IT WAS a treat watching our Prime Minister seeking to emulate his role model, ‘Sir’ Tony Blair. The irony of Sunak making pledges about improving education almost thirty years after the king of the soundbite intoned ‘education, education, education’ (in 1996) demonstrates the utter lack of original thought in government.
As I’m sure he is aware, Sunak faces a general election inside two years. Given the woeful track record of this government and the Conservative Party I can understand why he wants to channel a successful (as in re-elected) Prime Minister. It’s a shame he chose Phoney Tony rather than Lady Thatcher. His unctuous presentation style did him few favours; unless he delivers something dramatic and effective (politician’s promises are neither, even if they’re upgraded to pledges) electorally he’s a dead man walking.
He needn’t be. The NHS bed-blocking problem is caused by being unable to discharge patients who need no medical care. This in turn puts hospital beds at a premium, leads to ambulance queues at A&E and deaths in the street when an ambulance takes hours to arrive. This is far from a new problem, and one that any competent CEO could fix at a stroke. Follow the lead of a few health trusts and book cured patients into hotels. How is it that the government is content to do that for illegally arrived migrants, who’ve paid nothing in tax, and yet won’t for UK nationals who’ve paid tax all their working lives?
How to pay for it? Start by sacking Amanda Pritchard, the current CEO of NHS England who seems more concerned with the uniforms of female staff going through the menopause than treating patients. (Her previous role was head of NHS improvement – you couldn’t make this up. Her degree is in history and she’s spent all her career in NHS management.) Then do some maths that demonstrates that a cured person in a hotel bed saves the cost (human and financial) of delayed treatment.
The poor academic performance of the UK is endemic in the state system, which is odd as the private system has some of the best schools in the world. So make the failing state sector emulate the private one. Sure, public schools charge £30,000 or more per year and the state gets £5,000 per sixth form student. (That’s a false comparator as many public schools are boarding, have listed buildings and tend to gild the educational lily in smaller class sizes). The real difference is that public schools are run by their head teacher and governors; their interface with the Department of Education is limited, if that. Put all state schools on that basis and clear out the department’s bureaucrats, including the local education authorities. Some state schools are already run this way, often by ‘super-heads’. Make it the norm.
Sunak should also revisit Tone’s demand to put 50 per cent of the population through university. Like so many ideas emanating from politics, this one hasn’t worked out as intended. Rather than delivering an upskilled economy with low skill jobs offshored or filled by cheap immigrants, it has left a generation of graduates lumbered with debt in not particularly well-paid jobs completely unrelated to their degree. At the same time it has transformed third rate universities into accommodation delivery enterprises supporting third-rate academics in a lifestyle well beyond the public purse.
An extra two years of maths education for all is pointless. If the teaching system hasn’t taught you to count by 16 it’s unlikely to do so by 18, let alone teach you calculus, complex numbers and the rest of it. The problem isn’t in the pupils, it’s in the teachers. Rather than doubling down on teaching (where are the extra teachers coming from, by the way?) a sensible PM would be cutting universities, liberating the Covid cohort to learn on the job while avoiding university debts.
Of course that’s not what the blob wants. Mr Sunak may have thought he was launching his premiership. All he did was show us what is wrong in government and demonstrate that the Tories are not the solution.