Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
From my previous articles, you’ll know I’m no fan of Tony Blair. The former British Prime Minister faces hostility for the lies he told that led to an unjustified war. It’s doubtful the British public will ever forgive him or his vile henchman, Alastair Campbell. Both have blood on their hands. The blood of British soldiers, the blood of innocent Iraqi men, women and children. It remains baffling to me that these men are not facing charges for their crime’s against humanity.
And yet, Tony Blair did not only bring death and destruction to Iraq. Often overlooked is the terrible damage he did to thousands of children with his misguided education policies. While this was less kinetic, it nonetheless brought down a generation. Moreover, the impact continues to this day.
Blair came to power in 1997. The new man; a bright dawn for cool Britannia. He immediately moved to address what he perceived to be failings in the education system. His understanding of the detail was sparse at best and in most aspects wrong.
Blair is the archetypal ideologue, who believes he knows all the answers; thus he threw out the experts. He initiated a raft of changes, and when his ideas failed, he blamed others. Ardent religious types are prone to this behaviour. We know Blair was devout despite Campbell’s “We don’t do God” claim.
The evidence is clear. The only students who improved during Blair's tenure attended the so-called public schools. 40,000 more children signed up for these schools as parents sought to avoid the poor discipline and teaching in state schools. At the public schools, government policy was mute.
Blair allowed individuals with radical, unproven ideas, to hold reign on policy. Dismissing standards and common sense, he was confident he'd improve things for the impoverished kids. People like Christine Gilbert, a former director of education, advocated pupil power. The students would decide courses, mark their work and assess their teachers. Exams were to go, replaced by feedback. Blair pushed hard to break the link between education and social class.
As a consequence, the ordinary working-class child saw levels of attainment collapse. Research revealed teachers focused on the few willing kids, while unqualified assistants kept the less able occupied. In short, discipline fell away. By 2007, the Rowntree Foundation discovered the most impoverished kids further behind. Blair, playing his ideological games, doomed them by pulling the rug of education away.
The data is compelling. In 2007, with a decade in power, all Blairs ideas and the millions spent had produced no gain. In fact, standards had fallen. The data from international agencies and independent internal monitors told a grim tale. By 2016, the product of Blairs education initiatives came to university age. The OECD ranked them as the worst in twenty-three developed countries in literacy and second worst in maths. It’s a stinging indictment of his failing.
Blair loved to trumpet how well he was doing on education. None of these claims stood up to the slightest analysis. He spent £88.5 million on an anti-truancy policy that saw rates of absence increase. He committed £1.1 billion to Sure Start aimed at kids in deprived areas. Whether this programme has any impact is debatable because the evidence suggests no tangible gains. The spin doctors twisted any favourable data, but couldn't hide the truth.
Caught out by these failures, Blair put pressure on for improvements in exam results. This drive led to the wholesale manipulation of assessment processes. Pushing pupils into easy courses inflated grades, while 'adjusted' marking schemes helped. Soon grades went up. As an example, sixteen-year-olds sitting the maths GCSE gained a ‘C’ for a score of 16 percent. As the focus was exams, instead of teaching, learning folded.
The next fiddle involved coursework. By including a higher element of coursework in the marks, teachers adjusted scores. Without any proper oversight or scrutiny grades climbed.
The flip-flops, the millions wasted on failed initiatives, it left parents, teachers and kids bewildered. Employers held their heads in their hands in disbelief at the poor quality of people entering the workforce.
Forced from office in 2007, Blair left a legacy of broken education promises. His deceitful peddling of twisted data didn't conceal the truth. Education was costing much more to produce much less. Meanwhile, a third of secondary school pupils have some record of truancy. Most school-leavers left without achieving real skills in literacy and numeracy.
The education system had fallen victim to a class-war. The most vulnerable pupils lost. So, Blair remains a toxic brand, due to his blood-lust and religious crusades. We should not forget the damage he did to a generation of ordinary kids, whom he consigned to mediocrity.
Of course, Blair didn’t expose his kids to these machinations. As the Spectator magazine reported in 2002, the Blairs arranged for teachers from the elite private Westminster School to home tutor his sons. A more vivid illustration of the man’s hypocrisy would be hard to find.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.