Posted on behalf of Trevor Fisher
Why are Westminster politicians so deeply resistant to evidence on educational issues? Expert opinion counts for little or nothing, and this is particularly so for New Labour. Professor Tim Brighouse, a key advisor after the 1997 election for a while, wrote later that
“They got swept up by the machine... It was like they had got on a boat in a fast moving stream and I stayed on the bank and, bit by bit, they got smaller and smaller in the distance and...I kept waving from the bank...” (1)
The experience will be familiar. But how did the boat of political strategy get to be caught up in a fast moving political stream? One factor was the speech by James Callaghan at Ruskin College, Oxford, in 1976, powerfully influential to this day in defining a new approach to School Politics. On October 15th, Ruskin is staging an in depth conference on the speech to which all LSN subscribers are invited. Forty years after, the speech can be seen as the tipping point for educational policy in England.
As Nick Gibb, right wing Schools Minister in the current Tory government, said on April 27th (2)
“This year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan's 'Ruskin Speech', a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades.... In doing so, Callaghan was making a bold foray into... the 'secret garden', to which educationists had been granted exclusive access, and politicians and the public had never seen fit to tread.”
The speech was unparalleled in its influence. The text is available on the internet as Ruskin Speech – though not the only one, it is unique and Callaghan himself said later this was his most well remembered. Yet many of our current concerns are not mentioned – nothing on grammar schools or standards not structures, nor anything to do with hyper accountability. Twenty years later, Blair appeared at Ruskin to make his own educational statement in the run up to the 1997 election victory.
What mattered was not so much what was said, but who said it. No Prime Minister had ever made a speech on education before. Since then, politicians have hardly ever stopped talking about schools. The speech marked the politicisation of education and it is time to scrutinise what happened and why the stream of educational policy described by Tim Brighouse then moved faster and faster away from traditional Labour concerns.
FORTY YEARS ON
Forty years to the day the speech was made, keynote speakers will open for discussion major issues relating to the speech. Lord Donoughue, Head of Callaghan's Policy Unit and involved in the creation of the speech, will explain how the speech came to be written and amplify the statements made about the speech in his autobiographical writings. Professor Sally Tomlison, Emeritus Professor of Education at Goldsmith's, will assess the political climate in the mid-1970s and its effect on the Callaghan government. David Blunkett, Education Secretary in the Labour government from 1997- 2001, will describe the effect on the thinking of New Labour in the period up to the 1997 election.
Setting the speech in a wider context, Warwick Mansell of the Guardian and TES, will outline the history of the Secret Garden concept and its influence, in a special workshop. Three workshops will be available after lunch to discuss further the three major themes discussed by the keynote speakers. The chair of the conference will be Professor Richard Pring, Emeritus Professor of Education at Oxford University, and there will be a special briefing booklet on The Roots of the School Revolution which will amplify the key concepts including a special essay on the Secret Garden concept written by Warwick Mansell. The briefing booklet can be purchased from SOSS at £5 including post and packing, or is included free in the conference booking fee - £20 waged, £15 media, £8 concessions.
While this is a stand-alone conference focussed primarily on how Callaghan's speech pushed education policy passed a Tipping Point, if successful it is intended to open a debate, into the politicisation of education and its effects on English schooling.
Bookings can be made through the direct link – http://buytickets.at/soss/65622- the Roots of the School Revolution,
Copies of the booklet can be obtained via the Symposium on Sustainable Schools (SOSS) website at www.soss.org.uk
Trevor Fisher 18 9 16
(1) REVINVENTING SCHOOLS ed John Bangs, John MacBeath and Maurice Galton, Routledge 2011, p166