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Not another Education Act, please, however well intended

by
16 August 2013

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From Canon Michael Thompson

Sir, - In a very persuasive letter ( 9 August), the Revd Brian Williams calls on our Bishops to campaign for a new Education Act with the objective of readjusting the balances of responsibility in the field of education. Mr Williams clearly writes from an experienced teacher's perspective, and I would not question his analysis of the problems of teacher accountability. It is to be hoped that his appeal to the Bishops does not pass before "blind eyes".

I do, however, wonder whether Mr William's conclusion, that another Education Act is needed, is altogether correct. After 33 years' involvement in school governance there is a bit of me that cries: "Please, not another Education Act." That apart, I am concerned that when we look at the state of our schools in the slightly broader context, we find ourselves constantly trying to deal with the unintended consequences of well-intended policies.

The work of a school governor often seems to be that of grappling with the fallout from the Minister's latest bright idea. As I ponder that point, I find myself wondering how far the same dynamic may be operating across a whole range of departments where contemporary Ministers of the Crown succumb to the temptation to micro-manage or, to put it more bluntly, meddle in matters about which others have more to offer.

I recently re-read an old paperback about post-war Britain which recounted a stormy meeting between the late Aneurin Bevan and doctors' representatives just before the inception of the NHS. The author attributed to Bevan a remark along the lines of: "Gentlemen, I want to assure you that there is no question of me, or any other member of the Government, telling you how to do your jobs."

When I pass my leisure time reading railway magazines, I am constantly amazed at how much a supposedly privatised railway network is subject to government control in such detailed commercial matters as choice of routes on which to upgrade rolling-stock.

Some exploration of how we have drifted from the Bevan position of 65 years ago to a willingness on the part of ministers of all the main parties to tell people how to do their jobs is, it seems to me, a prerequisite of any campaign along the lines that Mr Williams advocates.

MICHAEL THOMPSON
Humshaugh Vicarage, Hexham
Northumberland NE46 4AA

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