Goodbye debate, hello malice

4th October 1996 at 01:00
The published reaction by the education world to my book All Must Have Prizes should cause deep concern to anyone who cares about education, the welfare of children and the future of this country. The custodians of the education culture - with one or two honourable exceptions - have refused to engage at all with my arguments and have instead distorted what I have written.

Instead of argument, there is a denial of argument. My book is teeming with evidence; yet these critics imply falsely that my arguments are unsupported by evidence, or that what evidence exists is tendentious or comes from tainted "right-wing" sources. This wicked misrepresentation, and the substitution of spite and malice for reasoned debate, suggest these critics dare not address themselves to the evidence. They cannot defend what is going on because it is indefensible. Instead, they take refuge in a brazen denial of the evidence itself.

In claiming my book bears no relation to reality, they cast doubt on what many teachers, parents and pupils have told me or written. Are these critics seriously claiming that all the university teachers who provided me with evidence of the collapse of standards among undergraduates have fabricated it?

Are they claiming that the former chief examiner, who resigned in protest at being forced to give higher grades to A-level candidates than they deserved, made it all up?

Are they claiming that the French teacher who showed me GCSE guidance advising against teaching correct forms of the language, and who despaired at the way the system prevented her from teaching French properly, was fantasising?

Are they claiming that the A-level students I interviewed, who were so outraged by the way their schools had failed them, are of no account? Are they claiming that primary schools are not run along the lines I report, or that the comprehensive headteacher who despaired at what primary schools were doing was a figment of my imagination?

Are they claiming that the many ideological texts for teachers that I quote, churned out by university departments of education and which refer explicitly to the transfer of authority from teacher to pupil (a key theme of my book), don't exist?

Just how many more trainee teachers disgusted at the system, how many more daft teacher-training syllabuses, how many more furious teachers, pupils and parents, how much more faithfully reproduced education quackery, does an author have to produce for the education world to admit that the evidence actually exists?

My book is bursting with evidence about the ways teachers have been grossly ill-served by a culture whose self-serving exponents are precisely the kind of people who write these reviews. I write explicitly that there are many good teachers who are having to fight against a culture which has made victims of teachers no less than their pupils.

All this, however, is brushed aside to make way for distortions of the kind that appeared in last week's TES piece by Paul Francis, which plumbed the depths of deranged and offensive fantasy. He claimed I had relied on "a few selective quotations, on letters from teachers who feel threatened and on the challenging, heroic figure of Chris Woodhead". Can't Francis read? Even the most cursory glance through my book demonstrates its very wide range of sources, most of them teachers or educational texts. References to Woodhead, some of them glancing, appear in precisely 12 paragraphs in its 344 pages.

Anyone can see from my book that the claim that it relies on Woodhead is grossly untrue. Indeed, in his unsavoury attempt to prove some diabolical connection between myself and Woodhead, Francis quotes not from my book, but from an article I wrote about Woodhead in the Observer (not the Guardian, as he states) in 1995.

It would appear that my crime is ever to have written anything complimentary about the chief inspector. Such an irrational reaction demands an explanation. Is Francis perhaps working out some grudge? Certainly, he is busily building a demonology here to deflect attention from the real evidence.

But then, what does evidence matter to those spokesmen for an education world which - to the horror of many teachers who have told me that what my book says is true - now appears to be in full flight from reason itself?

Melanie Phillips' book, All Must Have Prizes, is published by Little, Brown at Pounds 17.50

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