Not since the publication of the first Harry Potter novel has there been a response to a book (yes, a book!) as we’ve witnessed with the publication of ‘Fire and Fury’, by Michael Wolff. Its anecdotes and rumours will give satirists abundant material with which to poke the hapless leader of the free world. But, while we laugh along with Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel, we in the UK should remember two things: 1. Without Brexit, we would probably not have seen The Donald in the White House; 2. Our own administration has been behaving in a remarkably Trumpian fashion since last year’s general election. Since education is my thing, I’ve chosen to focus upon that, but I’m confident that commentators who were interested in say, health or transport, could offer a similar analogy.
So, here are four ways (at least) that the Conservative education strategy Is aping White House rules:
- Keep telling lies, ignore evidence to the contrary. Schools minister Nick Gibb has consistently denied that recruitment – and retention – of teachers in schools in England is an issue. His manipulation of statistics looks like Sean Spicer has been doing the calculations. The reality, according to the TES, is that applications to teacher training programmes this year are down by a whopping 33%, and record numbers of teachers are leaving the profession. Analysts say that low-pay, excessive workloads, rock-bottom morale and increasing accountability all affect the numbers of people applying to teach, and the number of teachers still in the classroom after 5 years. It’s a crisis – but the government remains in denial. The latest novel tactic? Supporting Now Teach, the charity that seeks to talk ‘professionals’ out of retirement and into teaching. I know you might be thinking that teaching is a profession too, but apparently not. And, in the two years since being founded, Now Teach has had 50 graduates! Five-O! If this sounds familiar, you may recall Troops to Teachers, a scheme to fast-track military veterans into the classroom. Set up in 2016 with a £4.3m grant and an initial target of 2,000 applicants, the scheme graduated 28 teachers in 2016 (that’s only £153,571 a pop). So, 78 across both schemes more than compensates for the 34,910 teachers that left the profession in 2016 for reasons other than retirement. Doesn’t it?
- Value loyalty above experience. The government has, like Trump, preferred to surround itself with advisers and ‘tsars’ that are wholly unqualified to offer advice and tsaring, but are handsomely rewarded – either through promotions or substantial grants – for a particular form of ‘aggressive loyalty’. Government loyalist and all-round good-egg, Toby Young, (already Director of the New Schools Network) was last week chosen to be the Higher Education Student Tsar. Announcing his new job, the Department for Education falsely claimed that Young had held teaching posts at Harvard and Cambridge (he hadn’t, but see rule #1),It is as inept a decision as the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director – and likely to last about as long.
- Character is for suckers. The most popular Secretary of State for Education in years, Justine Greening, is expected to lose her job in the Prime Minister’s cabinet reshuffle tomorrow. Meanwhile, self-confessed porn-addict Toby Young, universally criticised for his disgusting, misogynist Tweets over many years, is championed by Michael Gove and part-time Foreign Secretary/full-time BoBo the Clown stand-in, Boris Johnson. Johnson said that Young was the ‘ideal’ candidate, since he’d bring a ‘caustic wit’ to the job. (Apologies to anyone upset by the language used, but I thought I should include one of the 50,000 tweets Young has sought to furiously delete in the past few days, as an example of this caustic wit). Now, Greening is apparently taking the rap for the Tories failure to realise that education was seen by voters as a key issue at the last election (even though she wasn’t in post at the time). Young, meanwhile, blames the whole furore on the fact that he’s a Tory supporter, and not a believer in eugenics, or his fixation with women’s bodily parts. Theresa May has criticised Young, saying “I’m not at all impressed…if he continues to use that tone, he will no longer be in public office”. A Principal Skinner final warning from Mrs May then, but Mr Young, has (for the moment) mysteriously survived. Greening, however, is considered by May to be ‘patronising’ so she obviously has to go…..
- Believe (or Tweet) six impossible things before breakfast. Trump maintains that he’s passed more legislation in his first year than any previous incumbent (fact-check: the opposite is actually the case) He has redefined contradictory policy-making – easy to do when you promulgate ‘alternative facts’, and your two closest advisers – Jared and Ivanka – admit to being Democrats. But the UK government are giving him a close run for his Russian money……In what may prove to be her final policy idea, Justine Greening launched the ‘Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential’ plan in December 2017. The plan had four laudable ambitions: Close the language/literacy gap; Close the attainment gap; Offer real choice at post-16; Raise career aspirations. During the same month, the government saw the mass resignation of its Social Mobility Commission and its prominent Chair, Alan Milburn. Adopting Trumpian spin tactics, the government said he was going to be ‘stepped down’ anyway. Since almost losing the last election, the government has cut funding to schools, further and adult education. Child poverty rates are now 30%. And the attainment gap is widening: recently released data shows the impact of successive austerity cuts – the gap in numeracy, literacy and writing has grown ever wider between well-off students and those receiving free school meals, and better-off students are now twice as likely to be offered a university place than their poorer counterparts. Just as Trump’s recent massive tax-cut for the super-wealthy is his fulfillment of his pledge to remember the forgotten men and women of middle America, so the widening educational gap makes a sham of Theresa May’s incoming pledge to fight ‘burning injustice’ and ‘make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.’
The Prime Minister this morning repeated her insistence that Donald Trump would pay a visit to the UK in 2018. I’ll be joining the many UK citizens who will want to give him a welcome he will never forget. But amid the inevitable cacophony, we’d do well to remember that the playbook that got him into power, now appears to be required reading for a government and a Prime Minister desperate to cling to what little power they now retain. Welcome to the moral wasteland of British governance.
Also published on Medium.Social tagging: Alan Milburn > Boris Johnson > Donald Trump > Fire and Fury > Ivanka Trump > Justine Greening > Michael Gove > Michael Wolff > New Schools Network > Social Mobility Commission > theresa may > Toby Young