Our murky, costly honours system

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
The articles and especially the editorial "Don't stop now" (TES, January 9) are moving in the right direction as regards starting a trend "to throw a few more bouquets towards teachers". This is, however, not the normal fashion for presenting bouquets. Nor do I think that bestowing honours is the best way of encouraging teachers.

I refused an OBE for services to education in 1993. Since then I have begun a campaign to modernise the way we recognise exceptional service. Many people have written to me. Through my MP I have sent a petition to Tony Blair asking for change.

Of my correspondents, one refused a knighthood, one a DBE, two CBEs (one of whom, to his great embarrassment, was given it anyway!), two OBEs, and one an MBE because he did not want "to join the British Empire" which he was trying to dismantle.

Some of my most interesting correspondents are those who have been involved in nominating others for honours. Considerable amounts of government time are taken in the process of secretly putting names forward, sifting several thousand haphazard nominations from the public, and then checking on their suitability. As your reporter David Walker says, "the Cabinet Office unit maintains a vast database". All this we citizens pay for.

Moreover the procedure is hardly an example of the much-vaunted "open government". In my case I asked who had nominated me, but this was "confidential". In addition, my offer of an OBE was sent to another JD Anderson who lives near me. One nominator was told to put forward names - "preferably of women" - from a certain county because they had had few recently. He refused, and was censured.

The nominators who have written to me almost all felt that they had to co-operate, despite their antipathy to honours; otherwise it was implied that there was no good work being done in their area.

Important questions need to be answered. Who is on the main government honours committee and how many sub-committees does it have? Is the political honours scrutiny committee still active? On what grounds are nominations for honours rejected? What is the cost of the whole procedure?

The most usual reason I was told for people accepting honours was that it helped, in some way, those below them; or it increased donations to a charity of which they were patrons. For this, recognition like the Queen's Award to Industry, which goes to organisations not individuals, would be more appropriate.

Gerald Haigh's thoughtful article quotes NAHT leader David Hart's view that teachers see their job as a team effort. Hurrah to that: if we are to have collegial school management, we need collegial honours far more comprehensive than those such as the excellent Curriculum Awards.

Another improvement would be regional recognition, perhaps sponsored by the media, for those who had voluntarily done noteworthy things for others. Honours should not be awarded for doing work well for which one is paid.

Most people are in favour of recognising exceptional merit. Most of us wish to be proud of Britain for what it stands for, not because our fealty is bought. Let us, for the millennium, cease harking back to medieval fripperies and a moribund Empire and return instead to the original meaning of "commonwealth", the shared welfare of all, to which we are loyal because of its intrinsic merits.

JOHN D ANDERSON OBE (refused) Gillbeck Close Baildon Shipley, West Yorkshire

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