The Education Foundation Reform Summit, Part 1
It was night of 1000 stars last Wednesday at the launch of the Education Foundation's Education Reform Summit 2014. So many big knobs were out at the think tank's event that I feared for the latrines. Ty Goddard and Ian Fordham, the Ant and Dec of education, fired as much tinsel and grapeshot out of their mighty cannons as dignity allowed and hosted the event in Lancaster House. It had a staircase so grand that ubiquitous career-party-crasher David James described it as "very posh". From canapé-hoovering James, of Wellington College for Gifted Heirs, to say that gives you some idea of where it sat on the spectrum of decadence.
After air-tweeting with, among many, flame-haired John David Blake, Brett Wigdortz, leader of the Divine Mystery of Teach First, the lupine Charlie Taylor, the avuncular Tom Sherrington and silver fox John Tomsett, we saw Gove caper nimbly into the conductor's pulpit and execute an accomplished ten minute beat-box. His first direction was to direct us to abuse the DfE’s wine budget. Being from Glasgow, I needed no such prompting, diving into the Ganges of Chateauneuf du Gradgrind like Tony Blair was back in charge of the bar tab. It was, apparently, from the Department's own wine cellars, and people laughed politely, unsure how possible this actually was.
Next up was David Laws, who, in a nod to the Minister for Education from the Netherlands, said that they would always get a lot more sympathy in the World Cup than Germany and Argentina. He regrettably failed to develop this into a skit about how his chip-shop got bombed, and was there anyone from Trafalgar in the audience.
Then Kevin Brennan, who continued the wine gag like it was a rap battle, and who was much better than I had imagined; confident, poised, witty. He should go into politics (and he reminded us that he had been a teacher, for ten years). He stood in for Tristram Hunt, who sent his apologies, which is a shame, because to make this exploration of reform truly cross-party, it could have used some ministerial equivalence across the sword lines. Still, Brennan sparkled.
Then the Big Blonde Beast himself: BoJo, the Mayor of both Toytown AND London simultaneously. Most of my kids would vote for him, but they have no idea what he stands for. "He's really funny," they've said to me, as suffragettes spun in their coffins like kebabs on spin dry. But I can almost understand. He possesses a charisma that glows. I didn’t slip my number into his top pocket or anything, but, y'know, he's got it. Whatever it is, he has it. Cameron better watch, not his back, but his front, as Boris Morris dances over his twitching cadaver, humming a Roman air and conjugating Latin. One day he'll have the nuclear launch codes. He declared that he wanted London to be the "Athens – no, the Rome!" of education, citing the London miracle as evidence that countries should flock to us, rather than Finland or Shanghai, to learn the magic Pisa spells. Gove foxtrots, but Johnson tears around the dance floor like a Cossack, knocking things over and delighting everyone as he capers and harrumphs. Quite a spectacle.
It felt far from the classroom, but given the international flavour – ministers from five nations were represented – one can hardly blame the Foundation for eschewing the Bingo Hall, and I was pleased to see as many serving teachers (from both sides of the red/blue spectrum) as panjandrums and rentagobs. As I left, coppers with automatic weapons called me "sir" and I fled into the Green Park night before they mistook me for Michael Fagan.