying to make, using a word that still features in one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time).

The easy response here would be the ahistorical and hysterical – to denounce everyone as bigoted and refuse to try and understand what is going on here. But in reality, what is actually playing out is time itself, and the ways in which conventions and etiquette shift with it. And that change is rarely universal, let alone uniform. In other words, times change, and oftentimes for the better, but it changes at different paces in different places, and sometimes folk get caught on the wrong side of that step change. Nigel Farage may well get be greeted with howls of disgust when ruminating on use of the word ‘chinky’, but the awkward truth is that until very recently, certainly well into my adulthood, that was (and in some places no doubt still is) the standard word used to describe a Chinese take-away (though in Lancashire it tended to sway between that and ‘chinee’). If Dave Whelan’s comments show anything, it is (probably) not that he is racist, but that he was formed in a society that used racist language – perhaps some of it with racist intent, but for the vast majority not so. Racism did and in places does exist, and must be challenged forcefully – but we need a more nuanced litmus test than what words somebody chooses to use, which makes it easy for racists to escape detection and non-racists to be unwittingly caught up in something they had neither intended nor suspected. Or, as Simon Danczuk has said:



And this is the thing – despite all those terrible examples I cited earlier, I always knew racism was wrong. We all did. And can honestly say that we did not see those with a different colour skin as essentially different. And yet we used racist language. And were not at all unusual in that. We were children (and adults) of the time, in a country that was changing and in many ways has changed for the better (except for derogatory terms for the traveller community, attitudes and language toward whom are terrible but which we rarely challenge with the same gusto).

Maybe, then, hidden away amongst the angry words and insults is actually a social and political reality of two nations, ‘between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.’ When those two cultures collide, they see things about each other they don’t like. The outrage of the culture industry at use of certain terms demonstrates a lack of awareness that, for many people, these are common currency. What is obvious in Haringey might not be so obvious Hartlepool. And if the two nations theory is true, then why would it be obvious? Lack of awareness and understanding at the attitudes and thoughts of the other can clearly swing both ways. 

The story here, then, is as much one of a dominant culture being appalled by the habits and attitudes still ingrained (and long thought erased) in the less dominant. Those attitudes and that language will, in time, change – lest those who would expunge succeed in only entrenching them further.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Blue Labour could help Labour 'get in the game'

Throughout the country, beyond particular urban strongholds, Labour is in a perilous position. The natural advantages so long enjoyed in certain areas have made it presumptuous, whilst electoral security has rendered safe constituencies the fiefdoms of (often incoming) architects and guardians of the progressive, liberal- left project. As such, Labour has become sluggish, but also detached – in all too many places it has failed to hold its voice at the heart of the communities from which it originally sprung.

This presents a problem in the face of the new political realities before us. Put simply, Labour is in no position to fight UKIP in its heartlands. Or even to speak with authenticity to that social and cultural angst from which UKIP is siphoning support.  Our initial reaction, to disregard UKIP as a Tory problem, has left us vulnerable as the roots of revolt have crept into lands once occupied by the left – we did not conceive that we might need to build an alternative offer of our own.

Alas, the penny has dropped, and the response has been typical of a party that does not accept the legitimacy of that which it seeks to combat – when we listen, it has been the job of those who are part of the problem to provide diagnosis and solution; when we speak, it has been in tones of that which is being rejected.

Thus Labour has too easily condemned itself as part of the problem it is claiming to solve. Worse, it often does not have the resources or the rootedness to even imagine that there exists a legitimate alternative. For all our talk of reconnecting with the disaffected, one cannot help but wonder how many in the formal organisation of our party have the capacity to recognise the extent of this cultural deficit – the once rich chorus of the Labour tradition has long turned to a shrill, castigating shriek. At root this is a culture clash, and there has been little sign that those with their hands on the levers are willing to budge.

So Labour is poorly placed to fight UKIP. It needs a different voice, which presents a problem to a party that has spent so long rooting out difference. The critique-free liberalism that has delivered the party to its current predicament must now accept challenges to its narrative – doubts over its ability or willingness to do so remain.

Yet the picture is not as bleak as it might be. For all the homogeneity of the professional arm of the party, the Labour tradition nonetheless has within its heritage precisely this alternative voice. It still exists as a cultural phenomenon, in the hearts and minds of many a Labour voter, and many more an ex-Labour voter, and indeed in many an activist feeling increasingly alienated within the changing landscape of the local associations they helped build. By a rule of thumb, this might well be more economically to the left – it is certainly more socially conservative. Either way, it can naturally articulate a legitimate Labour vision of society that not only pitches for that sizable band which is deserting us for UKIP, but can do so in a way that is more wholesome and hopeful than anything UKIP – with its misanthropy and its myth-peddling – has to say.

This offer, which up until now has remained in the background, a loose coalition, informal and ultimately unloved (despite early signs of interest), is perhaps best articulated by the group now given the moniker ‘Blue Labour.’

Yet substantial obstacles block its advancement. Even if the Labour hierarchy were to accept the need for diversity, party infrastructure is hostile enough to its delivery that those who might just provide it will rarely break through to the front line. The party has become an echo chamber – it would require something drastic for those with another tale to tell to walk the gauntlet and come through successfully on the other side. Or, as I have written previously,

‘To exacerbate the problem, engagement with the party on a local level too often offers little opportunity for the excluded: the arteries are clogged up. Those that Labour recognise they have alienated are not the kind of people who tend to advance through the party, either by selection or appointment. Those who are opposed to the traditional views of what is in effect the Labour dalit class generally are the kind of people who advance through the party, both by selection and appointment… [so] the old grassroots might well be socially conservative, but it is highly unlikely that any such individual would gain any position that would allow such views to be honestly represented, whilst those who expend such effort in shouting them down regularly do so. As such, even in the event of recognition of this representation deficit, there is unlikely to be any concerted action to address it – it remains a fact to be confronted that it was/is during the ‘diversity years’ that the Labour Party has become so very ideologically narrow.’

Perhaps, then, the UKIP moment presents an opportunity. If Labour has within its tradition the ability to respond to UKIP, if there exists within the party a group already articulating this alternative, if that articulation currently finds little direct representation because of structural barriers to advancement – might part of our solution lie in giving Blue Labour a more formal voice? Can an affiliate grouping be created which would assist Blue Labour in getting its message to the front line? Might direct intervention be justified?

It has long been the paradox of Blue Labour, and the postliberal movement which it represents, that for all its reverence of institutions it has yet to form an effective one of its own. Perhaps it has lacked the incentive, or the support, or indeed the will.

Well, times have changed. The answer to the ‘Purple Revolution’ might just be a bit red and a bit blue. Which means the Labour Party needs Blue Labour, just as Blue Labour needs the Labour Party. It is time to formalise that union. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Death of Liberal Education

In our schools, right now, there are many students who spend 60% of their entire time in a classroom studying just three subjects. Come the end of the year, or perhaps already for some, this will increase, and for those deemed to be falling short there will be up to 18 lessons (perhaps even more) out of 25 spent studying just these same three subjects. The same children might also be forced encouraged to attend after school revision sessions, or marched invited to lunch time catch-up sessions, or bribed welcomed to pre-school intervention sessions, all of which will be topped off with a healthy dollop of homework for each of the three subjects.

If that sounds a little unbalanced… well, good, I’m glad, we’re clearly on the same side here. Because it is. Whilst English and Maths are the top priority, Science is also increasingly given a seat at the High Table of the curricula Elect, particularly since STEM, and our alleged lack of focus on it, became the buzzword of the Prophets of Economic Doom in recent years. In other words, we force students to spend the majority of their time doing just three subjects, whilst simultaneously puffing our chests out and bragging to the world that we offer our kids a broad, balanced, liberal arts education. Which, on paper, it might well look like we do, since we still corral kids into an unsustainably large number of exams – but peel back the surface layer and things begin to look a little different.

At school, my least favourite lessons were Science and Maths. Not the teachers, by the way, all of whom I thought were great, but the subjects. Nothing personal really, I just didn’t have all that much interest. I could do what was asked, I could get grades good enough to keep the hounds at bay, but they just didn’t inspire. History did, Geography did, English Literature did, RE did, PE did, French did (eventually) – but Science and Maths? Nah. (I know we’re not supposed to say that anymore, but nonetheless it’s true, for me as for many others). As such, I couldn’t honestly say that I would have had much of a successful time at school, by various measures, if they had forced me to sit through the equivalent of two whole days’ worth of the two things I disliked most, whilst skimping on the subjects I adored. For sanity, if for nothing else. If they had then told me that the latter would be sacrificed still further to allow more time on the former – well, I’d have thought it part of a cruel experiment designed to test the stress capacity of an already moody teenager. It would have ruined school for me. It just would have. And the pressure of trying to get good grades in the subjects I enjoyed and wished to carry further, whilst having the tables so egregiously stacked against the likelihood of doing so, would have sparked the fires of revolt.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Nor do I see why it should be any different for students today. Which leads to the question: why do we do it? Only, you already know the answer to that question. As soon as I mentioned the three subjects, the game had been given away. And so, with a gallic shrug and a defeated air: we do it because of OFSTED and because of league tables. Or rather, we do it to preserve ourselves and our institutions in the face of OFSTED and league tables. 5 A*s to C, with English and Maths. The End.

Of course, it is easy to look up from the coalface and curse the cowardice and question the courage of those who lead us, to shake our fists and swear that we’d do things differently. And for those who choose to pursue school leadership, maybe they will, and these experiences will help them discern the costs of sedition. But the blindingly obvious truth is our leaders are just as human as we are (no, really), trying to make rational choices in a clearly irrational situation, fighting to do the best for their school in the hopeless situation in which they are placed – faced with the external pressures that bear down upon their shoulders each day, we’d probably be liable to make precisely the same decisions. Everyone imagines themselves a hero until the time comes to be heroic. Self-preservation might not ever keep the Hollywood script writers in fruitful supply, but one can at least acknowledge the logic that it carves out a space where one can sit quietly, wait out the storm and hope for better times. In other words, we have to give SLT a break here, and cast our eyes toward the real culprit.

Change is indeed in the offing, of course, and whilst it seems the forthcoming points scheme will help mitigate some of the crazy incentives that have riddled our education system for the last few years, we can also be sure that, like every piece of tinkering that has come before it, it will have unintended consequences that will yoke schools and the teachers doing their best to operate, dignity intact, within them. Every new idea always seems better than the one it is designed to replace – that we keep on replacing them so frequently tells us something about the quality of the ideas offered as solutions, as much as the ones laid aside as old hat. And let it not be forgotten that this happened on the watch of precisely he who spoke so emphatically on the value of a liberal education. Oh how they laughed on their way to their twelfth STEM lesson of the week. 

And so there must remain a sadness: the kids who have come through this system have just one shot at this. In reality, the latest political wheeze means much more for them than it does for us. For those sitting in a Maths classroom up to seven times a week, whilst trying to get their Art or History or Geography or RE or Music or Language GCSE on just one hour a week – well, for them, this is it, this is all they have. That our Enlightened Masters thought they were changing things for the better will cut no mustard with them - they, like those before them, will have been the guinea pigs, and it is their life options that will have suffered for the experiment, they who will have to live with the consequences of that in a way that we never will. Especially those whose interests and ambitions don’t align neatly with the external incentives and prejudices that, in the name of improving education, have closed those very doors that they might have earnestly desired to walk through. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Watching Teaching

To the eyes of those who watch over us, teachers are much more important than students. We have their sole attention, we are their singular pursuit, it is we whom they come to see. This has increased the status of teachers (if not our authority) – it has given us celebrity teachers and forensic attention on the minutiae of teaching performance, books aplenty on how to be ‘outstanding’ and cult-like status for a teaching elite.  However, this trend has also shifted focus away from where focus needs to be – the students.

As an example, underachievement very often follows lack of effort. This is not to say that all who underachieve lack effort – but those who lack effort often underachieve. I should imagine this is universal, and will forever be so. Yet so far as accountability and improving performance goes, we rarely focus on student effort, and hold the student accountable for lack of it; instead, we raise an eyebrow to the teacher and assume it was the teaching that lead to a lack of ‘engagement’. In other words, we hold the wrong person culpable, and target our interventions on them accordingly – whilst often leaving the student to drift through school showing a similar lack of engagement across the curriculum.

In a similar way, we have become accustomed to saying those who misbehave do so because they cannot access the work, instead of wondering if they have difficulty accessing the work because they misbehave. Student effort, after all, is far more important to success than differentiated worksheets – yet we seem to spend far more time differentiating worksheets than we do insisting upon, and ensuring, effort. In other words, we put the cart before horse, then castigate the horse for the cart not moving fast enough.

Yet this tendency has become so normal as to pass unnoticed. Politicians, OFSTED, SLT – all of them keep dreaming up more and more ways to monitor and shape what a teacher is doing, without taking a step back and wondering if it might actually be more effective to spend the time instead watching what the student is doing. On this, I’d be willing to bet (though I’ll happily admit I can offer no evidence to support it) that such an approach is far more common the further one descends down the school league tables. Which is no surprise, I suppose – excess monitoring of teaching and tinkering with praxis is one way for an anxious management to demonstrate to OFSTED that SOMETHING IS BEING DONE!! about poor performance (of teachers, that is – the implicit assumption being that the failure must primarily be theirs). Still, it would also mean that top schools come at it from the other direction – a focus on what the student does, and getting them to do it better, and holding them to account when they do not. If this is a pathway to success, then it would in fairness be a bold one to take in an environment where OFSTED wants to see evidence of how a school is improving teaching and learning – by which it means improving what the teachers are doing. And assessing the capacity and strength of leadership by how effectively they watch and intervene in what teachers are doing.

I should add, I’m not saying that the teacher is not involved in this process – it is of course our job to ensure students learn and to intervene when they do not. If we do not intervene then we are culpable. I'm also not saying teachers shouldn't try to get better and be encouraged and supported in doing so - which includes constructive criticism where required. But nonetheless we must constantly assert the truth that when a student chooses not to work hard and try to succeed in class, it is rarely for the lack of effort or determination or skill of the teacher. Meaning we ought to try and restore the balance, since taking away primary responsibility from the student not only neglects our duty to ensure students learn, it also sells our students a lie about life and how to succeed in the art of living it well. 

And so the paradox: maybe to improve learning we need to focus less on the teaching. Which means finding a new way to judge what happens in our schools, so that we focus more on the things that matter most. And question any habit of thought or structural processes that disincentivises our doing so. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

In Praise of Slow Learning (and Teaching)

 Our kids are taught too much. Which very often means they don’t learn enough. The more able manage a shallow grasp of lots of things, whilst the less able grasp little of much at all. And as time has progressed, I can’t help but wonder if it is our very definition of progress that creates the problem.

Coming through my teacher training, terms like ‘pace’ and ‘progress’ were the ever present dictums that shaped our teaching and informed our observations. Lessons had to be snappy, tasks swiftly completed, and pupils whisked on to the next chunk of learning without honest reflection on whether they had truly mastered the stage they were at. That the kids were learning, able to show that they were learning – these were the indicators of a successful lesson. Every minute was for learning, all learning should be moving forward, there could be no rest.

Of course, there was to be a narrative thread linking all this learning together into a coherent whole – this being as true for the sixty minute lesson as it was for short-, mid- and long-term planning. In that sense, every lesson was a stand-alone set piece, linking to the last lesson and the next, but careful never to step on the toes of either. That would be repetition, and repetition is bad, lacking challenge and failing to engage pupils. This, after all, is what ‘progress’ is all about – moving forward, always moving forward, learning new things, becoming better educated.

I’m not sure there is too much to argue with this – it certainly makes sense and sounds desirable – but as time has worn on there exists a quiet, nagging doubt that this is not delivering outcomes we should desire, and might in fact be an obstacle to them. The danger seems clear: in the determination to show progress, because this is how we judge ourselves and are judged as teachers, do we give pupils too little time to master one thing before whisking them along to the next?

Asking such questions may seem indulgent – if progress is good, and grades are good, then why rock the boat? Well, simply this: why, despite all their progress, and their impressive levels, do pupils just seem to know less? The renewed focus on a knowledge curriculum might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the fact that such a call has become commonplace is itself instructive. And I’m yet to meet many teachers who do not think it important for pupils to know the basic vocabulary and canon of core knowledge for their subject. Yet if that has gone, and I think it undoubtedly has, then we are duty bound to ask why that might be.

Which leads us back to that point about teacher training. Perhaps these accounts of pace and progress that have followed me round ever since my training years have meant that I, we, have been less inclined to offer sufficient opportunities for that important feature of learning: practice. And here there is much to be learned from our colleagues in the Maths departments. If practice helps us know, and knowing helps us understand, and understanding help us learn, then why should that be any different in any of my subjects? I teach RE, History, Psychology and Philosophy – for every one of them, getting the first clause of that formula right is just as key as it is for Maths.

Which means we might just need to slow down a bit – to stop, take stock, to practice. Indeed, perhaps we need to stop adorning schemes of work with great leaps and jumps that undoubtedly impress outside eyes but which we must question honestly: are these for the inflation of ourselves or our pupils? It might also mean building in mastery of knowledge and practice explicitly into our teaching, which will take an effort of the will, programmed as we all are to impress by getting pupils to as high a level as possible as quickly as possible. 

But it needs to be built on firm foundations. What they know, they need to know well. So that, measured in terms of breadth, perhaps our pupils should study less. Since this might help them know more. Which is precisely the case for slow teaching.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The NeoTraddie Revolution

We all know of Luther's most famous uttering: 'Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy faith has.' What fewer know is the next line '...it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.' The context is apposite - a Western intelligentsia that had rediscovered Aristotle and with it had pursued a shallow intellectualism that left the heart, and no less the soul, cold.  Luther was not the first to tread this path - the vexatious issue of the relationship between faith and reason was/is as old as the hills 

Luther was wrong, of course, though one cannot help but suspect that, as with most of history's greatest heretics, it was for an excess of piety rather than deficiency of it. But he was edging at something important, something instinctive, difficult to communicate, particularly to those who already reject the rules by which we play - that in the heart of life there is mystery, and reason can not always take us there. That trying to subdue life to the rational can impoverish it. That wisdom can make fools of the educated. If Aquinas services the head then Augustine wraps up the heart, and it is the strength of the Church to value both equally 

I've always seen myself a traditionalist in education, something which I saw as splitting two ways. The first was pedagogical, the desire to emulate those who transformed me, and not have to jump through hoops doing daft things to please people with daft ideas. But there was a second strand, and this was the belief that students should have access to something greater, to high culture, to aesthetic ideals, to the good, the true and the beautiful. The traditionalist, as I saw it, was every bit the rebel and for that reason entirely the romantic. 

Yeats once described, in his poem the Seven Sagesthe whiggish mind; 'a levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind/That never looked out the eye of a saint/Or out of drunkards eye.' The Seventh sage responds to the Sixth mournfully: 'All's Whiggery now/But we old men are massed against the world.' Looking around at the education revolution, one cannot help but feel the sympathy of the traditionalist must be with the Seventh Sage. For the NeoTraddie chorus, remarkably uniform and increasingly shrill, seems to have become that which so provoked Yeats's ire. Clutching academic journals, divinising research, yoking everything to the demand for 'evidence!'  - rationalistic, technocratic, and above all, cold. Or at least it often feels like it. And as the mob is whipped up with mock outrage and witty blogposts against the latest idea or practice that contravenes their rulings, and indeed against anyone who holds or practices them, then it often looks like it, too.  

Is it this lack - of wonder, of awe, of mystery - that marks the technocrats of the education revolution? If it is it puts it at odds with traditionalism as I understand it. Teaching is now a profession, a career no less, of which it is increasingly conscious, and with it the language and logic of learning has come to ape that of process and manufacture over growth and flourishing. And it is that coldness that causes one to well up with discomfort and shout 'No!', even at erstwhile allies. If there is anything to redeem Ken Robinson, it is that he gets this, the importance of the intangible, even if his greatest error is to force it into a realm in which it does not belong.  

As we (rightly) speak of reason, of the rational, of evidence, we must not forget to balance this with the mystery at the heart of life, the romance in the heart of mystery, and love in the heart of both. I suppose it is from here that I look at the revolution and see in the heart of it something lacking - and, for all it sounds daft, maybe it is love. That can raise a guffaw, provoke laughter, a dismissive huff and a roll of the eyes, but maybe in so doing the point is better illustrated. Education is about love, because in the end all that is good is about love. Which means it is about the heart as well as the head. And the traditionalist must straddle these twoAquinas must waltz with Augustine.