The Estelles 2012 – Celebrating the year’s golden moments of ineptitude!

Estelle Morris

The Estelles 2012: All that glitters…

COMMENT – I’ve come only latterly to Facebook, which I used to view as a showing-off tool for young people; however, I’ve discovered that through it I can foist my bon mots, pearls of wisdom and general windswept and interesting-ness on to my friends at a stroke, rather than having to actually make an effort and email them all separately.  I know they’re all secretly thrilled about this.

As we neared the end of the year, I found myself inventing competitions:  the NRA of America’s idea that the way to prevent awful mass murders like Sandy Hook is to post an armed guard in every, single school was my entry for ‘Most predictable response of the year’, for example.  Similarly, the news that antibiotics are useless for viruses got my vote for the ‘You don’t say…’ award.  The Christmas episode of ‘Downton Abbey’ ran away with the ‘Most blatant example of a writer doing the least amount of work on his cash cow’ gong.

Therefore, in common with almost all lazy columnists who resort to filling up their copy with ‘review of the year’ type articles which say little and seriously annoy all those of us who have actually shelled out good money for the paper, I offer you the ‘Estelles’ – my awards for those who have shown themselves to be especially inept during 2012.  And before everyone says I’m being especially cruel in naming an award for ineptitude after Ms Morris, recall that it was she herself who said she wasn’t up to the job.  In fact, now I think about it, self-awareness of that magnitude makes her far better at the job than most others who have borne the title ‘Secretary of state for education’.

My first ‘Estelle’ is in the category ‘Person I’ve loathed for some time who managed to make me like them’, which is a rare form of ineptitude – ‘not managing to conform to the stereotype to which I’ve ascribed them’ is probably a better description.  Contenders here have included Boris Johnson – although my loathing of him, purely on the grounds of him being the richest idiot in the village – began to be undermined before 2012, when I realised he was both clever and not a slavish follower of the party line.  On the other hand, I could have given the award to Stephen Twigg, except for the fact that he’s managed this year to turn my liking of him into loathing simply by being rubbish at what has to be the easiest job in politics:  making political capital of this government’s insane ‘policies’ on education.  I’ve heard my mother utter more astute comments than Twigg has managed.  And so the award this year goes to a man who I’ve disliked – really disliked – for many years:  my fellow Sheffielder, Sebastian Coe.  I always found him smug beyond belief and much preferred the edgier (and if I’m being honest, less blatantly Tory) Steve Ovett.  If Coe were not already a peer, however, I’d be calling for him to be made one, because what he achieved with the Olympics this year made me completely forgive him for being insufferably smug and a turncoat, having abandoned Sheffield Wednesday to become a Chelsea supporter.

And now we come to the team award.  It would be very tempting to give this to the LibDems, but their ineptitude began on the day they said “Here – if we join up with the Tories we get to be driven about in ministerial cars!  So what if we get murdered by the electorate at each subsequent election?  Ministerial cars, guys!”   It has to go instead to the team at the Department for Education, who have managed to overspend on the academies budget by a cool £1 billion.  The National Audit Office found that the DfE had been “unprepared” for the “financial implications” of increasing the number of academies from 203 in May 2010, to 2,309 in September 2012.  Let’s just examine that for a moment:  the DfE, a department chock full of highly educated, highly paid wonks, didn’t (apparently) realise that massively increasing the number of academies would cost heaps more money.  It’s funny that, because when I was a head teacher, one of the first things I realised was that if you plan to increase the numbers of things – text books, for example, or new desks for your office for when you’ve banged your head against the existing one so often that it collapses – it will cost more money.

And so we come to the most coveted award, one whose parallel in the world of films is the Oscar for best actor:  the Estelle for ‘greatest ineptitude by a government minister’.  Obviously, this year offered some serious competition, with David Cameron himself making several challenges for the title, not least with his twisting and turning like one of those whirly things off a sycamore tree (note to self:  include amongst New Year resolutions ‘Improve knowledge of horticulture’.  Indeed, one newspaper reported that Cameron has made more than 30 U turns since becoming Prime Minister and I’ve certainly begun to await budget statements by laying bets with friends as to how long it will take before the first retrenchment is announced.

The award cannot go to anyone other than the secretary of state for education, however.  He’s provided me with so many reasons, but the best of all came only recently, when former education secretary Kenneth Baker – often described in the papers as a “Tory Grandee” – came right out and said that Gove’s curriculum and exam reforms were absolute pants.  He might not have used those exact words in public, but what he actually said left me in no doubt that this is what he was saying behind closed doors.  It really comes to something when the architect of the national curriculum – itself a pair of Y fronts of the type, quality and state of cleanliness that we saw Jim sporting in the Christmas ‘Royle Family’ special – calls the current incumbent’s exam reforms “a huge mistake”.

In case anyone is thinking that it’s a bit rich for me to be using Baker’s opinion – which I’ve long claimed isn’t worth the hot air that accompanies it – here is more academic proof for you, in the form of a letter sent to the Independent and signed by thirty three academics from Goldsmiths College of the University of London.  Amongst their concerns was their belief that the EBacc would ”discriminate unfairly against students with ability in the visual and creative arts” and ”cause long-term economic harm to Britain”.

By way of concluding remarks for this short awards ceremony, I feel that I must mention the fact that it was what Baker went on to say next that provided us with a real insight into what he and his fellow Tories already think will happen at the next election:  ”I don’t think the English Baccalaureate will survive a change of government.”  Really, Ken?  Tell us more…

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Helen Freeborn

Helen Freeborn was a secondary headteacher for 11 years until she gave it all up to live in Greece. Now returned after four years abroad, she divides her time between consultancy, training, a range of writing projects and catching up with all the television she has missed.

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