Gordon Brown doesn't want any more failing schools in Britain. Well, that's nice. It's always cheering to hear that a prime minister wants a successful education system and good schools. Makes such a change from that litany of dreary premiers who keep on insisting that mediocre schools are fine, and failure is the price of...well, failure I suppose.
Brown's education speech has received much fanfare, but the strong words and high-blown rhetoric hide - or try to - a gaping hole where there should be practical suggestions. As ever, Brown's most concrete proposal is another target. School not achieving 30% high-grade GCSE's? Close it. If it doesn't meet the target, it shouldn't exist. Well, quite. But the great Gordo offers no practical support. Even in his fine passages about wanting the best teaching force in the world he offers nothing more than aspirational rhetoric, and boy is the education world rich with the aspirational rhetoric of image conscious politicians. It is, after all, so much easier to prat on about the importance of high standards, treating teachers well, world class education system, blah blah blah, but heaven forbid that you should put your money where your mouth is. The only definitive proposal to come from Gordon Brown's government in the last few weeks, has been the ludicrously titled Secretary of State for Children, Ed Balls', commitment to eventually abolishing A-levels in favour of some untried, and rather vague, diplomas. Some quality there!
There is no great secret to educational progress. Decent funding to enable small classes and appropriate resources. A motivated and well rewarded teaching profession. A focus on teaching rather than presiding or facilitating. A proper autonomy for schools and support for their ability to exact disciplinary measures without constant reference to external appeals panels and highly paid lawyers. And if you really wanted to take the educational bull by the horns you'd reintroduce selective education double quick. But these ideas all require action and money, and in the end words are just so much cheaper and easier. We shouldn't be hard on Brown. He is merely following a fine prime ministerial tradition of posing strongly about education, and then fleeing before he is seen to be naked in substance. Because most children do at least know the famous story of the Emperor and his new clothes.