If Gavin Williamson had been at Agincourt or Dunkirk...

Just imagine how the education secretary's particular brand of leadership might have transformed history, says Stephen Petty
8th January 2021, 11:00am
Stephen Petty

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If Gavin Williamson had been at Agincourt or Dunkirk...

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/if-gavin-williamson-had-been-agincourt-or-dunkirk
Man, Sitting Reading A Newspaper In The Middle Of Train Tracks

Compared with other leaders' celebrated speeches in times of crisis, Gavin Williamson's on Wednesday was one of the most pioneering of them all. 

Rather than raising team morale in preparation for the various challenges ahead, our leader took the unusual course of issuing a threat to the troops instead: "If parents feel their child's school is not providing suitable remote education, they should first raise their concerns with the teacher or headteacher and, failing that, report the matter to Ofsted."

This will surely go down in the annals as one of the great inspirational rallying cries. If only other leaders - such as the sadly Ofsted-lacking Winston Churchill - could have been blessed with the same gold-dust-laden motivational rhetoric as Gavin. 

Imagine it: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender… But if any parent thinks we're not fighting particularly well, feel free to report the matter to the regulatory body."

Coronavirus: The only thing we have to fear is...Ofsted

Similarly, Shakespeare's Henry V could have added so much more bite to his rallying cry before Agincourt: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more." Imagine if, rather than finishing that opening call with the rather downbeat "or close the wall up with the English dead", he had proclaimed: "...or close the wall up with a call from Ofsted". 

Emmeline Pankhurst could have vastly raised the quality and robustness of the suffragette movement if she had only made a few little additions: "Once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way, it is impossible…That said, if any of them are inadvertently on mute, do feel free to have a go at them."

Beyond Britain, just think how other famous motivational quotes could have been spiced up with a sprinkling of Gavin. Theodore and Franklin D Roosevelt for instance:

 "The only thing we have to fear is fear of Ofsted."

 "Believe you can and you're halfway there…though whether you're actually halfway there or not will be subject to independent scrutiny and judgement."

How the secretary of state made us feel

Or even Russell Crowe in Gladiator could have added: "Stand alone, you die; stand together and we can win…Either way, I will be here to take credit for success and heap all the blame on you."

We could go on. Consider how much more inspirational all such speeches are when they have been suitably galvanised by Gavin. He's going to go down in history as one of the most inspiring of all leaders.

Or perhaps not. 

A quote attributed to Maya Angelou perhaps best sums up how many of us truly feel about the secretary of state's crass and tactless contributions over the past year or so. At the end of it all, it won't really be the words at all.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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