The education pages make pretty grim reading at the moment with research suggesting that unhappy teachers are working too hard in overcrowded and crumbling schools; even Academies don’t seem to be working after all. Still, at least teachers can be happy that Michael Gove isn’t driving schools policy (from the front seat at least).
No news is good news, all news is bad news. Why? Well, we all know that shock horror stories sell more papers than a thoughtful, carefully optimistic piece. And, particularly with a general election looming, bad news is often written with an agenda in mind: lobbying, pushing the editorial line, supporting your members. It doesn’t take a media studies student to read between the lines of some stories, and it doesn’t take an experienced researcher to see a ‘research study’ is not always as objective as it purports to be. As researchers, we work hard to consider both sides of the argument, try and interpret data in different ways to consider the implications or the root cause, and draw out careful, considered conclusions and solutions. A journalist doesn’t need to do that any more than a politician at the ballot box; it’s the headline or the soundbite they’re looking for.
Even if we enjoy Punch and Judy politics for entertainment, we probably don’t want it driving our health and education policies. But it does. How many times do we hear education described as a political football?
Talking of football, anyone watching Match of the Day this week will have seen Martin Keown asking whether building a wall of players at free kicks is counterproductive. This is quite revolutionary thinking as the wall is something of a football institution. Removing the wall might mean less spectacular, headline-grabbing goals since the goalkeeper will actually be able to see the ball coming his way, but it might also lead to more creative and skilful football and less of the rehearsed set-piece.
Can we get a similar level of clarity by tearing down the political walls more often when it comes to deciding what’s best for teaching and learning, health and social care? Cross-party working groups that scrutinise policy already exist of course, but new policies and initiatives are rarely based on this type of considered, evidence-based, objective analysis. One thing’s for sure, we’re unlikely to see any of that kind of thinking this side of the election, unless Martin Keown’s thinking of standing.