“I think people in this country have had enough of experts,” proclaimed Michael Gove, our school’s constituency MP, in an EU referendum debate on Sky recently.
He was referring specifically to economists and their views about what would happen to Britain in a post-Brexit or post-Eurin vote, but to me it summed up neatly the views of some who attack the public services in this country and reminded me of his time as Education Secretary.
Mr Gove led the DfE through a four and half year campaign to improve schools in this country. No-one can argue with that aim (the method of delivery is a different question), and no-one in our cherished profession seriously wants anything other than the best for each and every child. Yet many of us were characterised as getting in the way of progress, of being part of the problem – we were The Blob.
Schools could be better. If they could be better, then they are not good enough. If they are not good enough it must mean that those who teach in them and lead them are not doing a good enough job, ergo the professionals (so-called) are the problem. If they are not doing a good enough job, despite their training and years of experience then that must be a major cause of the problem. They don’t even realise that they’re not doing a good enough job, goes the logic. The extension of that is that it must take someone with a fresh pair of eyes, someone who hasn’t been institutionalised to show us the errors of our ways.
The NHS, one of this country’s most impressive achievements, gets hammered because of a perception that it has a bloated management and bureaucratic culture. Not that it is chronically underfunded to fulfil its duties. The criticism in this case is reserved for managers, not clinical professionals who, rightly, retain high status in this country.
The police service has coped with eye-wateringly large budget cuts in recent years. I feel sick every time I think of my budget, yet my pressures pale into insignificance by comparison. Despite this, front-line police officers and their operational leaders, of which my brother is one, continue to make big dents in recorded crime. The British Crime Survey which, despite its many flaws is the best indicator of crime trends that we have, shows major reductions in overall crime over many years. This is not considered good enough and resulted in the abolition of Police Authorities (a second cousin to school governing bodies) and the creation of Police and Crime Commissioners – one person who can back or sack the Chief Constable.
We’re not immune to this ourselves. There is nothing more satisfying than sticking the boot into ‘SLT’. I regularly read on Twitter criticisms of senior leaders that the reason we’re so bad at our jobs is that we’ve lost touch with what it’s like to be a full-time class teacher, forgotten what it’s like to talk to kids, that we’re obsessed with numbers and spreadsheets and Ofsted. We’re getting in the way of schools being better, of teachers just getting on with their job. I can take constructive criticism and feedback, but I have a very thin skin when it comes to lazy stereotypes.
It’s this approach of mistrusting the expert (as Michael Gove would say) or the experienced that is slowly strangling parts of the public sector. I’m proud to be a public servant and I was proud to be a public service volunteer when I was a Special Constable with Thames Valley Police and a British Army reservist. How long I continue to enjoy, and therefore how long I can remain, being a public servant is another matter. It’s difficult to feel that you’re doing anything other than a mediocre job, at best, in the current climate.
I know absolutely nothing about running a hedge fund. Perhaps I’ll give that a shot instead.