At the end of my Sixth Form days, L.P.Hartley’s book, ‘The Go-between’, was made into a stunning film with its stars being the adorable Julie Christie and Alan Bates, adults in secret love linked by Leo Colston, their child messenger (the go-between) played by Dominic Guard. I have seen the film quite a few times, but it’s the book’s opening lines that stay with me:
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
The story is set in pre-first world war England, when the upper class seldom sullied their hands, and is told by the now aged adult go-between as he recalls the events of his childhood. The book really ought to be on everyone’s top 100 books for their desert island; we are all affected and repressed in some way by our childhood experiences and in the solitude of an Island life, we would be able to reflect upon the ‘what might have beens!’
As I write, Brussels is in lock down, and terrorist mayhem has been wrought upon innocent civilians at airport and train station. If for no other reason than security, the borders of Europe are being closed, and plans to return hundreds of thousands of refugees back to the middle east are in an advanced stage of preparation. Our own political masters are at each others throats; this week’s multi shambles of a budget bringing the chancellor into disrepute, and has a secretary of state for work and pensions departing into the back-benches of parliament to fight his other cause ‘Brexit’. We are now 100 days to the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, in which those who have a vote can shape our future very differently if they so wish.
In the same budget, George Osborne announced that all state schools were to become academies* by 2020, breaking completely the control that local authorities have had over our schools since the Education act of 1944 when secondary education became free in state schools. Whilst the majority of secondary schools are already academies, most primary schools are not, and the country simply does not have the expertise to fragment this junior provision whilst protecting the rights of those most vulnerable who cannot protect themselves. The chancellor said that the government’s goal was “to complete this schools revolution and help every secondary school become an academy” with power being in the hands of heads and teachers, “not bureaucrats”.
Given that we are in the middle of the largest simultaneous shake-up of public examinations, to be completed by 2018, this means that the entire English primary and secondary system is being turned on its head, fragmented and ‘rebranded’. This is being done to ‘improve’ our education system. The first results that will permit us to measure whether this change has worked won’t come out until 2025, and full evidence not until the 2020-25 cohorts are all the way through, meaning 2030. Since the current government has a mandate until 7 May 2020, if they last this parliament that is, then I can honestly predict the educational landscape for the next 15 years is set to become the Wild West, in which anything can happen and probably will. I am not the only one that thinks this will be sad.
Back in November, all Roy Perry, the Conservative leader of Hampshire county council and chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, could say was ‘If government were to say there is no role for local government in education that would be a sad day. I hope this does not become a political issue. Within Conservative-controlled councils we see ourselves as having a very positive and important role in education’. This week Fasna, the body which represents self-governing schools and academies, questioned whether there was capacity to “execute that policy effectively”. I am sure they are right to challenge their masters, because the data shows that only 1 in 3 of academy schools are as good as they need to be, roughly in line with the LA average.
Though I suspect Christ’s resurrection story and the promise of redemption is the way to go for most of us, it’s time for my uplifting Easter message. I have become mindful of the acceleration of time in recent years, when everything is done for a purpose, a next step on our travels, which are often more ambitious and extensive than yesteryear. We are not workshy privileged adults from the past, playing games in a world where the harsh realities of life are far away. But we can at least recognise the need to find time to take a rest, to play around, enjoy our families and friends and have some fun, so please do. You might even get a film out. The BBC remade the Go-between last year – I can’t source the movie but Youtube has a great trailer, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzVQhJ9Eyy4 , and as the film also has Jim Broadbent (the old Leo), it’s worth the watch just for the opening sequence in which he speaks ““The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
Do enjoy the Easter break, I will!
*P.S. Since writing this blog, ‘mumsnet’ has gone bonkers about the prospect of academisation; in conservative party terms, this is spelled ‘a-cayman-isation’ – it appears that Mr Cameron’s close friends are ‘trousering’ the real estate and off-shoring the nation’s educational assets into a tax haven.