I have been dealing with politicians and their administrators ever since the mid-1974 – some forty years plus.
As far as education is concerned the politicisation of the UK system was initiated by Margaret Thatcher when she was UK Minister of Education in the early 1970s (1970-1974) although it was not until she was prime minister that she initiated the main changes that occurred.
I, amongst all the other UK teacher trainers, had the unenviable task of teaching student teachers how to apply tests to children as young as five. We tried mightily to change the system but had no power when compared to our political masters.
As I have said many, many times, the evidence indicates that once politicisation of the education system has occurred eventually the economy will decline. The politicians emphasise, and many would consider are obsessed with, nationalized standardized testing. As we all know the preparation for such tests and the tests themselves are mainly based on short-term memory recall.
There is a place for short term memory recall but to measure student achievement solely on this criteria is simplistic and indicates a lack of vision and insight.
The consequences are that the curricula becomes test driven, teachers and schools are disempowered, and politicians and administrators consider that by finding out what an elementary childrens’ short term memory capabilities are, we can accurately evaluate where children are academically or even their future prospects.
There is a place for monitoring a childrens’ progress but it is not the present obsessive current testing as occurs in the USA, UK and New Zealand.
New Zealand: mid 1980s.
During the mid1980s I was fortunate to make a significant contribution to New Zealand pre-tertiary education. I described how the UK model on which New Zealand education had been based, was now out-dated and would only bring about, as a main and important determinant of economic activity, eventual decline.
Regarding pre-high school administrative structure, I firmly believe that the main responsibility for childrens’ wellbeing lies with the parents and teachers. I described all this in a presentation that I gave to the top officials at the ministry. In due course the restructuring of the pre-tertiary administrative structure occurred.
That could have been the foundation for the next initiative. Unfortunately, the National Government, when it came to power in 2008, followed the UK model and in 2010 politicised the system and introduced standardised nationalized testing.
One main consequence is, according to OECD PISA results, declining test scores. The present government (this is 2015) is still focussed on politicizing and therefore centralizing education; and by doing so is dis-empowering teachers so I do not expect anything but further decline.
I tried my best and still do, to persuade, unsuccessfully, politicians and administrators to examine the available evidence and would add that this is not being particularly visionary or far-sighted.
I guess that if I had possessed the mindset of a businessman and when meeting the administrators, had said that I could save their government many hundreds of millions of dollars (which is true and savings of this magnitude occurred) and that my services were available for substantial consultancy fees (why not include a KGB – although I believe the system is anachronistic it would have helped with the work) I might have received due acknowledgement on my contribution but I received nothing.
Although it might be very difficult for many others to appreciate but some of us just want to do some good in this world and I cannot think of a better way of achieving this than improving childrens’ wellbeing and learning.
Therefore, I didn’t mind not receiving payment but some acknowledgement of my contribution would have been welcome; a brief thank you letter would have sufficed. I decided that I deserved that, and every few years I wrote to the New Zealand Ministry of Education.
In 2008 and some twenty years later, I received a letter from the then New Zealand Minister of Education, Chris Carter, thanking me for my contribution – see below for viewing. I still haven’t received even a letter of acknowledgement, never mind a letter of thanks, from any New Zealand administrator.
In 2013 I spent nearly five weeks in Shanghai researching their education. Subsequently I wrote “Shanghai: A Model for Education Reform” and sent the research to many people including the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key and the New Zealand Minister of Education, Hekia Parata.
One day in January 2014 I was watching the news of television when New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and New Zealand Minister of Education Hekia Parata came on. They proceeded to say how they were introducing a number of reforms in education. The way they conveyed their message was that they had thought up the reforms which they were now displaying and conveying to everyone in New Zealand.
They continued to describe “reforms” that Shanghai had been implementing for some years and which had been described in detail in my research and subsequent article which I had sent, towards the end of 2013, to them, amongst many others! Even so, from my viewpoint, what they were introducing was very selective and fragmented when taken in the context of the many reforms that Shanghai had implemented.
Of course, there was no way I could prove anything about their lack of honesty and integrity but if items in my article had had any input on their decision it would have been nice to receive a personal thank you for my contribution; and that would have sufficed.
Los Angeles School District
As you probably know Los Angeles is the second largest school district (after New York) in the USA. About ten years ago I was fortunate to spend a couple of hours with one of their top administrators. He described his work and the great damage caused by the introduction, by Bush Jnr. and Congress in 2001/02, of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
As he described the harm of implementing NCLB he continually laughed; in fact he laughed a great deal of the time I spent with him. At the conclusion of our session, I asked him if I could ask him a personal question. He said go ahead and I asked him that he had described the very great harmful effects of the introduction of NCLB but that he had laughed a great deal when doing so.
He replied that he had no option to implement what the law required but that because of the very great harmful effects on students, he had to have some emotional outlet and if he didn’t laugh he would literally spend all day crying!
I know the feeling well. Someone once asked me about my vacations. I responded by saying that I don’t do vacations! He asked me what I meant as surely a vacation would do me the world of good. I replied once more by saying that if I didn’t carry what I am carrying, I would love a vacation but due to the fact that I am carrying for better or worse my education burden, so to speak, there would be little point in attempting to relax.
From my viewpoint, and just like the Los Angeles administrator, I could never relax for I know the great damage and harm done to children in the three English-speaking countries I am involved in (USA, UK and New Zealand) by the implementation of their policies. I really have no option but to continue as best I can to make whatever contribution I am able to.
How could I ever relax when I wake every morning that today is going to be another day when, from my viewpoint, I see children being damaged for life! It really is a no-brainer. The other complication is that I would also realise what I had missed all those years by not having any time off and that probably would really hurt – just far better to avoid the subject.
UK – previous to 2015.
Every few years, I write to administrators at the UK Ministry of Education. The OECD PISA results indicated how test scores of UK school-leavers have been declining for many years (in some cases rapidly declining) compared with the scores of school-leavers in other countries, particularly those of south-east Asia, namely Shanghai/China, Hong Kong/China, Taiwan and Singapore.
I wrote describing a plethora of information indicating how the present policies of the UK politicians and their administrators were bringing about the very opposite results of those intended.
If the issues, mainly childrens’ wellbeing and learning, were obviously of an extremely serious nature, the responses I received (and I only received same after continually bothering people at the ministry) were bordering on farce.
All the evidence that I had provided was ignored and I received letters describing how the test scores of UK children were improving etc. I persevered but their mindsets were permanently set in stone and each response indicated that they believed the UK education system was improving when all the evidence and data indicated this was not the case.
What I do know is that once the defence mechanisms have shut the door tight so to speak and the recipient is in denial, there is no point in continuing the interaction; so eventually I decided to leave it until another time.
In 2015 I tried again but this time decided to change the approach. I looked up the Member of Parliament (MP) for where I had last lived in the UK. This was in Shipley in Yorkshire and the local MP was Philip Davies Conservative MP.
His motto was “Your Interests, Not Self-Interest” so I believed that was a positive first step. I am glad to say that he took up the matter with Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools.
Gibbs response to Philip Davies was, as far as I was concerned, the usual covering up of what was the real situation. The real situation was that according to the OECD PISA test scores UK students’ scores were declining when compared with the test scores of some other countries particularly those as described above.
One answer for the Minister for Schools was to pay for thirty math teachers from China to come and teach in the UK. I needn’t describe here why this initiative would not be successful as if you are interested, you can read all about it in the correspondence as described at
I’ll keep you posted as to my successes and failures only do not bet on any successes!