Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Kelly Flop

Ruth ‘Head Girl’ Kelly has been outed for sending one of her four children to private school because he has been assessed as having ‘particular and substantial learning difficulties’. The fact that she has been heavily criticised for it is neither surprising nor undeserved. Since Head Girl has been one of the more garishly hypocritical and inarticulate members of Government in the many posts she has held, we should take every opportunity available to shove her fatuous pronouncements about commitment and values back in her smug little face.

Having said that, I think she’s done the right thing. I’d be more worried if she was prepared to sacrifice the future prospects of one of her children to protect her own image. She does live in Tower Hamlets after all. The fact that she’s come out and shown a willingness to take her slagging off at least demonstrates the presence of a moral boundary. There is even the suggestion of a dilemma having been toiled through. Labour MPs have toughed it out before, dumbfounded by the suggestion that choosing to send their children to elite schools constitutes something of a doctrinal departure from traditional Labour principles. By current standards Head Girl shows a remarkable state of awareness.

There is no clarity yet on the nature of the young master’s particular learning disability but the general consensus of the news services is that it’s dyslexia. This condition has a wide spectrum and can be totally debilitating as an educational issue but early intervention and intensive attention can make a huge difference to a dyslexic child’s progress. Since over half of the male prison population have extremely poor literacy skills, failure to get the appropriate support can have quite dramatic consequences. Head Girl is very lucky that her circumstances allow her to transfer her son to a £15,000 a year school where he will get the help he needs. There are whole families in this country who have to live on a lot less than that, many of whom have dyslexic children who will exit education with no qualifications and few chances of ‘fulfilling their potential’.

We can all have a little dig at the latest in a long line of examples that government ministers are laughably incapable of living by the same rules that they wish to apply to the rest of us ordinary folk. What a situation like this shows up is their paltry record in making a difference in the area that was once so dear to their shrivelled little hearts. For all their crowing about how much better education has become under their illustrious stewardship and how much more beneficial it is for children with special educational needs to be in a mainstream state school, at the first flicker of falling behind in lessons, little Harry will be whisked off to Saville Row to be outfitted in a grey piped blazer.

I’ve always been flabbergasted at the state of education in this country, particularly since the short sharp shock of managing an education regeneration programme in South London. The sheer cluelessness of it is almost impossible to imagine unless you have direct experience of the constant behind the scenes freak outs and desperate searches for something new to try that hasn’t already crashed and burned. It’s all too easy to cite poor discipline and youth disaffection but these are just a couple of the more overt symptoms of a system that has no idea at all what it is doing. How else can you explain the fact that even though children start some form of formal education at three, a good percentage of them come out thirteen years later without the ability to read or count?

Children are in education a long time and getting one or two rubbish teachers in a long school career can be overcome. As the offspring of pathologically nomadic parents, I suffered more interruptions to my education than all of Jeremy Paxman’s guests combined have had to their interviews. I had a maths teacher who frequently nodded of in the middle of an equation and an ancient history teacher whose lessons were constructed from eye witness testimony but I managed to make up for it by being curious and interested. Children are resilient and by and large, flexible. They can withstand a certain amount of variation in quality. What they can’t overcome so easily is sixteen long years of relentless crap.

When Labour came to power they made the mistake of thinking that it would all be a doddle to fix but institutions are resilient too and this rust bucket of an education system has resisted all attempts to redirect its hell-bent trajectory. That will remain the case unless and until Labour owns up to just how big this mountain truly is. At the moment it’s all about pretending its not happening until a minister is caught sneaking their child into an expensive school. Meanwhile, the wonder has gone out of learning for vast numbers of children in particularly deprived areas. They know nothing about the world beyond their Wii and neither have they the desire to locate it.

Speaking of educationally disadvantaged, I finally caught up with Celebrity Big Brother today just in time to clock Jade Goody explaining that she is one of the most in-fool-ential people in the country. As she quipped that she didn’t even know what it meant it was possible to make out the entire nightmarish thought process of Ken Russell as the realisation dawned that he shared a cultural heritage with the Goodys. He shortly there afterwards sank into a deep coma from which he is unlikely to recover. His remains will be entered in next year’s Turner Prize…

Head Girl Portrait from www.news-digest.co.uk


Reading the Signs said...

"Cool Britannia, sweet marmalade and jam" etc. I bet JG thinks that we think she is being sweet. And we do, don't we? Apparently.

That's so pants said...

The horror on the faces of the people who had never experienced the Jade phenomenon before said it all really.

Anonymous said...

It's disgusting how everyone is treating Ruth Kelly. This morning her son has been named and details of his condition published. It is completely wrong to involve an innocent child in political point scoring. I think it's absolutely shameful.

That's so pants said...

Dear Anon. I have every sympathy in the world with a parent doing the right thing by her child. What I don't have any truck with is government ministers lying about the true state of services and then freaking out when they are suddenly faced with the dilemma of having to access one. It just smacks of 'other worldliness'. If I'd want an idiot with neither brains nor scruples in charge of the Government I'd have voted for Robert Kilroy-Silk. I am mad at these guys!