Wokery in Schools

6 June 2024

Wokery in Schools

Lines of delegation.

By John Watson

Photo of John Watson

Of course it has put the cat among the pigeons. The Government can hardly have hoped that its new guidelines that schools must not teach children that they can change their gender identity and should avoid “explicit” conversations about sex until they reach the age of 13, would be accepted with the reverence accorded to the tablets of stone. Indeed they have not and the King Charles’s heads beloved by those interested have come rolling out of the cupboard (perhaps I should say for the benefit of those living outside the M25 that this is not a reference to His Current Majesty but an allusion to David Copperfield). Everyone has stuck their oar in from the head teachers who call for flexibility, Oasis who think that they treat the subject well and some who say that 13 is too late to learn about pornography. Clearly a truckload of chatter is coming down the track so let’s throw on our spadeful as it goes past.

To begin at the beginning, what is a teacher? He or she is the person to whom we entrust the education of children. It is an interesting job because educating can be done in many different ways and to be successful the approach taken has to match both the skills of the teacher and the profile of the students. The task is analogue rather than digital.  Different methods work for different circumstances and there is no one way which works everywhere.

Where teaching is good, the more the finding of the right balances is left to teachers the better. Directives and guidance simply disrupt the process of identifying the best approach to take to a particular class.

So what then when the teaching is not so good? How do we deal with that? Well, schools have hierarchies with a head teacher at the top and beyond that there is an inspectorate. They don’t catch everything, of course. They are only human; but broadly that seems the right structures and where it doesn’t work the answer is to replace those implementing it rather than start adding layers of guidance.

Still, there may be occasions when fashions such as wokery get out of control in the profession and some government action is needed to bring what is being taught into line with public opinion. But is sexual wokery so out of control at the moment? It was at one point, at least among the young, but surely the tide has turned and those who pushed changes in sexual identity beyond those medically needed are now well and truly on the back foot. The Victorians went through a fad of not allowing women to see table legs, and soon all the rubbish about single sex loos and the need to use “they” will look equally fatuous. Is this really the moment for the heavy hand of guidance? Surely it would be better to rely on the common sense of the teaching profession backed by the obvious swing back of public opinion. After all we trust these people with our children. Most of them are not idiots. Let the inspectorate deal with those who are.

But of course politicians like to be seen doing something. It sounds better to say “I have issued new guidelines” than “It seemed to me that nothing was needed so I spent the afternoon on the golf course.” This puts the electoral prizes into the hands of those who interfere across the chain of command rather than rewarding those who let those entrusted with a job get on with it. One of the reasons that Britain was able to maintain its empire was that in those days the distance from home was too great to allow effective intervention. The man on the spot had to make the decisions; so if the man on the spot was good his administration would be effective. The trick was choosing good men on the spot and hopefully our head teachers are up to their task.

This month’s news gave an interesting example of the delegation point. An all party committee has found serious shortcomings in maternity care which clearly need to be rectified. The committee made a number of recommendations which will probably be adopted but included a suggestion that reports on progress should go direct to the Prime Minister. Why so? If the recipient is really going to have the time to give the issues proper attention all reporting should be to the Minister of Health. If the Minister is too useless to understand them then the answer is to change the Minister not to distort the proper chain of decision making.

So let’s think more about correctly using people and less about trying to improve matters by cutting across proper decision making. Pitt the Elder won the Seven Years War by appointing good people and letting them get on with it. We should take the same approach to our teachers and to the Minister of Health.

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