The Week

12th November 2010 at 00:00

Screech! Crash! Bang! That was the sound, this week, of education secretary Michael Gove steering his departmental juggernaut into a head-on collision with the teaching unions. It is astonishing to think that less than a year ago Mr Gove and his merry band were still in opposition and still talking in terms of working "with" their gen-sec friends. While this construct has been slowly eroded by the months in government, Monday saw the whole thing collapse when he announced that league tables will soon include details of teachers' pay, qualifications and sick leave. Admittedly this information will be released on a school-wide basis, not by individual teacher, but it's still enough to make most education unionists apoplectic. One wonders, really, why Mr Gove ever went with the nicey-nicey approach.

While Mr Gove may not be exactly flavour of the month with his union constituency, that's nothing compared to his counterpart in academe. But, if truth be told, higher education really doesn't do itself many favours, does it? Take, for example, the publication this week of a major research exercise by Liverpool John Moores University. Its headline conclusions will leave teachers rubbing their temples and exclaiming, "Well, duh!". Youngsters who dislike school are, apparently, more likely to be involved in underage drinking, you see. The research - of a massive sample of 11- to 14-year-olds - then goes on to reach the staggeringly obvious conclusion that the more young people drink, the more likely they are to have sex. Universities are being cut far more heavily than schools, you say? Interesting.

It would have been useful, however, to have had a tame don on hand to translate a piece written by Simon Schama for the Guardian, in which he outlined why it is so important that young people develop a love and understanding of history. One dearly hopes that the celebrated historian - indeed, he is the newly appointed government adviser on the subject - was being ironic when he made reference in the second paragraph to "the founding masterpiece of European history, Thucydides's Peloponnesian War". In terms of making history accessible, this is quite a long way from his celebrated TV work - maybe his new target demographic is Mr Gove's enormous brain.

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