Rory Gribbell: How teaching sent me Right

Rory is a Teach First NQT working on the South Coast. He is passionate about helping to provide the type of education that he was fortunate enough to have received. He tweets at @Rory_Gribbell

Two munnamedonths ago I left the Labour party. This is unlikely to be the first account of someone leaving Labour you will have read. I find the politics of Jeremy Corbyn, particularly his foreign policy and association with the Stop the War Coalition, totally incompatible with my beliefs. I could not allow myself to be complicit in supporting the people who now run the UK Left. However my move away from the Left started a long while before anyone even remotely considered Corbyn as a potential Labour leader.

Part of my adolescent and adult identity has been my left-of-centre politics. When I was younger this even involved a brief flirtation with the disgusting views of the far-Left Respect Party and its leader George Galloway. It would be too easy to excuse this flirtation as an infatuation with a crass Glaswegian riling against a US Senate committee. At the heart of my beliefs was a desire for social justice and I almost bought into the lies peddled by the Hard-Left.

I was a stereotype. My flirtation with the Hard-Left swiftly moved towards a position on the Liberal-Left. I would delight in being the most tolerant, the most liberal, the most moral. I would say the right things, I believed the right things, I was virtuous.

The dawning realisation of the immaturity of this position should have been enough to shake me from my petty tribalism. In part it was. However it was not the defining moment in my movement from the Left.

I entered the teaching profession firmly wedded to the Left. What shook my beliefs to the core was the rapid understanding that the education system, so heavily dominated by the Left, is so incredibly corrupt. It is a quagmire of poor ideas protected from destruction by a centralised body of organisations designed to protect the lazy from confronting the realities of their views.

Reading Robert Peal’s ‘Progressively Worse’ and Daisy Christodoulou’s ‘Seven Myths About Education’ it is impossible not to be awestruck by the institutions dominating the education landscape since the 1960s, and their willingness to destroy the education of millions out of some desire for ideological purity. To take but one example; how many millions of children (and disadvantaged children in particular) in the UK were adversely affected by the ideological opposition to the proper teaching of phonics? How many children were held back by the mandated teaching of ‘whole word’ approaches to reading? Why is there not more outrage directed at the institutions responsible for this? The answer is painfully obvious. These institutions; the unions, university departments and members of the educational establishment are Left wing; the good guys.

What is most pernicious about the way education works, however, is not the poor ideas which abound and are often enforced, but the attempted destruction of opposition viewpoints. How many trainee teachers have to hold their tongues during their PGCEs when they finally discover real evidence for what works? How many excellent teachers have had their careers destroyed by Ofsted inspectors for not following a progressive pedagogy?

The most striking example I have read about this sort of attitude comes from ‘Changing Schools’, the excellent collection of essays compiled by Robert Peal. In one of the essays Katharine Birbalsingh recounts how the NUT campaigned to close down Michaela Community School:

Members of the NUT have campaigned tirelessly to have our school closed down. First they tried to stop us from opening, and three years later, when we finally won that battle, they still regularly protest outside our school handing out leaflets to our Year 7 pupils, claiming that our building is a health and safety hazard.

The Left’s irrational opposition to Academies and Free Schools stems from little more than a realisation that this will inevitably loosen their grip on education. New ideas (often evidence based at that), will be tried and tested. We will find out what works. It is not hard to see how such a state of affairs would terrify an establishment who readily and repeatedly place their ideology above the education outcomes of children.

This opposition to pluralism, this opposition to freedom, this opposition to discovering the truths of education is done in the name of, and via a centralisation of the system.

It is this realisation which shook me from my faith in the Left. Socialism died years ago. The rise of ‘Neo-Liberalism’ (whatever that is) did for it. Despite this, the Left never has managed to shake its infatuation with Utopia. The problem with Utopia isn’t that it can never be reached (indeed it doesn’t even exist), but once a Utopia is agreed upon, all manner of things can be justified in trying to attain it. Pluralism is a threat to the idyll being strived for. Opposing ideas are dangerous, and they must be quashed.

Opponents of the Left are vilified. This vilification is brutal, arrogant and fuelled by fear. Those present on Twitter cannot have missed the hordes of Corbynites instructing anyone who crossed their path to ‘f-off and join the Tories’, as if a Tory is worse than scum for holding a different political view point. How free are these people to consider whether they are wrong? How blinded by their vision of Utopia are they? How fearful of opposing viewpoints are they that they are prepared to insult perfect strangers in a public forum?

I have not really changed. I still believe in equality of opportunity. I believe that the inequities in the education provision in our country can be overcome. I am still, to that extent, an idealist. But I am no longer a believer in any Utopia. I have awoken to the evils of a Utopian ideal. I can see the Left for what it too often (but by no means always) is: a collective of self-congratulating do-gooders blinded to the damage caused by their insistence of conformity and control.

That is how teaching sent me Right.

One thought on “Rory Gribbell: How teaching sent me Right

  1. This, in my opinion, is a really lazy article.It took me a few seconds to find an article by a local Green party rep – and no, nothing to do with the NUT – about the safety concerns about Michaela Community School.

    The concerns that “the left” (whoever they might be) have about academies and free schools might be connected with the centralization of education into the hands of the DfE and its representatives – the Regional School Commissioners – and away from any kind of local oversight. Aren’t the Tories supposed support localism? Not in education it would appear. Ironic that a RSC for NE London and the East has more power now than he ever did in his old job at Essex CC as the Director of Education.

    Maybe the author could list any “New ideas (often evidence based at that)” that could not be tried at a Local Authority maintained school but could only happen once a school had converted to an academy? What would a LA do if one of its maintained schools tried a “new idea”? Indeed, how would they even know?

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