'Battery of targets' under fire

19th September 2003 at 01:00
A leading new Labour peer has mounted a strong attack on the "audit culture". Baroness Kennedy, the lawyer and human rights campaigner, told an Edinburgh audience last week that this was "the folly of government".

Delivering the annual General Teaching Council for Scotland lecture, Baroness Kennedy criticised "the relentless prescriptive interventions, the battery of targets, the audit culture.

"The first casualty of an audit culture is the quality of the statistics that results because there is always the temptation for the Government to massage the figures."

Baroness Kennedy, whose alma mater is Glasgow's Holyrood Secondary, also went on the offensive against claims that today's young people are less well-educated and less well-informed than previous generations.

She said this was based on "evidence" such as the recent ICM poll which revealed ignorance of Shakespeare, inability to name four Prime Ministers since 1900 and puzzlement as to who William Caxton was.

Yet the poll also questioned youngsters about television programmes, computers, software programmes and so on, finding a very different story.

"It's a question of how you define culture and what is the place of contemporary culture," she commented. "The key question is: what is of value?"

Baroness Kennedy suggested that today's generation, particularly women, are better educated and more widely informed. They may not commit facts to memory but they know how to search for them in a discriminatory fashion, which is essential in an age of "information overload".

None the less, she had some sympathy with the view that "facts are what can be deployed against the glib bullshitter.

"I have always believed that knowledge gives us power to say no and to protect ourselves from the political sleight of hand, from the meretricious, from the bogus, from the flimsy claims of the tabloid newspapers."

Baroness Kennedy admitted that one casualty of the developing knowledge age could be "the quality of extended attention" as the speed of the information and knowledge economy gathers pace and intensity.

Her parting shot to politicians was that "they will not galvanise professionals by exposing pockets of failure but by lauding successes". She added: "Ministers, managers and educators have to learn to listen - and to listen to learners in particular."

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