David (Master Statistician) Dennis
Claire Tasker, T&L, CPD, QA, PM, MDLP, TSA, SLE
David Bowes: a reservoir of hope?
Michael Chapman and the word-sphere
The ideologist Colin Bound
The ideologist Jeff Ennis MP

David (Master Statistician) Dennis

'Children have gone from being the objective of education to becoming the means to supplying data. I regard this as a betrayal.' Tim Field

I don't claim that David Dennis (of Tapton School, Sheffield) isn't interested in the education of children, it's simply that I often heard him talk with enthusiasm and even the approximation of passion (of a very uncontagious kind) about his beloved examination statistics, the figures glowing on the large screen in the darkened auditorium, or more prosaically, at a science meeting in a lab after school as the cleaners did their work in the corridors. I never heard him talk with anything like the same enthusiasm about any other aspect of education. It can't be denied that in matters of data analysis he has some strengths. As for his strengths in other areas I've nothing to report. I found him useless, completely undeserving of his fat salary - now even fatter.

As the 'Director of the Specialist Science College,' (later Head of the Science Department, then co-Headteacher, with Claire Tasker) and now 'Executive Headteacher' of Tapton School) I think that far, far more could have been expected of him. He was, and is, paid for leadership amongst other things. Of all the people I've ever known in secondary education who would have been expected to show some leadership qualities, he was one of the least impressive, his leadership qualities not even rudimentary.

I've heard him devote so much time to explaining ways in which the results for the practical skills of GCSE Science could be maximized, with favourable results when the time came for data analysis. These ways included: allowing pupils to resubmit work - doing everything possible to encourage pupils to resubmit work - even after they'd been given every opportunity to do their best work, even after the work had been marked by the teacher, even when the marks were due to be sent to the examination board within a few days. On one occasion, the resubmitted work was not given to me to mark. I sent him a document pointing out that 'I signed a declaration to the effect that the work had been marked in accordance with the regulations' and that 'it's essential that my own marking is clearly distinguished from the marking of the people who are doing the re-marking. If the moderator asks to see any of the coursework of pupils in this set, then it should be absolutely clear who is responsible for the marking - myself or another person. I take responsibility for my own marking and annotations on scripts, but obviously not for any other person's work.'

As for other areas of the curriculum, the magnificent edifice of scientific achievement, nothing, a blank. He conveyed an equal obtuseness in his understanding of people. Few people in my experience have such a level of incomprehension, less ability to get the best out of people, less understanding of what it takes to motivate people.

As for the specialist colleges, this is one more 'initiative' which has benefitted administrators and teachers, such as the lacklustre (far worse than lacklustre) David Dennis, rather than pupils.

Claire Tasker T&L, CPD, QA, PM, MDLP, TSA. SLE

Claire Tasker was for a time co-Headtecher (with David Dennis) at Tapton School. She's now Headteacher of High Storrs School. Her twitter page (restricted access) provides this compelling information:

'Co Headteacher at Tapton School in Sheffield. Repsonsibility [sic] for T&L, CPD, QA, PM etc.'

She's much more forthcoming on a page of the 'Sheffield Learning Community' site:

'As Head of School I lead T&L, CPD, Performance Management, Quality Assurance, strategic line management and leadership of Subject Leaders and other middle leaders and leadership development initiatives. I am an MLDP facilitator and am involved with the development of the National College/TSA development of the new leadership qualifications. At Tapton we also have our own bespoke leadership development programme that run at all levels of leadership.

' ... One of my particular passions since joining Tapton in September 2010 has been developing the culture and infrastructure to ensure T&L is outstanding and this is an area of work I would love to share in my SLE role.'

She's too modest by far. I'm sure it's not just Claire Tasker's T&L which is outstanding but her CPD, QA, PM, MDLP, TSA and SLE. However, to describe her as an educator on the basis of this outlandish drivel would be going too far.

One  elementary point about learning: she should learn to proof-read. What she chooses to disclose on twitter is so meagre that identifying the mistake in spelling 'responsibility' should have been easy - unless she thinks  the correct spelling is 'repsonsibility.'

 She writes on the 'Sheffield Learning Community' site, 'At Tapton we also have our own bespoke leadership development programme that run at all levels of leadership.' The subject of the sentence, 'programme,' is singular and demands a verb in the singular, so, 'runs' and not 'run.'

Admittedly, there will be many mistakes on this site, despite the effort I put into proof-reading, but I think I have far more excuse, since the site contains something like a million words.

David Bowes: a reservoir of hope?

This is an Age of Educational Absolutism. Of course, Headteachers have nothing like the power of Louis XIV in the Age of Absolutism but they've been given excessive power and some of them like using their power very much. David Bowes seems to me to be one of them.

David Bowes, Reservoir of Hope, is a Christian but if he ever lost his Christian faith he would still have left his (deeply irrational) faith in himself. He's 'le roi soleil' in his empire and the sun shines out of his  - although not in my estimation.  In manner and speech, David Bowes, 'Reservoir of Hope,' is very brisk, supremely self-confident. He can certainly speak, but I'm reminded of a quote given in the page

(The page is full of good advice concerning the struggle against megalomaniacs): '[The headteacher] dressed impeccably and had a radiant smile and spoke very professionally. It's horrible to say this, but if you can pull off those three simple things...the bureaucrats will be dazzled...'

I enclose extracts from a report from the 'National College for School Leadership.' David Bowes, Head of Tapton School contributed to this report but didn't write it. It isn't claimed in the report that David Bowes is a 'reservoir of hope' for Tapton School. For this reason, I add a question mark to the phrase in the heading to this section. Every occurrence of the phrase in connection with David Bowes on this page has to be understood as tentative to that extent. But after hearing him allude to the Christian beliefs which underlie his headship on a number of occasions, I'm in no doubt at all that he does consider himself to be a reservoir of hope.

The report was written by a former Headteacher called Alan Flintham. Again, there is no explicit claim to be a Reservoir of Hope but I don't think there can be any serious doubt that he considers himself to be one as well. The report has two markedly different strands: (1) inert-and-pompous-bureaucratic-sanctimonious speak (2) the comments of headteachers. Some of these verge upon the bizarre. I quote them later. There are a few relatively sensible ones, although not at all penetrating or enlightening.

The report begins with some rhetoric from no less a thinker than Tony Blair:

From hope comes change.

This politician's platitude is a fitting introduction to the world of these Headteachers.

How would educationalists manage without the word 'strategies?' In this report we have, for example, 'a variety of replenishment and sustainability strategies.' Completely new to me is the use of another word, taken from the useful world of surveying and cartography to do duty in this useless and mediocre world, the word  'triangulated.' It appears in 'exemplars of the behaviour of a system under stress, even though that recollection may be personalised, distorted and non-triangulated. And also in the reflection opportunities within the Leadership Programme for Serving Heads, triangulated by the views of other members of the school community.'

'In-house modelling of spiritual and moral approaches to leadership' is suggested as one way to 'meet 'the professional development needs of senior staff...' A quotation from someone called Starratt (I have to admit that I've never heard of this particular thinker, although he's apparently quite big in the world of educational research) is intended by the author of the report to be a recommendation: the leader goes on to 'routinise the vision and mission in organisational structures and procedures.'

Perhaps the most amazing passage is this: 'a range of sustainability strategies without which their effective functioning would be impaired. Such strategies included belief networks, sustained by high levels of self-belief in the rightness of their underlying value system.' I'm sure that the Reservoir of Hope (ROH) David Bowes is sustained by high levels of self-belief in the rightness of his underlying value system. I have no belief in the rightness of his value system. According to the report, 'the successful headteacher...acts as the external reservoir of hope for the institution.' It's explained that 'the external reservoir of hope is where the head acts as the wellspring of self-belief and directional focus for the school.' I can imagine many unlikely things but imagining that David Bowes could ever act as the 'external reservoir of hope for his institution' is more difficult than imagining a round square. In my experience, moral stature is in short supply in bureaucrat headteachers. It isn't attained by simply claiming it. Moral stature is one thing, sanctimoniousness and pious platitudes quite another.

One of the Headteachers in the study went so far as to define 'spiritual and moral leadership.' Difficult. How to do justice to something of such grandeur and importance? What definition could do justice to the intense personal qualities of, let's say, Nelson Mandela? The Headteacher defined spiritual and moral leadership' as:

The extra bit that makes the difference.

Just as one single piece of experimental evidence may be enough to falsify a scientific hypothesis, so this one quote, in its overwhelming banality, its mediocrity-verging-upon-the-moronic, is enough to discredit the author of the document and to raise serious questions about these Headteachers who chose to be associated with this doomed enterprise, one which it's impossible to take seriously. Some quotations from other Headteachers.

One Head puts on record his enthusiasm for the metaphor of Reservoir of Hope:

It is singing true...I was so excited by it I went home and talked to my wife about it and my deputies the next day.

Some heads who found the metaphor of the reservoir valuable were 'anxious to refine and develop it further.' One made the helpful comment:

...reservoirs unfilled lead to drought.

Actually, not so helpful. Anyone with an elementary capacity for critical thinking would have said 'Drought leads to unfilled reservoirs.' Although it would have remained a bland and useless comment.

A gushing comment from another Head:

I can get quite emotional, perhaps it's the internal reservoir overflowing.

Another's experience was different:

I spent my reservoir too much. ['Spending a reservoir?']

Another Head makes this modest claim:

An innate belief in my own intelligence and ability to achieve.

Lack of any originality whatsoever - in thinking or expression - seems to be a congenital fault of many of these Heads:

I'll not be beaten, because when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Not all these Headteachers are theists, but this one is:

I hold out my hand (to God) and it will be taken.

And this one?

In my darkest moments, I say thank goodness he is here with me.

But this comment isn't about a relationship with God but a relationship with the chair of governors!

One Head has the dangerous notion that faith gives rightness, so that a Head's decisions concerning, let's say, staff and finances must be right. gave me confidence in the rightness of my decisions.

And the equally confident

You know from your own internal value system what is right to be done straightaway...

One Head, described as a 'male primary church school head' is so confident of his transcendental powers that he compares himself, in effect, to Jesus and his disciples:

I have trained my deputies and staff through three-dimensional modelling ['three-dimensional modelling?'] of this style of leadership...They will then go out and spread this as disciples...

Overall, although the comments quoted are very brief and there are exceptions, the pervading impression is of staggering banality and mediocrity. These are some of the people who have given by the Government such power, and not just the power to increase the 'salaries' of their teachers. These are the people whose power is effectively untouched by the unions, or, very often, personnel departments. People who generally evade the most basic criticism - although not here. What wonderful opportunities there are now for Christian megalomaniacs in state schools! What wonderful opportunities for people who believe in their own infallibility! What opportunities for emotionally and rationally limited people who have discovered the confidence that can come with just one hopeless metaphor! The astonishing levels of conceit and self-importance that could ever make them believe that there was any linkage at all between the vastness of a reservoir and their own petty and insignificant claims to importance!

As for David Bowes, he is one of the people listed in the 'Acknowledgements' section as having 'validated its outcomes.' He was, along with the other participants, asked the question, 'Could you give examples of critical incidents in your leadership story of how you have acted as the reservoir of hope for the institution yet preserved your own internal reservoir of hope?' He evidently co-operated in this childish and deluded exercise. David Bowes is someone I know well. If he does claim to be a 'reservoir of hope,' then his understanding of the word 'hope' is very different from mine.

The author of this report seems to me to have become institutionalized, no longer able to distinguish sense from rubbish, in no fit state to act as a guide to anyone. A significant number of his interviewees likewise.

David Bowes showed, in my experience, not the least interest in green issues. This 'reservoir of hope' had nothing whatsoever to say about environmental hope, and in my experience did nothing to further it by his actions. Computers at his school were routinely left on overnight, lights no longer needed were kept on, windows left open, wasting heat energy. Now, the school's green credentials are not in doubt, but the change had nothing to do with him. It was achieved by a group of pupils and a tiny number of teachers. It's common in schools for the Head to be given the credit for achievements which they did nothing to bring about. On David Bowes and the Coca-cola corporation, please click here.

The NUT (National Union of Teachers)

This section contains the newest material on the site. It will be revised and extended.

Toby Mallinson is currently the NUT 'Joint Divisional Secretary' for Sheffield. This is someone I know well, very well. He has so many good qualities and I regret the fact that I have to criticize him now. Toby Mallinson and I were members of the Sheffield branch of Amnesty International for a very long period. I left Amnesty International. My admiration for most of Amnesty International's work was undiminished, but it seemed to me to have become an  organization too much under the influence of ideology. On the page

he writes, 'My work with Amnesty has diminished as my work for the NUT has increased.'

This at least is clear and clearly expressed, but too much of the page is  turgid, as if churned out by a computer program rather than a human writer. Two examples:

'Though we have made a number of gains – small improvements in the attack on pensions, the STRB refusal to rip up non-pay Terms and Conditions, the demise of Gove, the Workload Challenge, Better Ofsted and Government advice – we have not created any significant shift in political policy or created tangible change across the board on the ground.' 

' ... my two local community schools were closed and reopened as one under BSF. I chaired the campaign to prevent this including a march of 500 local residents and the defeat of 2 Labour councillors (this was Labour policy) in favour of 2 Lib Dems who supported our campaign in staunchly Labour Hillsborough (David Blunkett's constituency). This helped result in a hung council and the overturning of the decision to close the schools by 2 votes including the invaluable support off the Green Party Councillors - I joined the Green Party at this point.'

So, he's impressed by the fact that 500 people marched! Marching en masse is no argument. Better by far to supply actual arguments and evidence. So, he joined the Green Party! I think that despite all his strengths, Toby Mallinson is politically naive, a political innocent.  My page on Green ideology includes criticism of the Green Party.

Why did he mention the fact that he'd joined the Green Party?  I supported my local bakery for a long time. I far prefer to buy things from an independent shop than from a supermarket. My page supermarkets and small shops gives arguments and evidence but unfortunately, so many small shops are naive and clueless. Soon after the democratic vote for Brexit - I voted to leave the European Union - this bakery put up a poster, a copy of the poem by Donne, beginning 'No man is an island ... ' The poem had been used to draw attention to the hard-hearted, insular views of people who had voted for Brexit - allegedly.

What was the point of proclaiming to the world (or the tiny section of the world to be found in this suburb of Sheffield) the political affiliations of the baker? What was the point of proclaiming to the world (or the tiny section of the world which reads the 'Local Schools Network' site) the political affiliations of Toby Mallinson? He should be interested in the NUT's membership as a whole, whatever their political views. If he wants the NUT to be known as a narrow group of group-minded believers and dogmatists, he's going about it the right way - otherwise, not at all. His approach is  misguided.

The Local Schools Network site, which obviously reflects Toby Mallinson's views, promotes opposition to the policy of privatisation of schools and the promotion of academies instead of schools under local control.

I don't discuss this particular issue here, but I do say this. The blatantly unfair, the grotesquely unfair capability proceedings I describe at length on this page took place in the system supported by Toby Mallinson (and the Local Schools Network): the system of local authority control. If he thinks that local authority control guarantees fair-minded treatment, if he thinks that local authority control must be virtuous, if he thinks that gross injustice is unthinkable and impossible in a system of local authority control, then he's very much mistaken.

The Website I praise in the section A Website criticizes the NUT's record in assisting defendants in capability hearings. Of course, the situation may have changed for the better since that time - but not necessarily.

Toby Mallinson should read, read carefully, read the whole of a sobering page on The National Union of Teachers, on a meeting organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, supported by the NUT and held at Hamilton House, the Headquarters of the NUT. The page is on David Collier's Website,

My page Israel, Islamism and Palestinian ideology gives a comprehensive introduction to the issues - from a pro-Israel perspective. The profile of Adrian Dorber on the page quotes from another of David Collier's articles, on the blatantly biased conference at Lichfield Cathedral organized by Adrian Dorber.

Put NUT Palestinian into Google and you'll find very quickly critical responses to NUT's uncritical support for Palestinian ideology. Another example, a ''teaching resources pack' called 'My Name is Saleh' which promotes a blatantly biased view of Israel-Palestinian relations. The pack was 'temporarily' withdrawn after many criticisms of its bias.

Other examples of the NUT's uncritical Palestinian support on the NUT's Website,

Toby Mallinson's personal views on the Israel-Palestinian issue are unknown to me but the NUT's view is well known and so is the view of the Green Party, which Toby Mallinson supports. My page on Green ideology includes a section on the Green Party. It includes shocking material, such as a placard which compares Israel with the Nazis.

What would secondary education be like in this country if the NUT was completely successful and was able to change the school system and educational policy and the curriculum so that they reflected its views. The changes would be many, some harmless, some far from harmless - no academies of course, only schools under local authority control. No doubt doubtful or disastrous capability hearings would be permitted. (See my page on Capability hearings). A curriculum dominated by political correctness and a curriculum which slavishly adhered to the distorted views of such groups as the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.

Michael Chapman and the word-sphere

David Bowes, criticized in the previous section, has one virtue. Although his language is often fluent but empty, unlike Michael Chapman, he doesn't himself use the mangled English of educational bureaucrats to any great extent.

Michael Chapman is very different. His command of bureaucratic language is complete. An updated version of George Orwell's essay on the debasement of English, 'Politics and the English Language,' could very well include some of his contributions to moronic language claiming to be high-minded language - although there's a vast number of other examples which could be chosen from this educational class. He was the Headteacher of High Storrs School, which I attended. (He resigned, I believe, without giving much notice, so it was necessary to appoint a temporary Headteacher to replace him.) The Head at that time was a vastly different figure. I mention him and my experiences at the school in the first section of this page.

What is the 'word-sphere,' in which Michael Chapman, I claim, is so much at home?

Of course, the word-sphere is the natural home of imaginative writers. This isn't a perjorative use of the phrase. 'Word-sphere' in the perjorative sense refers to evasion. People whose sphere is not that of the imaginative writer, whose natural sphere should be the sphere of action, construct a deluded world in which words are confused with concrete achievement. 'Declaring' a thing to be so is mistakenly thought to be the same as the reality.

More often than not, reality is difficult, intractable, sometimes impossible to deal with. It's far easier to arrange words so that words become a substitute for action, so that words deflect attention from the lack of action. This is the world of ringing declarations, facile claims to importance, hollow confidence-building assertions, projections for future success. It's a world that Michael Chapman and his kind find very congenial.

By the simple criterion of exam successes - far from being the only criterion, but a criterion which people like Michael Chapman value very, very highly - his school is now a middle-ranking one in the city. To become the leading school in the city would almost certainly be almost impossible. Of course, the Headteachers of other schools have exactly the same aspiration, and, if they are trapped in the delusions of the word-sphere, think that it's just as possible for their school to become the leading one in the city as the one led by Michael Chapman. He does have higher aspirations than that, though - a national reputation. (Why not an international reputation?)

Another issue he mentions: valuing people. I have absolutely no information about whether people are valued to a very great degree at his school. I presume that they are. Of course, 'valuing people' is important, but writing it down in a self-important way has nothing to do with actually treating people with elementary fairness, let alone valuing them. The fact that a high-minded pronouncement has been committed to print is no guarantee at all that it's honoured. There are institutions whose care for their employees, according to their vision statements and their public pronouncements, is as enlightened as can be - and which treat their employees like dirt.

These are extracts (in bold print) from a letter sent by Michael Chapman to all parents fairly recently. (I think that a great many parents will have been bemused, puzzled or alienated by its language. More likely they will have read the first few words and then decided not to read any further.) The letter offers a devastating illustration of what I call template language and template thoughts. The clichés that used to preoccupy critics - 'avoid like the plague' and so on - were, and are, evidence of laziness. The mangling of English in template language is evidence of laziness too.

Ethos and vision

Achievement and Curriculum

Leadership and Governance

Personnel recruitment, retention and development

So much for Michael Chapman. [He has now resigned as Headteacher of the school. The reasons for his resignation so far as I know are unclear, at least outside the school.]

Advancement in secondary education in this country in the state sector (I've no experience at all of the independent sector), the way to even fatter salaries, are more likely if someone accepts this language and can use it without any sense of shame.

The ideologist Colin Bound

He reminds me, for some reason, of greasy, grey scum floating on greasy, grey water, of sticky plates laboriously wiped with a greasy, grey dishcloth: what dish-washers like George Orwell recoiled from in the bleak early morning hours. A very unprepossessing person. He was appointed Headteacher of the school where I taught in London, generally acknowledged as the most difficult school in that particular London Borough, and sometimes called (but not by me) a 'sink school.' I used to think of him, although not at the time, as 'Colin (Dish-cloth) Bound,' Headteacher of a 'sink school.' I've relented, and haven't given him any addition to his name here, apart from this brief mention. Besides, a dishcloth is useful, and he was useless. In his defence, he wasn't a megalomaniac and there was no malice in him. The same can't be said of one or two other headteachers of my acquaintance. He was just someone with no flair or imagination and only limited insight, a blunderer but someone not colourful enough to be a buffoon.

He was an ideologist, I think, but ideologists are of the most varied kinds. There are barbaric ideologists and kindly ideologists, ideologists who are barren of ideas and ones who have original insights despite their ideology. There are ideologists of genius, such as Dostoevsky, with his ideology of Holy Russia. In fact, Bound was an ideologist who did impress me (although infinitely less than Dostoevsky) and only on one occasion. At a meeting, he said something that was very heartening. He reminded the teachers that some of the pupils at the school did well if they simply got out of the house and got to school. He didn't elaborate, at the time or later, but his comment reminds us of stark contrasts: homes where in the morning the central heating is switched on, if not on already, breakfast is eaten and the children of school age are driven to school. Homes where the parents may sometimes be emotionally cold but where things get done and duties are recognized. And of some homes where a drug-addict single parent has been out all night and the children of school age have to fend for themselves. They either get to school or they truant. The parent couldn't care less either way.

Bound's compassion was very well hidden and I only glimpsed it on this one occasion. It was far, far less impressive than the compassion of another Headteacher I knew, John Bardsley..

I offended Bound at his first meeting with staff. He told the teachers that there were no intellectual differences between people. Everyone, apart from a minority of people with intellectual impairment amounting to a medical condition, was capable of university entrance. There were no differences in intellect, only differences of motivation. What we had to do was to motivate pupils, so that they could all get into university. 'Headmaster!' I said, 'I've been studying Linear Algebra for some time, and although I'm very highly motivated, I still can't understand it!' (This was pardonable hyperbole.) And, in so many words, doesn't this undermine your views? I don't think he ever forgot this intrusion. At many - most - later meetings I questioned at greater length, never rudely but uncompromisingly. Orchestral players have many ways of undermining a conductor for whom they have absolutely no respect, who was clearly a disastrous appointment. I saw no reason why I shouldn't do the same.

The hypocrisy of Colin Bound was, well, boundless. He was a member of some Marxist Teachers' Group, but boasted to us of how much his house in Wimbledon had increased in value since he'd bought it. He abolished all sanctions soon after he'd arrived at the school but I heard him give a worrying account of what measures he'd take against pupils if he caught them misbehaving. Like many other ideologists, he was severely tested by reality.

Some relevant evidence. Dissatisfaction led to the setting-up of a staff sub-committee ('staff sub-committee' - doesn't that just quicken your pulse? Still, these things have their uses). This committee asked for comments and produced a report. I wasn't a member and didn't contribute to it. I don't know why not. Selections from their report:

a) [Mr Bound] has, on occasion, failed to back a member of staff after an incident...he should back the staff in front of the children, even if he reprimands that member in private. [This, of course, is too sweeping a statement.]
b) Complaints about staff coming from children - he listens to their side, appears to make up his mind even before hearing the staff version of the incident and there appears to be no appeal.
c) Several staff feel that he is too 'pally' with the pupils - a more remote attitude would improve his standing with them.
d ) [Pupils have a] misunderstanding of his all-too-frequent statement of no punishment - they think that this gives them carte blanche to do what they like - and very often they do just that.
e ) Although nothing to do with the issue of discipline, it is a disturbing fact that several staff have commented upon the fact that during an interview, the H.M. has acted unprofessionally in making 'snide' remarks about other members of staff.'

Of all the schools I've taught in, this was the only one where teachers were thumped or kicked regularly by pupils. After these incidents, Bound suspended the pupil, each time a reminder that his policy of 'no punishment' was just stupidity.

He came into one of my lessons one day, sat there scribbling, and after a few days called me into his office. He'd produced a critical report, three pages long, almost. We had time to discuss the first page, and I gave a rebuttal of all his criticisms. He sent the whole report, the part I'd been able to discuss and the part I wasn't given the chance to discuss, to the education department of the borough.

From the document I wrote at the time. (Then, as later, I had a fondness for writing documents): 'Before the drastic step was taken of summoning an individual to the Education Offices to give an account of himself, one might have expected an alarming list of incidents which could be cited, evidence of undeniable culpability, an attempt to rectify the situation first within the school, certainly discussions on the topic between teacher and Headteacher; and only if these measures were ineffective, the matter referred to the Education Office. These preliminaries were absent in my case.'

So, I was called to a meeting with the Deputy Director of Education. Nothing came of this meeting - no reprimand, no sanctions.

Some selections from the remarkable, bizarre little document written by Bound (in bold print) and the arguments I gave at the time, or would have given if I'd been given the chance to. Take my word for it. The parts I've left out, for reasons of space, are no more reasonable than the parts I've quoted.

I have serious criticisms of the lesson, which I list here.

Taking first place in the list of criticisms, this gem -

Much of the work was from a worksheet, but this was too big, i.e. contained so much written matter it would frighten off the less fluent readers before they started; it was written in cursive script and hence was illegible to many pupils.

The format used (A4) is overwhelmingly common in schools. Using the argument of C W P Bound, teachers should never give pupils a book or even a short pamphlet. Even this would contain 'so much written matter it would frighten off the less fluent readers before they started.'

The 'hence' in C W P B's text is completely unjustified. The fact that a worksheet is written rather than typed doesn't of itself make for illegibility. There was never any evidence that pupils found it difficult to read my handwriting.

And in second place in the list of errors -

There was no reserve supply of pens and pencils available.

Not true. There was a supply of pens and pencil's in a drawer in the teacher's desk - hidden from Bound's view. I loaned pens and pencils from this drawer to pupils at the beginning of the lesson.

And in third place -

One exercise book was missing, possibly owing to an inefficient system for passing a set of books from one teacher to another.

'Possibly' owing to an inefficient system. I would have welcomed evidence. With a fairly high degree of certainty, it was the pupil concerned who had lost the book.

The simple work being done on magnets was, in my opinion, more appropriate to ten or eleven year olds. I should like to know whether it is included in the Science syllabuses of the middle schools, and, if it is, why it is necessary to repeat it.

Bound told me later that he had studied this material in his first year at Grammar School. This, on the other hand, was a class of 15 or 16 year olds in the lowest set in a very difficult school. Bound was a graduate in English. It was clear to me that he had next to no knowledge of the science curriculum either at Secondary or Middle School level. I was completely familiar with the science taught at Middle School. At the beginning of the year, I used to ask new pupils to write down the science topics they'd covered there.

One person asked, 'Where did they get the first magnet from?' This obviously intelligent question was answered by Mr Hurt, whereas it would have been better, either to enquire whether any individuals knew the answer, or to have made the questioner seek out the answer for himself and deliver it to the rest of the class.'

I mentioned the region in Greece called 'Magnesia, where there are rocks which are naturally magnetic. It can't possibly be counted as a severe criticism that I answered a pupil's question. Sometimes a teacher will ask a pupil to go to the school library and look up information in an encyclopedia or some other book, but surely a teacher can answer a question directly. If a teacher generally asks whether any other pupils know the answer or has the questioner seek out the answer, the pupils may well come to the conclusion that the teacher doesn't know what the answer is.

In one general observation on the necessity of bringing books, pens, etcetera to the lesson, Mr Hurt used the words 'justification' and 'assumption.' I feel that such polysyllabic words are likely to antagonize the more linguistically deprived children and should be avoided.'

These are the same 'linguistically deprived' children who would find the work on magnets too easy. The tension induced by the unexpected visit of the Headteacher accounts for the fact that, despite all my awareness of the need to keep language simple, I let slip, unforgivably, those two polysyllabic words, 'justification' and 'assumption.'

On another page I examine Framework Science, published by the Oxford University Press. There, I quote two homework questions for the full ability range, including 'linguistically deprived children:'

'Define the term 'evaluation' (for 7th years, age 12 or so.)
'Define the term 'laterally inverted' (for 8th years.)

Although Bound wasn't a megalomaniac, he didn't hesitate to use what power he had for purposes which weren't completely beneficial. He was limited by the comparatively limited powers of Headteachers at that time. He had power to promote, of course, but no other power over the incomes of his staff. Since then, the power of Headteachers has increased very much and now, far more than in the past, the Headteacher can act as dictator - within the Headteacher's little empire.

Whether or not the individual Headteacher is a megalomaniac, the Government has seen itself in megalomaniac terms, the arbiter not just of such prosaic matters as salaries and conditions of service but of ways of thinking, favoring the bureaucratic mind and penalizing principled dissent. This is no exaggeration. Consider an 'initiative' such as 'threshold,' in brief, the principle that staff should be applying for money for carrying out duties which they should all be carrying out anyway - whether threshold payments are given or not depending upon the decision of the Headteacher. My need for threshold money - thousands of pounds - was probably greater than most, as I was a part-time teacher with sizeable debts, but I refused to. An old school-friend with a healthy contempt for deranged initiatives was another dissident and never applied for threshold, I'm glad to say. I know that there were others, but only a tiny minority.

This initiative came from the lunatic mind of Tony Blair. I agree with the politician and writer Matthew Parris that Tony Blair was, effectively, a lunatic. His initiatives, such as the lunatic educational initiatives designed to improve 'standards,' were products of a deranged mind. Blair, like Colin Bound the Headteacher, was an Oxford graduate. My intention on this page is to do what I can to draw attention to attacks on freedom. They include attacks on the freedom of Oxford University and attacks on freedom by graduates of Oxford University, such as Tony Blair and, at a vastly less significant level, Colin Bound.


The ideologist Jeff Ennis MP v Oxford and Cambridge


Jeff Ennis, the Labour MP for Barnsley East and Mexborough, attacked 'Oxbridge admission tutors for selecting an unfair number of students from the most privileged schools in the country.' And, 'Both those universities are failing to meet their abysmally low widening participation rate targets of nine per cent.' His question to Bill Rammell, Higher Education Minister: 'What more can he do to drag those two universities kicking and screaming into the 21st century by widening their participation rates?'

My objections aren't based on his use of language, but rubbish collectors - rubbishy language collectors in this case - will note his mastery of two overlapping styles:
(a) the language of Bureaucratic Target Theorists, in the snappy and memorable phrase ' low widening participation rate targets.'
(b) and cliché, dead language which has the superficial appearance of being (please excuse the further cliché) 'alive and kicking': his phrase about the need to 'drag those two universities kicking and screaming into the 21st century.'

I'm more concerned here about the sinister implications of his call for the Higher Education Minister to bring Oxford and Cambridge to heel. He seems convinced of the importance of political control and the benefits of political control - perhaps over the curriculum and the thinking of academics and students as well as university entrance, although I hope not. I discuss this and other matters after discussing my own background, which is relevant to this issue but obviously can't decide it. The validity of a view has to be decided by examining the view, not the person holding the view.

My own background

My upbringing was a working class one in Sheffield. My mother and father were divorced when I was 11 and my mother was left to bring up four children. She worked as a cleaner. Money from my father, a painter and decorator, was often irregular. There was no car, no telephone, no bathroom (we brought a tin bath up from the cellar on Friday night, bath-night) and no inside toilet. We went across the yard to the outside toilet. I can't claim any great hardships. It was an absolutely unexceptional working-class upbringing in that era and on the whole comfortable. There was heavy pollution, but this affected the whole of Sheffield. Quite often, you could see great blobs of soot descending and soiling the washing hung out to dry. It was only possible to see any great distance in the city for two weeks in August, when the steel works shut down. Otherwise, the area was pleasant. The house was not far from the University of Sheffield and quite near the open countryside. There were far harsher living conditions than these, as I realized whenever I visited my grandfather, a retired steelworker who lived in the slums.

In Stan Barstow's 'In My Own Good Time,' someone is asked if he has ever known poverty. He answers, 'I've known poverty, but I've never known squalor.' [Quoted by D J Taylor in his Times Literary Supplement Review of Rachard Bradford's biography of the working class writer Alan Sillitoe.] I've known relative poverty but squalor only once. I have, though, boundless admiration for working class courage and determination in the face of horrific conditions - the conditions are squalid but the lives are anything but squalid. In various places of this site I give more detail, such as the lives of miners when I give an appreciation of Catherine Bailey's book 'Black Diamonds.'

George Orwell deliberately sought experiences at the margins, (or the lower depths) of society. See 'Down and out in Paris and London.' (George Orwell's reputation as a writer and as a person of courage and integrity is secure, despite two facts that Jeff Ennis might hold against him: (1) he never went to Oxford or Cambridge or any other university and Jeff Ennis seems to regard entry to Oxford or Cambridge as very important. (2) George Orwell went to a 'privileged school.' He was an old Etonian. My own experience of the margins or lower depths was much shorter, far less extensive and unintended.

I stayed in a hostel for down and outs when my money had almost run out in Ayr. I could only afford bread and margarine to eat and as I didn't have a knife I smeared the margarine over the slices of bread. The sleeping arrangements were these: a hundred or more men in one very large room, each one in a tiny cubicle formed from wooden partitions. I asked someone why there was wire netting over my cubicle and the others. It was to stop objects landing on you when they were thrown in the night. Coughs, singing and the blowing of a trumpet punctuated the night. The sheets and pillow case were rigid with dirt and when I came back to Sheffield I had to have treatment for the flea bites that covered my body.

Another experience: being homeless in London, but just for a short time, after bailiffs ejected me and everyone else staying in the house on to the pavement. The landlord had breached his mortgage conditions by letting the house.

Most of my working life has been in a 'professional' occupation, teaching, but I worked for six months as a road sweeper, at a time when road sweeping was unmechanized, using a brush. I've worked for short periods as a builder's labourer and as a labourer in a steel works. My step-father was a steel worker.

Obviously, I didn't attend one of the 'most privileged schools in the country.' It was a state school, a grammar school. I passed all the nine 'O' levels I sat, and a year early, at the end of the 4th year, now described as the 10th year. I could have chosen any of these subjects for study in the Sixth Form except, realistically, for maths, although I passed that too. The Headmaster wasn't a classicist but he never ceased to regret that he wasn't one. For him, Greek and Latin were the most important subjects in the school. When I came to choose my Sixth Form subjects, he said, more or less, 'Obviously, you'll want to study classics,' and I did. I was the only one. After sitting in the the tin bath on Friday night, I might be translating the Greek of Homer, Plato, Thucydides or Sophocles into English. I obtained a place at Cambridge to study classics. When I received the acceptance letter, I wrote straight back asking them to take the place away from me. The Classics tutor who had interviewed me wrote me a very understanding letter. I was, and am, grateful to him and I accepted the offer of a place.

I'm the only one of the four children to attend university but I tried my hardest to reverse that advantage. I passed the first year exams but I left Cambridge at the end of the year. So, I'm a Cambridge alumnus but not a Cambridge graduate. My own experience of Cambridge is, amongst other things, as a place where people showed real kindness, a place of tolerance and understanding. The intellectual and cultural values of Cambridge are recognized, but for me it was a place of wider human values as well.

I didn't think of Cambridge as a privileged place, but I did think that I myself was privileged, that I should be living a harsher life. Later, I realized that my late-adolescent turmoil had far more to do with other dissatisfactions. The classicists were regarded as the elite at my school, at least by the Headmaster. At Cambridge, I realized for the first time the prestige, more importantly the achievements, of science. I wanted to study science but I wasn't qualified to study it.

I walked to lectures past the Cavendish laboratory, where the atom had been split and the structure of the DNA molecule had been solved. These achievements and many others made at Oxford and Cambridge, such as the early development of computer theory by Alan Turing of Cambridge, make his comment about dragging the two universities 'kicking and screaming into the 21st century' laughable, ridiculous, grotesque, as if the universities were medieval backwaters.

I rowed in a College boat, I dined in hall in a gown, I attended lectures in a gown, I sometimes attended evensong at King's College Chapel. I chose to exchange such things for work in one of the old Victorian 'mental' hospitals and soon after I left Cambridge I was feeding geriatric patients and wiping the bums of these patients. On another ward, I once found a patient clutching a large lump of his own faeces and eating from it. After a year, I left and worked for another year as a night porter in an hotel.

During this time, I applied to Keele University to study, for some strange reason, English and Sociology, and was accepted. In the first year (the 'Foundation Year') I decided that I should be studying science. I asked to study Biology and Chemistry for a joint degree in the second year. I hadn't studied Biology at school after the first year. Now, I studied some elementary Biology during the Foundation Year but no Chemistry at all, nothing to make up for the missing 'A' level in Chemistry. I was accepted. At the end of the second year, I failed in Chemistry and was thrown out of the university.

The Biology Department of The New University of Ulster took me in but my grant was taken away, so I had to support myself. I still had enough savings from road sweeping, geriatric ward work and hotel work to manage, although barely. The course unit system allowed me to construct my own course. Most of it was made up of Biology and Philosophy, but I included some Chemistry, which I now had no difficulty in passing. This was at the height of the Troubles. Whilst I was sitting my last exam at the university I heard a massive explosion, an IRA bomb which killed six people.

What have I learned from these chaotic experiences, which seem to belong to a different life?

One is the importance of the inner. Jeff Ennis is concerned with externals, policies, procedures, the typical and unavoidable preoccupations of a politician. Inner difficulties, such as the difficulties of a working class student, may have little to do with these, may be largely untouched by tinkering with systems - or the destruction of perfectly good systems.

It has never worried me in the least that I have a BSc from the New University of Ulster, as it then was (it's now 'The University of Ulster') rather than a more prestigious degree, one from the University of Cambridge, a BA (Cantab). I don't deny - quite the opposite - that the prestige of Cambridge, and Oxford, is thoroughly deserved.

Jeff Ennis seems wholly concerned with the prestige of these universities and their image. To that extent Jeff Ennis is an egalitarian snob. There's no evidence that he's interested in the least in the solid achievements of scholarship, of science and technology, which have created the prestige. Drama critics and classical music critics who expect to be taken seriously have a solid background in, a genuine interest in, drama and classical music, in Shakespeare, Ibsen, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, in Olivier, Furtwaengler, Toscanini, and of course very many others. Critics who only have an interest in the social composition of the audience, the social background of performers and creators and no apparent interest in any other aspects, have no right to be taken seriously. Any critic of higher education who expects to be taken seriously should have a genuine interest in the actual objects of higher education, in scholarship and research in the sciences, social sciences, technology and the arts, and in teaching - the distinctive demands of higher education teaching.

The long history of Oxford and Cambridge, which has contributed potently to their prestige, has given rise to many wonderful buildings, the supreme example being the chapel of King's College, Cambridge. There are supreme achievements in other spheres too, such as Newton's Principia Mathematica. but it's essential to recognize the patchiness of their achievement too. For long periods, intellectual life in both universities was moribund. The history 'Cambridge' by Michael Grant gives an honest account. He writes of a period in the eighteenth century when Cambridge was 'an argumentative, drink-sodden, self-contained, complacent community, riddled with amateurism and sinecures. Richard Watson, an appointment to the Chair of Chemistry (1764), declared that he had never 'read a syllable on the subject, or seen a single chemical experiment.'

If Jeff Ennis were concerned with achievement rather than with image he would recognize the achievements of other universities too, and recognize that to attend another university need not be a disadvantage. The achievements of Oxford and Cambridge don't dwarf all the achievements of all other universities. There are subject areas where other universities are very strong, and areas where Oxbridge may not be the best choice or have been the best choice, given a student's particular interests. To give just a little detail at this point. Well into the 20th century, the English course at Oxford included no study of 20th century literature. The syllabus stopped at 1900. The syllabus did demand compulsory Anglo-Saxon. Students who are certain that they want to study Physics and no other sciences would do well to avoid the Cambridge Natural Sciences Tripos, in which it's impossible to study Physics (and the necessary Maths) exclusively.

Jeff Ennis ignores some other strengths of the other universities. One is course structure. It's difficult for administrative arrangements to reflect changes of mind - ones that reflect genuine intellectual curiosity and exploration rather than indecisiveness - but some universities have course structures which are more flexible than the ones at Oxford or Cambridge, which may be flexible within a subject but otherwise inflexible. The course structure at Cambridge is superior to Oxford's in this respect. It allows for changes of mind after Part 1 of the Tripos. At Oxford, someone applies, let's say, for Physiology and Psychology at a tender age and is stuck with Physiology and Psychology, even if the interest in Physiology (or Psychology) evaporates. The course unit system at the New University of Ulster was as flexible as could be.

Jeff Ennis's view illustrates isolation. As so often, the aspects on which he concentrates his attention are obvious ones, ones which require no great knowledge to comprehend, ones which are easily quantifiable. If in the future there were to be mass dumbing down at Oxford and Cambridge, if academic standards declined, if their libraries were progressively deprived of new books and other facilities, if they became subject to more and more political interference so that they had practically no academic freedom, if the fellows were all given short-term contracts - but they became fully inclusive, with the same proportion of students from the state sector as in the population as a whole, then I'm sure that Jeff Ennis would raise no objection.

This tendency to ignore such values as academic freedom is disastrous. A change in an institution may be desirable in itself, but the means needed to implement it have disastrous consequences. The complication of unintended consequences seems to mean nothing to him. The pressure exerted by the government on Oxford and Cambridge has been an attempt to take away freedom.

Government interference may have practical disadvantages. The Times: 'a new report suggests that independent schools achieve the highest academic standards because they are free from government interference, not because they choose the brightest pupils. The research by Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson of the University of Buckingham, claims that even when selection by ability and background is taken into account autonomy is the more crucial factor.' In the same report, a comment made by Lord Patten of Barnes, the Chancellor of Oxford University: universities could not make up for the deficiencies of secondary education.' From my own experience, many government initiatives and instances of government interference in secondary education have wasted vast amounts of time, have been stifling and stupid.

If other research showed that government interference in education had no effect on 'standards' in schools, this would still be no argument for government interference. This is to decide the issue on the basis of a restricted survey, one which isolates one factor. {restriction} of freedoms can sometimes be justified if there is {reduction} of a severe consequence, but not always then. See for example my defence of the freedoms of smokers on the page smoking.

There are many, many inequalities in this country and in the world as a whole. The matter which infuriates Jeff Ennis isn't the only one to which he could apply his talents. It couldn't by any stretch of the imagination be described as a major one. There are inequalities which have a severe, a drastic effect on someone's life, but going to a university rather than Oxford or Cambridge is not one of them. There are many injustices which go beyond inequality which have a claim upon his attention.

One inequality which Jeff Ennis would do well to consider affects many, many working class people, as well as others. It certainly affects me. It affects far more people than the small number who would like to get into Oxford or Cambridge. It's an inequality which could be solved by government, but will never be. This is to the good, because again, government action would be an unjustifiable interference with freedom. This is the inequality brought about by legacies. The people who have been left substantial bequests, who have been given a house, for example, have a huge advantage over the ones who are left with nothing.

Government action should never interfere with the freedom of people to leave money or a house to whoever they want, to any lawful organization they want, even though this freedom is obviously a source of great and widespread inequality

Some very wealthy people have declared that they want their children to make their own way in the world and they have decided not to leave them anything in their will. One example is Anita Roddick, the founder of 'Body Shop.'

I know nothing of Jeff Ennis's circumstances, for example whether he has any children. I assume that as an MP, he's a man of some means. Since he has such a concern for inequality, I very much hope that he has decided, or will decide, to follow the example of these wealthy people. He claims that Oxford and Cambridge are an offence to egalitarian principles. Is the conduct of his own life an offence to egalitarian principles? If he has children and has left money to these children in his will, then this is surely in conflict to the egalitarian principles he professes. These comments may not apply to him but they do apply to many other egalitarians, 'egalitarians as hypocrites.'

Surely Jeff Ennis is a utopian, planning and demanding something which will never happen, the perfect egalitarian society. Fortunately, goodness, kindness, compassion, human artistic, scientific and technological achievements can be found - can flourish - in our ordinary imperfect society. We should avoid any complacency, do what we can to right wrongs and correct injustices and 'improve' social conditions, but have a healthy respect too for the fact that reality is very often - but not always - intractable and complex.

Many egalitarians seem to me only able to look at people as members of groups - blocks of people, if you like, or products. There are the products of privileged schools, for example. George Orwell, an old Etonian and the author of 'Down and Out in Paris and London' was one of them. There are the aristocratic exploiters of the past. But these are not a monolithic group or block. One aristocratic family, the Wentworths, were 'the most enlightened employers [of miners] in the country.' (For this, see my discussion of Catherine Bailey's remarkable book Black Diamonds.) There are many, many other human contradictions, foibles, surprising and sometimes heartening aspects of people which have a great deal to teach egalitarian generalizers.