Time for the good to speak out

8th March 1996 at 00:00
Anthony Woollard's bitter reflections on the gaps between ideals and duty which drove him out of the "ed biz" ("Bureaucrat's dilemma", TES, February 23) must have struck a chord with a whole army of "PRCs" - prematurely retired with compensation - in this erstwhile vocation turned business.

While he and thousands like him are being paid not to use their skills for the betterment of children's education, and our nation's future, 380,000 unpaid governors struggle with awesome burdens for which, by and large, they have not been trained. Bizarre? It would be funny if it were not tragic.

Wisely, in an article which was at once scrupulously fair and deeply disturbing, Woollard did not suggest any quick fixes for the many ills begetting education. But he does wonder in passing whether a new deal for the governance of the nation itself (Proportional representation? Freedom of information? Some new way of organising Whitehall?) might make the changes possible in future.

With the revelations of the Scott Report still ringing in our ears, surely it behoves everyone with the slightest pretension to citizenship to ask themselves this: for how much longer are we prepared to endure this elective dictatorship, with all its trappings of democracy but so little of the substance?

As long as we retain a voting system imposed on us by a Government in the political dark ages, what hope can there be of the "management by shared vision" of which Woollard writes so eloquently? How, with a voting system in which winner takes all, will the day ever dawn when ministers adopt the "fifth discipline" - the one which encourages managers to look at the whole system of which they are a part, rather than seeing themselves in conflict with subordinates, competitors (the opposition in Parliament, local education authorities) and customers?

In what other country in the western world is government pouring millions of pounds of taxpayers' money into its attempts to seduce schools away from LEA "control"? And this at a time when teachers and support staff are being made redundant, and class sizes keep on growing. . .

For so long as confrontation is enshrined in our political system - and consensus is a dirty word - the "hired guns" at the Department for Education and Employment have to go on "finding new ways of enforcing the will of an elective dictatorship on those stakeholders who are seen as the obstacles to that will". And that means most of us.

Perhaps the most chilling sentence in Woollard's often chilling piece was the admission by one of his senior colleagues at the DFEE:"If I really believed in what we are up to here, I'd go out and hang myself tomorrow." For evil to triumph requires only that the good remain silent. Too many of us have been too good - too gutless - and too silent for too long. We have kept our heads below the parapet while the ideologues have had the field all to themselves. Our children will pay a heavy price.


East Molesey


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