Thursday, May 10, 2007

Libraries gave us power

Everyone's vexed (h/t to Dan Hardie) about the spankin' new city academy in Peterborough that, courtesy of Perkins Engines, will be offering education with a total ban on "unstructured play". It's the most expensive state school ever built at £46.4 million, but hey! Perkins put up all of £2 million out of that, always assuming that (unlike most City Academy sponsors) they didn't get a sweetener from the DFES and actually bothered to pay. Well, it's impressive that they managed to come up with a form of schooling that will punish the sporty kids and the geeks alike - no mass football, and no sneaking off to the library either. Do they even have a library, I wonder?

The obvious reference is Dickens, and Dsquared mounts a defence of Mr Gradgrind in the comments. But this is wrong. This isn't Victorian, it's 18th-century - panopticon-a-gogo. I'm surprised they haven't promised to isolate a newborn to see if they speak Blairite by default. But if you think that's nightmarish, cheer up. The worst is yet to come.

Teh Grauniad's education diary reports on Hylton Red House School in Sunderland, which has got its very own call centre that will apparently
raise aspirations, develop career paths and help youngsters to develop skills
Raise aspirations from what? And which skills will it develop exactly? I think I can guess - mindless obedience to a script, tolerance for management-by-fear, and therapy-babble sales motivation. (I was once fired from a call-centre job for hanging my jacket on the back of my chair.) Ideological state apparatus, anyone? You'll be glad to know that this exercise in regimentation is brought to you by the private sector. Or not really. The corporate sponsor is actually a nationalised industry, EDF Energy. That's EDF as in the French state electricity company, the biggest generator of power in the world. I wonder what their French workforce, mostly communist, would make of it.

This is doubly depressing because it's pointless. I recall when call centres were touted as The Future for Yorkshire in about 1996. It was already clear that this was not going to last, because the cost of telecommunications was falling fast. Therefore, it was going to get outsourced, and sharpish. It's a special case of a more general principle, which is that it only makes sense to specialise in a low-margin, labour-intensive commodity product if your comparative advantage is cheap labour. And that ain't going to happen so long as we share a planet with Bangladesh.

In the same issue of Educashon Grauniad, Blairite poohbah David Puttnam pleads for schoolchildren to be allowed more freedom to fiddle with the computers, pointing out quite rightly that there is a big gap between setting up a LAN party for your mates and school IT lessons on PowerPoint. Pity about that. Meanwhile, we've got a call-rate to keep up.

I strongly object to a society where suggesting that schools should have playgrounds makes me feel like a deranged idealist.

PS: Note that the Crooked Timber thread also shows that Dan Hardie and Dsquared are gradually heading closer and closer to a genuinely explosive blogwar, like Britain and Germany in 1911..


Anonymous said...

Dsquared and I are two scarred veterans of the Western Front, affectionately remembering our favourite scenes of violence and laughing at the naivety of the younger generation: 'Ach, Herr Hardie, zis fellow Harrowell fighting ve thinks are! He nothing seen has not!'

Anonymous said...

personally I read those exchanges and get the sense that at some point we'll end up having passionate sex, which is odd because I don't really want to. btw, as I now note voluminously on my blog, we are basing all of these wide-ranging conclusions about the new managerialist state off of a surprisingly small island of fact, which is often a good way to get the wrong end of the stick and accuse someone of something they haven't actually done. We should probably check a bit more to make sure that Mr McMurdo isn't actually a paediatrician.

Anonymous said...

thanks yorkshire ranter - i'm so angry about the call centre invasion in schools - i hate this idea that we should adapt education to the 'limitations' of an area - I'm sunderland born and bred - I left school at 16 with no o'levels at the height of Thatcherism - now, I live in Barcelona speak four languages and have two degrees - we should be teaching kids Latin, foreign languages, how to build space ships etcetera- apparently Europe is open to us now and we can go and work where we want - hylton red house school is adding to the prison cell mentality, which is really more about keeping a demoralised underclass on tap for jobs bordering on slave labour - I for one think sunderland needs to get off its knees and stop taking this s**t.

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