Imagine some New Labour minister, press puppet or government geek steps up at a press conference and makes a statement: 'Our job in education has always been seen as raising standards. This remains absolutely and unequivocally our policy. To bring this about, many ways have been tried-hiring extra staff, putting money into schools in areas where there is poverty, and supporting children with special needs, whether those are due to deprivation, disability or speaking another language. Sometimes what's been tried is ending the way children are selected for this or that school, or this or that stream. The idea here was that we would treat school students as people who would discover their full potential best in a context where it didn't seem as if their ability was prejudged.'
Our imaginary spokesperson is now looking particularly smug, because he or she has presented a fair summary. But-shh-the speech is carrying on, and the press hacks have got their heads down scribbling notes...
'All this sounds fine in principle, my friends, but the story of the last thousand years of education is one of lost opportunity. These old policies that I've just outlined have produced nothing but chaos. We've taken a long, hard look at what's been going on, and come to one very clear and simple conclusion. 'If we want success in education the obvious way to achieve this is not by trying to implement some crazy idea of levelling everyone out. This is nothing but social engineering driven by dogma. The way to achieve success is to encourage failure. Simple as that.'
Our spokesperson has taken on that special New Labour, new suited, dead-eyed gleam. 'So how do we do this? How can we guarantee failure? We have a tranche of policy levers at our disposal here-boredom, alienation, exclusion and punishment. With this in mind, we hope to be bringing in a refinement to our policy of testing children at the ages of 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18, and before or after teatime on Thursdays. First we shall give all children who come first in these tests an asterisk. Then, for the other several million or so, we're bringing in public shaming. All the schools that don't have an asterisk, all the teachers who teach children who haven't won the asterisk and, of course, all the children themselves will be paraded in front of TV cameras and newspaper reporters to the sound of canned laughter.'
No one from the press listening to this will have expressed even the slightest concern. Our spokesperson carries on fervently: 'But don't think we are limiting this exercise to the area of testing. Oh no. We are looking very closely at the curriculum, in particular at the education available for 14 year olds. One of the great mistakes of Old Labour and repeated by the Tories was to assume that raising the school leaving age and increasing opportunities for all children was a good idea. What we are ushering in is a twin track programme of lowering the school leaving age to 14 and introducing slavery for failures. Quite simply, anyone who fails Latin and trigonometry will be taken on by charities-now performing such a crucial role in sustaining essential services. Meanwhile, all failed school students will be turfed out of bog standard comprehensives to work as slave labourers for the RSPCA. Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Any questions? No? Then good afternoon.'