Heads you lose

A head teacher makes all the difference to a school. So much so that if you are checking a school out to see if it is up to your child’s exacting standards, you will do well to ask the head if he or she is thinking of moving on. Once a head goes, the school mysteriously changes. It could leap over a cliff, or it could suddenly come alive with the sound of learning.

The best heads are not those who adhere desperately to local or central government criteria in a bid to totter up the league tables. The best heads have minds of their own and are willing to circumvent all the newt-like centralised stipulations to make sure their children get the best teaching and the best environment to work in. They are inspired, and inspiring.

So why are the best heads paradoxically desperate to retire? Because of the rubbish heaped on them by whichever “education education education” government happens to be in power. All the form-filling, the budget-bending, the health-and-safety nitpicking, the equality and diversity demands, the constant government “initiatives” and above all, the social work. Bit of a clue when the education department of a county council suddenly becomes children’s services.

Anyone with any intelligence just wants to put the whole lot in a bin bag and throw it at the nearest politician. Or ignore it, of course. But it does wear you down – which is why, as I said, so many great heads are keen to retire. And why, incidentally, so many deputies who would make great heads take a look at what is lumped on their own head’s heaving desk and decide that discretion is the better part of valour, so “thanks, but no thanks”.

How has this ludicrous situation come about? Primarily a lack of trust for those with expertise. As in so many areas where the Government feels it has to intrude, we end up with people with no special knowledge at all telling the experts what to do. It is as if a journalist were to draw up a plan for building a nuclear reactor and then insist that his plan was followed by the engineers. Result: nothing, or extremely dangerous fallout. Just what has happened in schools across the country.

But Britons in positions of authority love telling the masses what to do. No-one follows those ridiculous European directives more closely than us. Where the French would laugh and the Italians would pass by on the other side, we slavishly try to follow it all to the letter.

Perhaps that is why the Government is so enthusiastic about measures to combat climate change. It is not that there is any way of affecting climate change (this planet is bigger than all of us); it is just a glorious opportunity to put into operation all kinds of directives, warnings, demands and taxes – and best of all, to tell people how to live their lives.

So the United Kingdom becomes the only country in the world to set legally binding carbon budgets, in a meaningless bid to slash carbon emissions by a third within 11 years.

Environmental expert Bjorn Lomberg, of Copenhagen University, described this as “pure wishful thinking”, adding: “No country in the world has ever managed to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by a third in just 11 years.”

But it will be worth it, won’t it? Well, you tell me. Government advisors say it will cost each household £600 a year, and apparently the effect will be to reduce world temperatures by one-three thousandths of a degree by the end of the century. And that’s if carbon dioxide really causes warming, which is by no means certain.

The other problem in schools, apart from the tendency of great head teachers to retire, is the perceived failure of those who are not academically able. There is no real reason why academic expertise should be more highly prized than the ability to, say, build a house. But for some reason our entire schools system has been based on exactly that strange misjudgement.

In a bid to change this, it became fashionable in some areas to concentrate all efforts on the less academically able, to bring them up to speed on paperwork. But that didn’t work either. What happened was that those who were good at arithmetic, writing and reading were deprived of showing their true potential, and those who had no talent for paperwork made little progress either – and through league tables and assessment tests they were deprived of demonstrating what they really were good at. Everyone was a loser.

The same is true for people who are good at driving. They find that all the measures taken by those in authority are aimed at someone else: namely those who are not very good at driving but good at something else – it doesn’t matter what. A transport expert once told me he had never travelled with a highways engineer who was a good driver, so perhaps they’re aimed at highways engineers. On the other hand, maybe he was unlucky.

So those who enjoy driving and who do not cause accidents find that everything is against them – most obviously road humps and speed cameras. Exceeding the speed limit is such a tiny cause of road accidents that a visiting Martian might think that we had lost our minds. There are undoubtedly bad drivers who exceed a safe speed for the conditions: most of them are inexperienced or habitual law-breakers.

These problems could be tackled by better driving instruction and more police patrols. But no, we have speed limits set lower and lower, so that even the good drivers become bad drivers, losing concentration and constantly taking their eyes off the road to check the speedometer. With cameras deliberately set to catch offenders rather than improve safety, the bad drivers go on being bad, and the good ones get fined for driving at a perfectly safe speed.

Job done. We have the statistics to prove it. Of course we have. We always do.