Saturday, February 24, 2007

Eternal Sunshine

A few years a council was given a damning report by the Audit Commission, virtually every service or department was savaged, social services was “poor”, education was “under-performing”, the housing department was “chaotic”, refuse collection didn’t happen and care for the elderly was “non-existent”. However, they singled out one service for praise.

When the council spinmeisters crafted their reply it was along the following lines, “We welcome the fact that our excellent traffic cone replacement service has been acknowledged and given national recognition. Some deficiencies have been highlighted, we have a new management team who are aware of them and are implementing changes to rectify the faults.” Accentuate the positive, blame the previous managers and claim it’s all in hand now.

The National Audit Office and Ofsted reports on academies weren’t as damning they concluded that they gave “value for money” and had improved overall results but they also highlighted - cost over runs; poor ‘A’ level results; problems with recruitment, retention and inexperienced staff. It made for sombre reading. Academies were based on American “Charter Schools” where private companies like Edison were allowed to run state schools (although the contracts were only for 3-5 years). However, even their most zealous supporters have had to admit that their results are “patchy”.

The academy test figures (GCSE results well below the national average) are even more unflattering given that most of them are joyless exam factories where the curriculum consists of three things - ‘testing, testing, testing’. Schools in deprived areas that had extra money under Excellence in Cities achieved comparable results with academies, so why sell off state assets to dubious religious organisations?

Alan Johnson’s response was, “I am delighted it is such a positive report.” He reminds me of one of the characters in the film ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, where all bad memories have been erased from their consciousness. The problem with spin is that if you live in a state of delusion and self-denial no one will believe a word that you say.

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