I have a child! Of course, I should be Education Secretary

Columnist mission creep has given us a monster as Prime Minister and a media stuffed with unuseful idiots.

Eight years ago, Stephen Collins drew this cartoon for The Guardian…

As we await the alien destruction that will come as a blessed relief, we are living in Collins’ cartoon; columnists think they can write about anything and then, lured into politics, they think they can solve anything.


This is mission creep. Siri, define ‘mission creep’:

mission creep


a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment.

I was sparked into writing this episode of the newsletter by a column written by former Number 10 advisor turned co-working space entrepreneur Rohan Silva in which he outlined his ideas for how education should be fixed.

A teacher friend responded to my call on Facebook for comments on the patronising technocratic guff that Silva spaffed into the pages of The Sunday Times:

It is a very confused article and frankly intellectually lazy. It seems to be the typical generic columnist article written by someone with a profoundly misplaced belief in their competence in the subject at hand.

It smacks of someone who has done almost no research into the topic. He presents some very tired, very often repeated ideas that have been dismissed so often. Reading anything by Daisy Christodoulou would have prevented him from rehashing some very weak ideas.

Where to begin? He seems to be switching between talking about schools and universities as if they were the same thing and we can treat 12yos the same as 22yos. I would suggest Rohan reads the work of Sarah-Jayne Blakemore as to why that is a pretty poor starting point. Children are not small adults.

I have just spent a large amount of last week talking to about half of my yr10 tutor group in 1:1 wellbeing meetings (either online or face to face).

When asked what did they miss about school pretty much every single one of them answered the same two things: my friends, and having a teacher in front of me to explain how to do things and to help me when I get stuck.

The mistake that Rohan seems to have made is to be under the belief that because (a) he went to school and (b) he has a child, therefore he knows all about education. I wonder if he spoke to a single teacher about this column?

To suggest that classroom lessons go at the speed of the slowest student is just factually wrong. Of course they don't.

Flipped classrooms? Does he really think that he is the first person to come up with this? Does he really think that this hasn't been tried? Apart from reading one *university* study, has he done any research into their effectiveness in secondary schools?

Anytime you build a solution that requires students to have the necessary technology and somewhere to study you are widening the disadvantage gap. I have a student whose whole family has one smartphone. When the mother goes to work, the phone goes with her. I have another student who is one of five siblings. They have one laptop in the family. She gets about an hour a day to use it at most. Many days her mother needs it the whole day, so she can't start work until 5 or 6pm.

There is a reason that the verb to think is transitive. You need something to think about. You can't teach creativity in a vacuum. If students don't know anything about that subject then they cannot be creative in it. You can't teach generic problem-solving skills - you can only teach domain-specific problem-solving. I would suggest reading pretty much anything by Dan Willingham.

As for his criticisms of the curriculum reforms - amen to that. Who was the prime minister responsible for these reforms? David Cameron. Who was David Cameron's special advisor? Rohan Silva. Perhaps if Rohan had worked a bit harder when inside No 10 he wouldn't be complaining about the reforms that the prime minister he was a special advisor to, was responsible for introducing.

It took my friend — an expert teacher, who was formerly a highly-successful journalist — a couple of minutes to dismantle Silva’s column. Why? Because he knows his shit in a way that Silva does not. By dint of having been in Number 10, written newspaper columns, and fathering his own children, Silva feels qualified to bloviated on issues that keep experts debating day in day out.

If education was easily improved or ‘solved’, those experts might have done it by now. In truth, education improves and declines in a really complex way, and there are so many factors involved. Education systems are not simple, they have many moving parts, and they demand more than 800 words dashed off to fill a vertical space in the Sunday Times News Review.

But why should Silva be modest? He’s seen the example of Boris Johnson and, to a lesser extent, Michael Gove. These men have immense power and make decisions about things about which they often have very little domain knowledge. They both come from a columnist background and have been absolutely drenched in entitlement and unearned confidence.

That unearned confidence has followed them into government. Witness how their plans unravel — turning from a quip or a half-arsed policy proposal into unworkable, unwieldy, or unwise realities. This is a world where the Health Secretary can be a former software salesman and the Education Secretary can be a tarantula obsessive who used to flog fireplaces.

The columnist mission creep is everywhere. If you pick up a paper today, try to tally up how many people in it are writing about things that they know bugger all about.