“A learner all his life”
After Michael Gove praised Andrew Adonis (pictured) with revolting treacliness as one of his two heroes (the other was Theodore Roosevelt), the former minister and author of Education, Education, Education came to talk to the Mile End Group at Queen Mary, University of London last night.
Adonis delivered a virtuoso lecture on how to be a reformer in government.
One of his lessons was “build coalitions, not tabernacles”, and he said that as schools minister he always met leaders of the teachers’ unions. “It is much easier to demonise people you don’t meet,” he said. He always tried to get the conversation on to the education of their children or of their friends’.
He also said: “I don’t believe you should be an education minister if your children don’t go to state school. There are plenty of other jobs you could do.”
This may have come under the heading of “champion consumers not producers”. Which was also why, as Transport Secretary, he always used public transport, although he hinted that he had difficulty in persuading his junior ministers that they should too.
But he praised one of his junior transport ministers, John Spellar, for pushing through hard-shoulder running on motorways, which could increase their capacity by a third, because he had seen it in operation in the Netherlands. That was a reform that came under the heading of “keep it simple” yet which illustrated the endless ingenuity of bureaucrats in inventing arguments for why nothing should ever change.
He described how he persuaded sceptics to go for academy schools. “You must cast your arguments in as conservative a language as possible,” he said, saying he avoided any argument at all, preferring simply to visit underperforming schools with the local council leader, the director of education and the MP. “The director of education and the leader of the council had usually never been to the school before, which tells you something.” And he would use the power of government over budgets. “Money is a much more important driver of reform than legislation.”
He was asked whether he had been involved as Transport Secretary in the bids for the West Coast main line franchise. He said yes, and that “blaming junior civil servants” for mistakes in the bidding, before an inquiry, was “immoral and really disgraceful”. It was “not the way that ministers should conduct themselves” and it would have “big consequences”.
And he had an interesting view on the expansion of Heathrow, which was, of course, his policy when he was in Gordon Brown’s government. He said that 30 per cent of all residents affected by aircraft noise in the whole of Europe live near Heathrow,* which explains why it is so hard to secure consent for a new runway there.
Asked if he had changed his mind on anything, he quoted Gladstone, who said as he formed his fourth government at the age of 82, “I have been a learner all my life.” He had changed his mind about ethnic monitoring, which was promoted in schools by Ken Livingstone, and which has helped non-white people to see how badly their children are served by the education system. And he has changed his mind about trade unions, he said. They are needed to counter the power of the elite and to press for a more equal distribution of earnings.academies, Andrew Adonis, mile end group, public service reform
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