Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

27 June 2009

Changes to teaching of literacy and numeracy in primary schools (in England)

Here’s a note of complaint I sent to the BBC Radio Four World at One programme yesterday:

“I would like to complain about the article on today’s programme concerning the government’s plans to hand responsibility for achieving targets on English and maths in primary schools to local authorities.

“Not once in the entire article, including the interview with the Secretary of State, was it mentioned that these changes relate to England only. Granted, many of your listeners are well informed about devolution; but there must have been many thousands who were not aware that the current system and the government’s proposals affect only English schools.

“It is a dereliction of your duty to contextualise the news not to have indicated this. Most listeners in the devolved nations will probably have realised the article didn’t concern them; so it was insulting to them, too, to pretend that this was a UK story. Unless the default ‘nation’ for domestic policy stories is in fact England, meaning you’d only have to spell it out if it was a genuine UK-wide report. Which is it?”

This matters because the government is obviously trying to make political capital out of this U-turn and adoption of Tory policy ahead of the next general election. If listeners are made aware that the existing and proposed policies affect England only, this invites comparison with Scotland and Wales, which have already abandoned ‘central-government’ control over teaching methods. The plans to ‘localise’ much of education policy – in England – were even referred to at one point as a ‘devolution’.

So in England, we’ve had to put up with an authoritarian, rigid form of control from Westminster for the duration of the Labour government, whereas in Scotland and Wales, they’ve already been able to develop strategies that hand more responsibility over to teachers, because of devolution. Now we’re getting our own devolution of primary school teaching in England; but this is devolution down to local not national level. But, by omitting to reference the England-only character of the government’s move, the impression is created that a UK-wide policy change is being carried out. The government thereby earns kudos for making a long-overdue improvement but avoids awkward questions about why they insisted on a methodology for England that had already been abandoned in the rest of the UK.

And they also avoid questions about the democratic legitimacy of their power to legislate on English education only without a specific mandate from the English people. Instead, the very existence of any national-English level at which this policy could be examined, decided upon and implemented is circumvented by making out that this is a programme of UK-wide localisation, instead of an England-only policy that lacks the authority and national vision of the policies in Scotland and Wales.

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