## 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.

## Tuesday, 21 October 2014

### Welcome to Humanities (or Mark the Damn Books)

Welcome to humanities. Mad week this week. Assessment week. Better get on with it.

Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book  Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book Mark book

And of course the homework.

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But of course, not everyone handed it in. On a good week, about 50 didn’t. So…

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Unless it is a repeat problem. Then you’ll need to phone home. Best finish off the marking first.

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Oh, and do make sure your lessons are well planned. And resources are differentiated. And data is recorded. And interventions are documented. And behaviour incidents are followed up. And parents are contacted. And after school club is offered. And trips are planned. And reports are written. And parents’ evening is attended. And open evening is attended. And emails are answered. And meetings are attended. And the curriculum is developed. And revision classes are sorted. And detentions are supervised. And... remember you've got an observation next week, a performance review, an OFSTED inspection due and a departmental scrutiny meeting.

Still, next week it gets a bit easier. No assessments to mark. Just the books. And the homework..

## 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

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.

## Sunday, 6 July 2014

### Blue Labour and Education

Below are the outline notes of a paper I gave at the Blue Labour conference at the University of Nottingham yesterday, on what Blue Labour can offer education.

For those who asked for copies - hope this helps!

Vocational Education

The first area Blue Labour might look to challenge contemporary orthodoxy can be summed up with the simple question: ‘what do we educate our children for?’

It seems straightforward, perhaps tedious, but I’d argue that for too long we have transformed that question and actually answer a subtly different one that can more accurately be rendered ‘for whom do we educate our children?'

The shift is slight, but telling - if the first suggests inherent virtue, then the latter points toward an outside demand. And once we define education through the service of an outside demand, we shape its offer to better support our preferred outcomes in relation to that demand.

It is in this spirit that Labour have for too long bought into an error. An understandable, perhaps even noble error, but an error nonetheless.

They have bought into the idea that our children are split into two types, the academic and the non-academic. In so doing, we have tacitly supported the notion of vocational training not as a good in itself, but actually as a good for kids who are deemed to be non-academic.

The corollary has been the idea that for everybody else, only an academic pathway was legitimate, one that followed naturally to completion of a degree. The natural consequence was an excess stress on degree level education, deemed good in so far as it services our service economy.

In other words, we submitted education to the demands of the market, and in so doing segregated our children according to which aspect of that market they might service. And you can be sure that this has influenced what we teach our kids and how we assess its delivery.

This has nudged schools and society toward a similar segregation, reinforcing a subtle denigration of the very socio-cultural classes with whom Labour traditionally stood shoulder to shoulder. The contribution of those in the vocational is less valued than it might be, even despite frequent protestations otherwise, because we have accepted the notion that the vocational is the other side of the coin to the academic, which is at any rate the more desirable.

Put frankly, this stinks.

Yet one can see where it comes from. The romantic ideal of hands-on work is replete with core ideas of relationships, reciprocity, contribution - but also, and importantly, with pride and dignity in work. And rightly so. Yet as a movement our stress on vocational schooling seems too often to have been less a recognition of skill and production as a virtue in the pursuit of the good life, and instead the acceptance of the pernicious idea that our workers cannot also be educated - or at least not in an academic sense.

In other words, we have given ownership of the educated to the service economy, when we should instead be claiming it back, for all.

Social Mobility

But Blue Labour’s challenge of orthodoxy doesn’t have to stop there. With its stress on rootedness and place, it can also challenge this omnipresent fad of the professionally concerned: ‘social mobility.’

Put simply, it has become a fashion for every change in education to be justified with a hand-wringing appeal to social mobility. It must be said Govian revolutionaries are particularly good at this, and very much resemble the liberal left when they do so (no surprise there). Determined to display their compassionate credentials, they present their reforms as self-evidently enlightened because self-evidently about helping-poor-people-get-a-job-more-like-ours-for-a-change

Thus we’re no longer in the game of developing intellect to help human flourishing, but have instead turned education into the harlot of the markets. What use, after all, within a marketised utilitarianism, for appeals to refinement of intellect? For human flourishing? For the feeding of the soul?

Or, to quote a leading Labour figure: 'Overcoming educational inequality is a huge challenge. However, we know the cost of doing nothing. It's bad for social mobility and ultimately bad for Britain's economy.'

No desperate romantic, he.

Yet the objection to social mobility is more than than the cold-fingered grip it places round the throat of any sort of expansive view of learning. For social mobility effectively means, in contemporary parlance, the ability to move away from those you know and love. With the heavy implication that failure to do so somehow represents a mournful loss of potential and indeed choosing to do so is itself a signifier of success.

Maybe I’m being unfair, and such definitions of social mobility will always exists whilst the regions are effectively supplicant to the economy of the South-East. But at the same time, we cannot scratch our heads and wonder at atomisation whilst we have spent a generation and more telling anyone with talent that the reason we educate ourselves is to walk away from who we are, or at the very least from where we are from.

Institutions

Which brings me lastly to institutions.

Now I should say to start us off - I support free schools, and I think Blue Labour should too. They are the embodiment of Blue Labour insights into associative society. The left, understandably perhaps, are broadly more critical, wedded as we are to an idea of tiered central control - this does, after all, give political power to influence outcomes but also help create infrastructure to guarantee standards.

However, as a movement we ought to be comfortable with and full of admiration for those who, driven by common interest, create a learning community. Of course there are checks and brakes needed - a minimum standard and protection against the growth of conglomerates - but the idea of communities coming together to share in the education of their children also has this virtue: it reminds us of the primacy of the family and the community to self-regulate and create with the support of the state, rather than in sole dependence on it. Education done with, rather than done to.

Thus it’s a lesson in humility for the left, but also of liberty, and the importance of horizontal and vertical ties (both generational and social) that can more closely wed folk to a place and a common purpose - and therefore each other.

And when our collective futures are interdependent - and when we see that up close - then we work for one another, and not just ourselves.

This is Labour.

But... whilst there is implicit in this idea that institutions embody virtue, we must be weary of thinking that these become virtue manufacturies.

Virtue can indeed be passed through institutions, and be embodied within them, but it is a not a static product passed to an individual. It is instead something generated through the spirit and circumstance in which it was created and then supported.

In other words, the cart must follow the horse - high-minded notions of schools instilling virtue in our young must first consider the possibility whether our institutions possess virtue themselves, before then asking where this comes from (there can be little doubt our schools have lost this, which I hope we can discuss later).

Thus, when we hear about a virtuous elite reinvigorating society through some sort of Reaganite trickle-down effect, I’m more inclined to wonder if this is precisely the wrong way round - that virtue is in the bricks and mortar in the sense that it was embedded with the sweat and tears of those who toiled at its creation, and thus its ongoing legacy.

When we contracted this out to the state, we lost something important here.

This being the case, it is associative relationships - or to use the more straightforward terms of love and honour and pride and dignity - that generate virtue, and our institutions stand as testimony to them, rather than factories of it.

(For which reason you’ll gather I’m a fan of faith schools. Though I deeply fear for their future, partly because of Labour’s inability to value tradition and lived lineage over sterilised accounts of equal access to goods and services. The only thing that will preserve them will be pragmatic, rather than intellectual, support. - as I have said in the past, the government could buy all our schools if they like, but it’ll cost them a fortune and we’ll only use the money to build a whole load more.)

Conclusion

So, to sum up, what can Blue Labour offer education?

Well we need to be able to situate education within a healthy vision of the good life, and not just talk about the pernicious effect of coldly utilitarian systems but also to live out the consequences of that thinking too - this means a recovery of the value of the vocational, sure, but without excluding from the beauty of our cultural inheritance those whom we deem to be non-academic.

Blue Labour can also recognise the vital role of schools in forming our young and instilling within them the virtues that we have decided ought to be cherished, even where they might be rejected by wider society - but we must not think that such a thing can be contracted out over and against the family and the communities that act as both creator and guarantor of these institutions .

And lastly, Blue Labour can reject this obsession with social mobility as the judge and jury of educational success and offer an account of flourishing set within rootedness and love, rather than atomised and essentially selfish conceptions of success.