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A diarrhoea of sweetness

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David James has a CAPX piece on how our elected representatives feel compelled to heap the most unctuous praise on teachers and nurses. As we all know of course.

Let’s stop pretending that teachers and nurses are paragons of virtue

When was the last time you heard a politician being critical of schools or hospitals? Or heard of teachers and nurses being talked about in public life in anything other than glowing terms?

If you only listened to our elected representatives, you’d think that every classroom and ward in the UK were world class, staffed with heroic professionals and flawless both in how they are run and in the results they achieve. Whether it is the new Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, last week claiming that all teachers are ‘amazing’, ‘absolutely fantastic’ and ‘an inspiration’, or the endless verbal encomiums that successive health secretaries trot out to describe the NHS (there are too many to quote), the words from Government and opposition are a diarrhoea of sweetness. Yet these vacuous statements, dripping in meaningless superlatives, conflict with the realities their constituents experience every day.

An advantage possessed by nurses and teachers is that they effectively have their own political party – Labour. Politically, Labour cannot allow nurses and teachers to be successfully disparaged and intends to make it more difficult to do so. 

Even those limited tools we have for monitoring standards in the NHS and schools are under constant attack. The NEU, the biggest teaching union in the country, is committed to abolishing Ofsted and league tables – both of which give parents invaluable insight into how the schools they send their children to are performing. Labour, it seems, would go further. The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner, not only wants to scrap inspections but also school expulsions – an absolute last resort that is used not to attack the disadvantaged, but to protect pupils and staff. You would think that such a mad policy would never get off the ground, but you’d be wrong: Southwark Council are already asking schools to sign up to a ‘no exclusion policy’. Standards will almost inevitably fall because of an ideological position taken by those who find it easy to reform schools from the safety of their open plan offices.

The whole piece is well worth reading as a reminder of how absurdly difficult it is to reform the public sector.


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