Sunday, August 12, 2012

Janet Daley's Bilge

If the Daily Telegraph is actually paying Janet Daley for her ridiculous columns, we should make sure we never take heed of that paper's regular injunctions to government about wasting money.  They are past masters at it themselves every time they publish one of Ms. Daley's columns.

She is on fine, caricaturist form today with a lot of bilge about the terribly uncompetitive, mediocre  nature of modern Britain.  Apparently, the British Olympic success has actually occurred in the midst of an irremediable downturn in British civic ethics.  It has been a "celebration of all those aspects of the human condition which the political fashion and educational ideology of the past 40 years has attempted to denigrate."  Er, right.  So despite the insidious efforts of a large portion of what commentators like Ms. Daley often refer to as the 'British Establishment', we've still managed to produce an unprecedented number of medal winners.  They're not very successful, those political fashionistas and education ideologists are they?  Fascinated by this vivid insight into the corrupt culture of Britain, I read eagerly on looking for the rigorous evidence that Ms. Daley had unearthed.

Well, there's been a "collapse of standards in state education", although no further support for that statement was offered; certainly not the rising grade levels.  There is apparently evidence of "the teachers’ refusal to supervise out-of-hours activities", although the specifics were left unsaid.  "The teachers' " does rather seem to imply a wholesale refusal of any state school teacher to supervise any out of school activity, which will come as a nasty shock to those who thought that running sports teams, D of E, CCF, after school classes etc were precisely that.  It also makes the NASUWT's current work to rule order a little bit pointless, if that's what teachers are already doing in their normal working lives. 

Then Ms. Daley dismisses the idea that the "availability of sports facilities" might be a key factor in preventing state school students' access to sports, concentrating instead on "the transcendent question of what constitutes social virtue."  This introduces the following, glorious paragraph:

"The prevailing, quite explicit, theme disseminated by political and educational ideologues for more than a generation has been that no one should be encouraged to perform markedly better (or be rewarded for achieving more) than anyone else: that being an exceptional talent or a successful competitor was inherently unfair to those without the same advantages even if the “advantages” were your own character and motivation."

No-one should be encouraged to perform better?  No-one should become an exceptional talent?  Competition is unfair?  Oh dear.  In one fell swoop the efforts of teachers up and down the country to push their students to get the best grades possible in exams, to gain entry into competitive universities, or even just to take part in an out of school activity which can showcase their winning talents, has been dismissed by the expert commentary of Janet Daley.  Not competitive?  There is virtually nothing about the modern school environment that isn't competitive.  Of course, so self-evident does Ms. Daley believe her case to be that she has forgotten the need to provide at least a semblance of evidence to back it up.  In amongst the self-righteous verbiage of her nonsensical column you will search in vain to find a shred of supporting detail.  Such things are beneath the requirements of an acknowledged education expert such as Janet Daley.

So thoroughly acquainted with the nation's primary schools is our columnist that she is able to tell us, rather sweepingly, that "the prohibition on competition, or clear acknowledgement of superior ability, in primary school classrooms has been a horrendous handicap to the academic performance of boys for whom winning – coming “top of the class” as it was once known – is a major motivation."  How on earth did Mo Farah or the British men's gymnastic team ever manage to combat the iniquitous influence of their state schools to become icons of competitiveness, perseverance and triumph?  And how on earth have all these state school educated boys been able to get their top rank exam grades to head into the British university system?

Utter bilge, really.  How Daley gets away with writing this nonsense is a mystery to anyone brought up on the notion of evidence based arguments.  Perhaps the Telegraph is so lacking in discernment that it now allows her to submit columns which she wrote in her sleep.  The sad thing is that there is a large segment of right-wing opinion, apparently including the Prime Minister, which really does believe, on the thinnest of evidence, that state schools are involved in a massive conspiracy to defraud the nation of its sense of competitive spirit.

Ms. Daley blithely ignores the fact that provision of decent facilities is more than just a passing contributor to sporting success, or that good and well paid working conditions allow private schools to invest in specialist sports instructors, or even that the most debilitating factor working against the  promotion of exciting, competitive ventures in schools are the government's own raft of bureaucratic obstacles, including the ever expanding risk assessment requirements.

There is one little piece of evidence in Ms. Daley's detail free column, and that is the reference to Sheffield City Council's rapid removal of the vandalism done to the gold post box commemorating Jess Ennis' heptathlon win.  Sheffield is, of course, a Labour council.


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