Bell criticises divisive politics

Educationalists are being artificially divided into two opposing camps, damaging continuity in education, the former Department for Education permanent secretary Sir David Bell has told CSW.

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By Suzannah.Brecknell

05 Feb 2014

“I’m not naïve: part of our political process is differentiation,” he said. “But being in politics should be about doing the best for our country, and part of that is saying: ‘My political opponents did something I want to build on’.” In many areas “there’s been great continuity of policy” over many years, he added, but “the impression is that when we have a new government, we have a complete volte face.”

Bell, currently the vice-chancellor of Reading University, argued that the characterisation of the education establishment as “The Blob” by education secretary Michael Gove (pictured) risks becoming “a tone of voice that says: ‘Unless you agree with everything we say, you’re part of The Blob’... The danger is that you end up alienating opinion that might otherwise be quite sympathetic to you.”

Dame Sally Morgan, recently sacked as Ofsted chair by Gove, is “a very good example of someone who represented continuity of policy, if not of politics,” Bell said. Such continuity is important because “schools find themselves chasing the latest change in policy, and actually we want them to be concentrating on the core business of education and learning.”

Bell also argued for the teaching of ‘soft’ skills such as communication. People “dismiss them because they’re seen as something you do in place of a proper curriculum,” he said – but they need not displace academic content. “These skills should be taught more explicitly,” he said.

See also: Opinion: David Bell

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