Truss…No Support. Get it? No? Oh well, please yourselves then. As All Change Please! sadly and uncontrollably weeps at the lack of academic rigour of its latest blog post title, it suddenly realises that now it will have to write something about Elizabeth Truss, Education and Childcare Minister. But, by an amazing co-incidence, All Change Please! learns that she recently made a speech in Oxford about social mobility, the economy and education reform. So that should be good for a few laughs and revealing responses, as was the case with Little Diss Trust
If you are desperate you can read the full text here. But to save you the bother, here are a few choice extracts, together with some of the alleged text it is believed got deleted at the very last moment.
Truss: Until we agree that doing well is an unequivocally good thing – and that it is attainable by all – we will continue to waste talent. So – let’s make 2014 the year we abandon the limiting beliefs holding us back, and help our country to rise.
I repeatedly hear in the education debate some children are just ‘non-academic’. What does ‘non-academic’ even mean? It’s certainly true that some disciplines like maths or reading come easier to some than others. But the vast majority of people can master them – just as all students can benefit from vocational skills, too. Yet there’s this idea that some pupils are ‘not academic’.
Well, I’m just hoping and praying that someone doesn’t get round to asking me what ‘academic’ actually means, let alone ‘non-academic’. Of course if they did ask I would just have to find another way of avoiding the explanation that an academic education is essentially a highly theoretical one, and only involves the development of a very limited range of the repertoire of skills we actually need in life. It tends to focus on studies of what people have thought and done in the past and why, and on gaining a largely non-practical understanding of the natural world works, and all tested and accredited through written knowledge recall. This differs from vocational and life education which has a primary focus on preparation for the workplace and everyday living. Not a lot of people know that, and neither did I until someone explained it to me the other day.
Oh dear, this all just goes to show that my own highly academic education, which culminated in me doing Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, has left me with a very narrow view of what the working world and real life is really like. Anyway, to explain it as simply as possible to the great mass of uneducated plebs – oops, perhaps I better not say that in public – that we need to get to vote for us, I’m pitching it to suggest that by definition ‘academic’ means something that is very difficult and demanding, while worthless ‘vocational’ skills are easy-peasy to acquire and require no effort. Which is all a lot of nonsense really if you think about it.
Can you imagine if we took the same attitude to driving? If we labelled people as ‘non-drivers’ because they found it difficult, the first few times they got behind the wheel? It would be nonsense: most people manage to pass their test eventually. It took me 3 goes. I understand it took my boss 7. But he decided he needed to be able to drive and he practiced hard and got on with it. We need the same attitude towards academic attainment – particularly in maths, where the more you practice, the better you get and the more you will earn in your future career. Just as we would never say only a handful of people have the innate ability to learn to drive, we should find it unacceptable to say maths is just for a talented few.
Did you see what I did there? I misleadingly compared academic learning with driving, which is of course a practical, entirely non-academic skill. And one that you are tested in when you think you are ready and not on a single, one-shot fixed date in early summer when you’ll be suffering really badly from hay-fever. Meanwhile, what I’m really saying here is that for the academically able, they will continue to find getting to University easy, and everyone else will all just have to work a jolly lot harder in order to do so and feel even more of a failure than they already do.
Meanwhile the key phrase I used, in case you didn’t notice, was that my boss ‘decided he needed to be able to’ drive. I’m therefore completely ignoring the fact that, unlike the practical and extremely useful skill of driving, most children quite rightly don’t recognise and accept the fact that they need to struggle against the odds to gain purely theoretical qualifications that probably won’t get them a job. And naturally I won’t be one of the lucky teachers who ends up working in deprived city-centre estate schools trying to get the children to sit still and listen while I try and fail to convince them otherwise.
In the 21st century and beyond, skills pay the bills. And even more so in the future. The new economies are growing. There are more consumers today in more countries across the globe than at any other point in history. And at the same time, technology is transforming industry after industry – creating new ways of making, earning and learning.
Tee-hee, ‘Skills pay the bills’ – that’s a clever catch-phrase that one of DfES interns came up with for me, isn’t it? Perhaps sometime he could explain the logic of this to me, again just in case someone ever asks. Surely the new highly theoretical academic curriculum we are promoting means that even fewer children than ever will acquire any practical, technical or creative skills, and it contains no business education whatsoever (despite the latter being the most popular university degree subject). So that means that they’ll actually have less skills to pay the bills? I don’t get it, do you?
We need to believe that if England started producing vast numbers of nuclear engineers or top-flight mathematicians – more of the world’s leading companies would want to headquarter here. But we need to go even further. We can be the enterprise capital of Europe. And we can combine the commercial flair which has always been one of Britain’s strengths with advanced science, maths and technology. Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers. Why can’t we be a nation of coders, analysts, inventors, entrepreneurs, creators as well – selling our skills to the world?
Well there’s an obvious answer to that last question isn’t there? The reason why we can’t be a nation of all those things is called Michael Gove. But don’t tell anyone I said that.
This optimistic vision is ambitious. And our ambition must be to out-educate the rest of the world. And everything we’re doing aims to make sure that high-quality schooling – an excellent academic education – is seen as a universal necessity, not an option for the few. History will provide a more meaningful, chronological immersion in the past. Geography will include more specific knowledge of people and places. Design and technology will expose children to the most exciting new technologies – while computing will give them the technical ability to innovate and create in a digital world.
This is just so much fun isn’t it? All I have to do is to speak these words out loud and it will all just happen as if by magic. Won’t it?
Or our reforms to improve the quality of teaching – expanding programmes like Teach First, so that top graduates from the best universities are working with more children than ever before.
Note to self: get ‘Tough Young Teachers‘ taken off the air immediately. It’s all very worthy of course but, I mean, we don’t want prospective graduates realising that teaching is not just about long holidays and preparing able students for entry to Oxbridge, do we?
Every reform is based on this idea: giving every child, no matter where they live or what their parents do, the sort of high-quality, rigorous, rounded education previously reserved only for the few. Our ambition must not just be to catch up with Germany and Poland but to overtake them. Not just to learn from the Asian tigers but to surpass them – do it better, smarter, more creatively. Take our fantastic cultural heritage and combine it with the most advanced computing and science. Our ambition must be to out-educate the rest of the world. We are very aware that this is not an overnight job. The Secretary of State has been clear it is a decade-long project – which then must be built on.
Oh God, another six years more in this job and then, just like the dreadful tower-blocks of the 1960s that no-one ever wanted, everything we’ve done will have to be quickly demolished and replaced by something far more sympathetic to the way in which real people want to live and learn. Sometimes I wonder why I bother?
Now All Change Please! isn’t one to gossip, but did you know that apparently Ms Truss’s father is a left-wing professor in mathematical logic, and refused to campaign for her? And that allegedly in 2009 she nearly got de-selected when it emerged that in 2005 she had allegedly been having an affair with a married, allegedly Tory MP? Well, that’s if you believe anything you allegedly read in The Sunday Times anyway.
And finally, if Ms Truss becomes a wealthy woman as a result of her parliamentary career, will she set up a Truss Fund for her two children?