Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Eyes Have It

Wednesday 21st May 2014

Have you ever noticed that characters in novels look deeply into other’s eyes? I don’t know how often you make direct eye contact with people – personally it seems a bit seedy to me - but apparently there’s a lot to see there, and hard boiled detectives see more than most. In Dennis Lehane’s latest, quite good ”Live by Night” a character attacks some men because, “ they’d come upon him with a threat in their eyes so clear wasn’t no point in waiting for it to leave their mouths.” I think that’s brilliant.

At another point the hero is robbing some gangsters of and comes across a waitress,“ Her eyes left the pistol and rose up his forearm in such a way he could feel the hairs parting. She sculled across the centre of his chest and then up his throat and over his chin. When she found his eyes, hers were fuller and sharper, lit with something that had entered the world centuries before civilized things.” Heck!

Later, before the sex started, “She stared at him the way she had in the payroll office, like she could see the intestines curled inside him, the pink of his lungs, the thoughts that journeyed among the folds of his brain.”

So, can you spot a liar, a fraud, a charlatan? Can you see the blankness of the apathetic, the indifferent or the bored? Le’ts check the eyes of Mickey Gove, the DfE tweeters, our national press, the BBC and politicians of all hues. Their eyes were ablaze and their scorn plentiful when dubious analysis from the OECD gave birth to the headlines that we were “plummeting down “ international education tables. (December 2013)

On the 8th May news was released that contrary to this we are apparently 6th in the world and 2nd in Europe.Time for righteous praise from our leaders or even ruefully, apologetically smiling eyes?

These rankings are based upon an amalgamation of international tests and education data - including the OECD's Pisa tests, and two major US-based studies, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls).

Triangulated no less.

Well, well, well.

I waited, for the deafening applause, the beaming smiles, from a corrected media; front pages splashed with congratulatory messages to teachers, the call for a national day of joyful celebration bannered across news bulletins, tears of relief and possibly a letter from the grateful Queen of All England to be read out in classrooms. I waited.

I turned on the BBC News. Halal meat is prepared in halal style; Scunthorpe United finish 2nd in Division 3 and Mavis the cat has been found in a shed in Wycombe. The new education tables, the results, the international comparisons, came and went quicker than a passing glint in a regretful eye.

So, the news should have proclaimed: “Gove jumped on dodgy data to wreck our schools.“ Perhaps admitting to using incomplete, corrupt and incorrect information: Gove Is Well Sorry.”(The Sun)

So, surely, the next headline, after the glassy-eyed apology,

                                                          “Gove Resigns In Shame”

Well what would you expect from an honourable man, from a scholar of heroic deeds, a man with a fearsome supply of urgency pills who compares himself to brave “Horatio at the gate?” Of course he will resign.

Opus Dei style self flagellation and heavy grade barbed wire underpants for Mickey for the rest of this parliament, and Shakespearian banishment beyond. Of course, he will do the honourable thing because now he can see that our education system needs nurturing and developing, not wrecking.

He misled everyone. He proved incapable of rationale thought and balance supported by expert advice, instead, sweeping away the foundations of a world class education system for his own jaundiced, ideology, sacrificing millions of kids to perpetual practice for SATs, GCSEs and other dull repetitive tests.

Of course he will resign. For Govey is an honourable man who read about the age of chivalry and falling on one’s sword.

No doubt he will be round my house, in sackcloth to do my garden as penance for his anti-childhood sins. Sadly, for a man so immense in his own refection Gove now becomes the forgotten man, a bit like the once admired Gary Glitter - confined to the hidden pages of popular culture, an example of mistakes to be punished. An insecure man with so much to be insecure about, and no, I don’t want to be in your gang either.

Having worked in three schools in the last 35 years I can shamelessly, categorically state that we are doing so much better now. But we are being driven backwards by Gove’s stuff. Back to the 80s

…when many kids were failing, their schools couldn’t recruit decent qualified teachers. Mining, car plant, shipyard and docks jobs disappeared and it was students’ fault. The lack of ambition was endorsed by the state. Unemployed people were counted on disability lists to be statistically hidden. My first act as a Head of Year in 1983 was to bury a 14 year old gas sniffer called Mickey. There were riots of the disaffected, by the disillusioned in the cities.

With Gove’s nonsense, unopposed by all political parties, “more students will fail more exam,s” and this will show the students, struggling to pass demanding exams now, that there is no point. He’s also talking about quotas for each grade, so no matter how hard students work with their teachers there will be no criteria for success. As much as we improve our teaching normal distribution curves will screw the students and the schools.

Primary schools have year 5 children doing SATs practice papers a whole 12 months before their tests from fear of public comparison tables. Secondary school English and Maths teachers and headteachers are leaving the profession, driven out by the unrelenting attack on state education: the weekly backdated changes to assessment, the drive for pass marks rather than standards, the wholesale dumping of the curriculum for 4-18 year olds and this centralised, dogmatised, unscientific and frankly incorrect interference reflecting almost complete ignorance of the great things students and their teachers have been doing. Together we have been raising standards and achievement, encouraging hope and ambition, creativity and responsibility, communication and fair play and even suggesting that hard work will be rewarded – you know, all the things employers say they want.

So, back to the eyes. Somewhere in Chelsea, where the mickey-taker conducts his morning ritual, “Mirror mirror on the wall…” and the usual sneering snigger now unmasks a salivating pestilence as he celebrates his victory over a three quarters way decent education system. His hands rubbing together so rapid in their glee that the skin flakes in clouds of foulness, and as he searches his own eyes skin peels away from rotted eyelids, gore drips from the scales beneath,
and he stares, between the tiny slits of membrane at his own reflected eyes, grunting, “Education education education, I’ll show them bloody education!” as the reptilian metamorphosis completes.

Gove casts a damp deformed shadow obscuring the progress we have seen in the last three decades. Our system needed tidying and developing, not unseeing vandalism, and we should be encouraging the best teachers I have ever known.

The voice on “Alice’s Restaurant” resonates, the original 1967 version now. Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody, complains joshingly that the audience don’t sing along loudly enough. He says, “I’ve been singing this song for 25 minutes now, I can sing for another 25. I’m not proud, or tired.” Well, I’ve written nearly 40,000 words in the last 22 blogs and by tomorrow morning I will have been metaphorically hit 15,000 times.77 USA people reading, “How to choose a secondary school this month” makes me wonder if I’m on Michael’s reading list over there at Concordia College.

Feel invited to post a comment, maybe a suggested future topic. Or if you are my local MP and you don’t like my politics or you are the Hertford Headteacher who told my friend, “Dennis is mad,” there’s an all encompassing invite to post a few words.

And next time you see Gove on TV look into his eyes, look deep into his eyes.

Dennis O'Sullivan

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