Tuesday, April 6th

At a conference in London last Wednesday held by the New Vision group, the organisation set up by the former National Union of Teachers general secretary Fred Jarvis to lobby ministers on changes to education policy, I heard an interesting anecdote.

Among the speakers was the head of a very successful inner-city comprehensive. He gave a balanced view on the successes and failures of education policy under New Labour. But I was particularly interested in the following section of his speech, when he talked about the priorities he would set for ministers after the election.

He said: “I would like to see a reduction in the obsession with numbers. We interviewed deputy head teachers last week and some of their application forms were almost unreadable. Every second sentence had statistics in it, which made them very hard to read. I could get no sense of what [the applicants’] values were.”

I have, of course, no way of verifying this. But it does seem to fit with a system in which the worth of so many people is now seen almost exclusively in statistical terms. Of course, “values” are important and the mechanisation implied by this structure – and its reduction to the outcomes of results formulae – is ultimately dehumanising. 

Education by numbers indeed.

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