The new enemies of promise

Michael Gove is on a mission…to improve British education standards and getting in his way as usual are the teacher unions. He calls them “the enemies of promise“.

Exactly 75 years ago the great English writer and thinker, Cyril Connolly, published his most famous book –  The Enemies Of Promise. Connolly’s work explores the ways in which the talented individuals of his time were prevented from achieving their full potential.

It’s time someone produced an update. Because there are millions of talented young people  being denied the opportunity to succeed as they deserve. Far too many are having their potential thwarted by a new set of Enemies Of Promise.

The new Enemies Of Promise are a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need.

All too familiar…same problem here. 

[T]ragically, there are all too many children who still don’t leave school with these basic accomplishments. Businesses report that school-leavers lack basic literacy and numeracy.

Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a  fictional character while 58 per cent think Sherlock Holmes  was real.

Expectations in science have been so dumbed down that children could be asked if grilled fish is healthier than battered sausages in their GCSEs. And the greatest tragedy is that poor educational performance is concentrated in our most disadvantaged communities – places like Knowsley in Merseyside, Hull and East Durham. Because of my own background, I am determined to do everything I can to help the poorest children in our country transcend theirs.

But who is responsible for this failure? Who are the guilty men  and women who have deprived a generation of the knowledge they need? Who are the modern Enemies Of Promise?

Well, helpfully, 100 of them put their name to a letter to The Independent newspaper this week.

Who are these “Enemies of Promise”?

They are all academics who have helped run the university departments of education responsible for developing curricula and teacher training courses.

You would expect such people to value learning, revere knowledge and dedicate themselves  to fighting ignorance. Sadly, they seem more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence.

They attacked the Coalition for our indefensibly reactionary drive to get more children to spell properly, use a wider vocabulary and learn their times tables. Expecting 11-year-olds  to write grammatical sentences and use fractions in sums is apparently asking for ‘too much too young’ and will ‘severely erode educational standards’.

How can it erode educational standards to ask that, in their  11 years in school, children be given the opportunity to use the English language in all its range and beauty to communicate their thoughts and feelings with grace and precision? What planet are these people on?

A Red Planet, if their published work is anything to go by. One of the letter’s principal signatories claims to write ‘from a classical Marxist perspective’, another studies ‘how masculinities and femininities operate as communities of practice’, a third makes their life work an ‘intergenerational ethnography of the intersection of class, place, education and school resistance’.

It is no surprise that two signatories co-authored a paper proclaiming ‘Marxism is as relevant as ever’. It certainly seems to be if you want a position in a university department of education.

Sigh…it would make you angry if it didn’t make you sad first. Michael Gove also calls them the Blob.

School reformers in the past often complained about what was called The Blob – the network of educational gurus in and around our universities who praised each others’ research, sat on committees that drafted politically correct curricula, drew gifted young teachers away from their vocation and instead directed them towards ideologically driven theory.

Some wonder if past reformers were exaggerating the problem in university education departments. Thanks to the not-so-Independent 100 we can see that, if anything, they were underplaying the problem.

In the past The Blob tended to operate by stealth, using its influence to control the quangos and committees which shaped policy. But The Blob has broken cover in the letters pages of the broadsheets because this Government is taking it on.

We have abolished the quangos they controlled. We have given  a majority of secondary schools academy status so they are free from the influence of The Blob’s allies in local government. We are moving teacher training away from university departments and into our best schools. And we are reforming our curriculum and exams to restore the rigour they abandoned.

This is exactly why we must push through charter schools in New Zealand. To rid ourselves of the malign influence fo the teacher unions.

We believe children will  flourish if we challenge them, but The Blob, in thrall to Sixties ideologies, wants to continue the devaluation of the exam system.

These reforms have the support of the growing number of great heads and outstanding teachers who want children to succeed. More and more schools are now being rated good and outstanding. But there are still a tiny minority of teachers who see themselves as part of The Blob and have enlisted as  Enemies Of Promise.
They are the ultra-militants in the unions who are threatening strikes. They oppose our plans to pay good teachers more because they resent the recognition of excellence and they hate academy schools because heads in those schools put the needs of children ahead of the demands of shop stewards.

Previous school reformers have been stymied by these  Enemies Of Promise before. Just last week Tony Blair was lamenting the fact teaching unions ‘have stood out against necessary educational change’ and arguing for the policies this Government is pursuing.

Indeed, across the world those politicians who want to help children from poor backgrounds get on are fighting the Enemies Of Promise. Last week I was talking to the Democrat Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, about his battle with the teaching unions.

That’s why it’s such a pity that, this week, Labour’s education spokesman Stephen Twigg chose to side with the Marxists and failed to condemn the unions who want to close successful schools.

The fight against the Enemies Of Promise is a fight for our children’s future. It’s a fight against ideology, ignorance and poverty of aspiration, a struggle to make opportunity more equal for all our children.

It’s a battle in which you have to take sides. Now that Labour seem to be siding with the militants, it’s even more important that we support the great  teachers and heads fighting for higher standards for the sake of our children.

There is not much different from Michael Gove’s fight with the teacher unions than what National is facing against our teacher unions. They are going to go to war against the government, only a blind noddy can’t see that. If they are to bring war on the government then let’s have at it.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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