Rosy Retrospection & Education in the Election

In Debates and Polemics, Education Politics and Polemics by Alex Quigley1 Comment

“Memoria praeteritorum bonorum”

[‘The past is always well remembered’]

Roman saying

The general election is a matter of a few short weeks ago. For those of us in education, we will pay close attention to edu-policies that have been hastily inserted into party political manifestos!

The problem with education is that everyone is a seeming expert. Every politician (and those that attend and lobby ministers too) has been to school, you see. Unsurprisingly, politicians often aim to recreate schooling framed through the rose-tinted glasses of their own personal experience.

The current government is rather unique in that it has the lowest proportion of privately educated Cabinet ministers since Attlee’s government of 1945. The sign of seeming increasing social social mobility is surely a positive reflection of our school system?

But then when you dig into the detail, you see that Theresa May, David Davis, Damien Green, Baroness Evans, David Gauke, Pritti Patel, and May’s key advisor, Nick Timothy, and more, were all the product of Grammar Schools. Is it any surprise that model of schooling by selection is back in vogue?

Such is the power of nostalgia, perhaps Labour’s edu-policy of universal free school meals is meant to evoke memories of Thatcher stealing our milk, or the idiosyncratic pleasure of anaemic school dinners?

Crucially, however, this bias for a rose-screened past can obscure pertinent truths. How many siren calls have you heard to ‘BRING BACK SECONDARY MODERNS‘? How can schools really plan for a model of flexible admissions past the age of 11, as proposed? Where is the tutor-proof test for Grammar Schools? Do universal lunches actually help children learn? Would ‘magic breakfasts’ prove a wiser policy? We need to dig deeper beyond the warm, rosy glow of policy-nostalgia.

As I am busy with the day job, I don’t really really have the time to find the answers. I hope in the coming weeks and months that those busily finalising each party manifesto source the best evidence that challenges the limiting bias of rosy retrospection.

Voters who work in schools, along with politicians and their manifesto writers, will no doubt read and consult ‘think tanks’, journalists, unions and key educational figures. I will be doing my best to listen to a lot of voices from across the political spectrum, knowing that nostalgia is seldom a basis for good future planning.

I have created my own Twitter list for the GE2017 from across the educational spectrum of opinion. If you are interested, you can follow the list HERE.