27th August 2010 at 01:00
The policy wonk whose heart isn't in it

Monday - Ooh, exciting. This week I get to sit in on a session of the legendary Nudge Unit at Number 10. They're devoting an entire Thinking Day to the challenges of education. The Gove wasn't that interested in Nudge Theory until it emerged at Cabinet that every other department was being given a Thinking Day. Suddenly he became very keen to find out how behavioural prompting works. Although, of course, he'd just found out.

Tuesday - Prepare for my Thinking Day by taking an expert on Nudge Theory out to lunch. My old boss, Ballsy. Perhaps his most selfless act of psychological reinforcement was to allow parents and voters to decide whether The Gove, evil incarnate, could be any worse as Education Secretary than an incomprehensible overbearing bullshitter with all the charisma of a balloon elephant. "In the end," he says mournfully, "choice is more important in a democracy than anything else ..." He demonstrates this by leaving his vegetables and having two puddings.

Wednesday - Resolve to step up my programme of lunch on expenses by calling it "behavioural research". Can't decide whether to rebadge it "ludge" or "nunch".

Thursday - The Nudge Unit convenes around the Cabinet table, like an atomised seance. We are: Messrs Penn and Teller (the inventors of "nudgeage"), me, The Gove, The Gove's sinister twin albino ninjas who now accompany him everywhere, the Cabinet Secretary, director of strategy and former tabloid editor Tom "Twatto" Watts and some obsequious gimp from The Telegraph who clearly has a man-crush on Twatto.

An awkward silence nudges Penn and Teller into offering a Brief History of Nudging. They're interrupted by Twatto after about 40 seconds: "Shut UP! Just tell us how we get parents and teachers to do what we WANT. The days of the Nanny State are over. We need a humane new way to socially engineer the right result."

He looks at us in turn, offering to "nudge you all up the arse with garden fork" unless we come up with some proper ideas. It's a marvellous incentive. By teatime we've got Sainsbury's to agree to a pilot "Nudgeyoucation Initiative".

The supermarket's Back to School section will stock a new range of pencil cases and lunchboxes. Butch black for boys, with various superheroes urging them not to be socially and culturally "stationary". Glittery pink for girls with the nudging motto "Middle Classy". All fruit will be in Latin. And cashiers will ask you if you're collecting "the free schools vouchers".

Friday - It's Full Nudge Ahead as we finalise plans for Google Maps Education. Parents can zoom in on their neighbourhood and identify "unnudged" households spending less than the average on extra home tuition.

Please send your suggestions to

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now