The government’s vision to restore a year of lost education to England’s children has had the ramshackle start you might have expected. It unveiled a plan so bad that the man holding the title of education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, immediately resigned. Its cost works out at so little per pupil that it would probably have brought children more material benefit to just buy them all a scratchcard and let them fight for the winnings.
As dispiriting as the situation is, it was foreseeable from the moment ministers came out with their strategy. Of all the myths of political communication, one of the most insulting is that the public responds really well to alliteration. Thus, “time, teaching and tutoring” was born, because we would hear all those “Ts” and think: ah, those noises sound alike! How elegant – this policy must have emerged from substantial amounts of thought.
The National Tutoring Programme is to be handed to Randstat, an international human resources behemoth whose corporate nature is hard to determine, given how very diffuse its greatest hits have been. There was the time it took on a contract to pregnancy-test the employees of an airline; and the time when it scanned homeless people’s faces in return for $5 gift cards, to improve facial recognition software. What are you supposed to make of an organisation like this? Let’s just say that, however much the children learn, society stands to gain great wisdom also, regarding the kinds of firms that do so well from the outsourcing model.
“Teaching” is a vexed concept in the hands of the government, given how much it hates teachers. It was, as ministers might have surmised had they been listening, already the core business of most schools, yet Gavin Williamson is touting it as a unique idea he has just come up with to meet the challenges of the unusual age.
That leaves “time”, the one thing that isn’t really in any minister’s gift. Yet if that is the most advanced of their plans – to decree that all 11-year-olds should become 10, and so on – at least they can’t do any harm.