Education, Education, Education!

I heard on this morning’s radio that a “report” from an “independent think tank” had been commissioned by Knowsley Council. It covered the appalling history of educational failure in secondary education in the borough (its primary performance has been very good). We all welcome councils which face up to their responsibilities seriously; and I was particularly concerned with this issue, having been party to a previous report on the same subject.

That report was written three years ago by the think tank ExUrbe. I wondered if Knowsley Council had backtracked on their hostile reaction to that report, but I was wrong. This was a supposedly new report by ResPublica, given credibility by the media; but it added little analysis to the ExUrbe report. Of course, I say this with caution, as I speak on the basis of that massaged message via extensive news coverage. My attempts to find the unexpurgated version of ResPublica’s submission on the council’s website went unrewarded. I could not even see a mention of it in the Education Improvement Service section – the place one would most expect to find it.

ResPublica charges a lot of money. Mayor Anderson coughed up £100,000 a couple of years ago, on behalf of the Combined Authority, for a thin report on HS2 – most notable for stating the blindingly obvious. Knowsley Council presumably paid a handsome some for this report which appears to add very little to what was already known about education provision in Knowsley.

Its main recommendation is the reintroduction of grammar schools in Knowsley. Unsurprisingly, the Daily Torygraph was in full support of this suggestion, as have various Tory spokespersons throughout the day. Grammar schools are, after all, a key policy priority of Theresa May. Once again, Labour voters are being hoodwinked on this report’s objectivity; for the spokesman for ResPublica – and the organisation’s owner –is a leading Tory and a friend of failed prime minister, David Cameron.

In fact, ResPublica is not a think tank as that term is commonly understood – that is, a non-profit making charitable body. It is a private, profit making company owned by London-based Scouser, Philip Blond. It is a consultancy and public relations firm rather than a think tank. Remember the old definition of a consultant?  “A man (sic) who borrows your watch to tell you the time – and then charges you for the privilege”.

If I sought an objective analysis of the education challenges in Knowsley, I would commission a truly reputable and genuinely independent organisation to do the work. If I wanted a whitewash of years of managerial failure, I would bring in consultants to give me the answers that suited that purpose, rather than give me the unvarnished, if unpalatable, truth .

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