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Monday, 21 July 2014

Michael Gove has been sacked as Education Secretary - is the only way up?

"We been broken down
the lowest turn
and been on the bottom line
sure ain't no fun
but if we should be evicted from our homes
we'll just move somewere else
and still carry on
Hold on, Hold on, Hold on

"The only way is up, baby
For you and me, baby
The only way is up
For you and me"
('The Only Way is Up', Yazz & The Plastic Population)

There is a principle is statistics called 'regression to the mean', which refers to the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement.  In other words, it means that events tend to even out, so an unusual measure is likely to be followed by a more 'normal' result.

Regression to the mean explains why football managers often seem to experience a brief period of success when they begin a new post (because they usually get their job after a particularly disasterous time for their predecessor - even standard levels of performance will appear to be an improvement after abject failure).  It also explains why alternative medicine sometimes seems to work (people tend to seek unusual treatments when their symptoms are severe, and any slight improvement is attributed the magical sugar tablet, rather than simply that random fluctuations would mean that the severity would have probably declined anyway).

Regression to the mean also explains the widespread euphoria that followed the sacking of Michael Gove as English Secretary of State for Education. Such was the contempt felt for Mr Gove by large numbers of teachers and parents, that it was simply assumed that his replacement, Nicky Morgan could not fail to be improvement.  That Ms Morgan is a political and religious conservative who opposed equal marriage (she says she's in parliament not only for her constituents, but "to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord") was more than out-weighed by her assertion that an important part of her job was to work with teachers, rather than against them:

'I will obviously be nice to teachers, because working with teachers and heads and governors and everyone else in the system is critical in getting the best outcome for our children. Education can be life-transforming.'

That the government minister responsible for education has to state something so blindingly obvious out-loud is an indication of how warped and distorted this role has become.  Whether or not Mr Gove, who showed his contempt for teachers with his every utterance and ill-thought-out policy, is the worst Secretary of State ever is a matter of debate.  He certainly has some stiff opposition for that title from the various bullies, incompetents and loons who have held the position over the preceding decades.

In this context, Nicky Morgan could become a wildly popular Education boss merely by staying in her office and watching daytime TV.  Perhaps she could appear from time to time at conferences to tell teachers and parents, like 'Young' Mr Grace of 'Are you Being Served', 'You've all done very well', before being carried back to her LaZboy recliner and the latest episode of 'Doctors'.

But lest we forget, Nicky Morgan was appointed by the same man who thought it was a good idea to hand over our children's futures to Michael Gove.  She is an ambitious Cameronite, and immediately felt compelled to jump on all of the standard Tory educational bandwagons, including Academies, faith-based schooling, and Grammar Schools. 

As I have argued before, the case for Grammar Schools is weak, and its impact could be summarised simply as 'benefit for a few at the expense of the rest'.  Much the same conclusion, I suspect, could be said of academies and faith-based schooling, although I would not include children among the beneficiaries of the latter.

My concern, though, is not that the new Secretary of State for Education holds these views.  It is that she is at the very beginning of her role, and has already decided her position on some of the most contested issue in education without, it seems, recourse to evidence or even discussion with those in the teaching profession.

Does that remind you of someone?


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