I have been reading a good deal recently about Katherine Birbalsingh, the teacher who gave a speech at the Tory Party Conference, blaming the left for the declining standard of our public education system and claiming it was this that made her vote Tory for the first time in her life in the last general election. She is a deputy head at the age of thirty seven. Would it be terribly mean spirited of me to point out that she must have done an awful lot of toadying to the liberal elite that run our schools to achieve such an exalted position at such a young age? Has she only just noticed that our state education system sucks? Was she walking around in a semi-comatose state? Was she willfully myopic?
It seems to me that Ms Birbalsingh has overlooked a few inconvenient truths (hat tip to Al Gore). She bemoans the absence of selection in state schools. And her solution? Vote Tory, forgetting, of course, that more grammar schools were abolished when Margaret Thatcher was Secretary of State for Education and the Tories did nothing in seventeen years to halt their decline.
Ms Birbalsingh also bemoans the poor standard of the GCSE and its preference for coursework over final exams. And her solution? Vote Tory, forgetting, of course that the O’level/CSE was abolished in the late 1980s under a Tory administration. She apparently bemoans the existence of the BTEC, complaining that pupils and their parents are being misled into believing that they are the equivalent of four GCSEs. Yet again she appears to have forgotten that the BTEC was introduced into secondary schools in the late ‘80s along with the much maligned GCSE. I sat ten GCSEs whereas one of my closest school friends was shunted into the bottom stream and permitted to take only three GCSEs and two BTECS. This happened in the early ’90s under the Major administration. When my friend’s parents queried this, they were told that each BTEC was worth several GCSEs.
Ms. Birbalsingh isn’t saying anything particularly original. Melanie Phillips (before she descended into the depths of the Daily Mail) wrote a book entitled All Must Have Prizes, a devastating exposē of the paucity of the British Education system in 1994. I went to school at around the same time at Ms. Birbalsingh and I noticed that the public education system sucked even then and I went to a relatively good faith school. (Please take note of the word ‘relatively’.) I relied, rather too much, on auto-didacticism. If the education system has deteriorated even further then we really are doomed.
Ms. Birbalsingh, by all accounts, gave quite a rousing speech at the Tory Party Conference. Is this in absolute or relative terms because, if it is the latter then she is truly damned by faint praise. She is also, according to Melanie Phillips in her Daily Mail column, ‘an exceptional and inspirational teacher, although how she came to know this remains a mystery. Has she actually seen her teach? Again, is this in absolute or relative terms? If it is the latter then that’s twice she’s been damned by faint praise.
Oh, and if you really want to know how long our eduction system has been woefully inadequate, then try teaching remedial English to people in their thirties and forties. They turn up in those classes because the education system under both Tory and Labour administrations cast them aside.