I believe in the Holy Ghost, choice, competition and the life everlasting

Doubting thomas 1
Doubting Thomas
When someone says they “believe” in something they usually mean something quite different to thinking or feeling something. The most obvious example of this is religion but it isn’t the only one. Arguing with someone about what they believe is usually frustrating and often pointless. Whatever the evidence the person is not going to change their belief.

Everyone is prone to holding on to what they think about things to some extent. Scientists talk of the concept of confirmation bias which is where people tend to look for evidence that supports their views and ignore inconvenient evidence which does not. But at least ostensibly such people are still looking for evidence.

I always liked the Biblical story of the Apostle Thomas who on hearing that his master Jesus had apparently risen from the dead was sceptical and demanded proof.
 Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. (John 20: 24 NKJB)
Thomas then does see the risen Lord and once he has seen him he believes but Jesus replies to him:
Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29NKJB)
I have never been convinced by this answer and always admired Thomas’ approach to the extent that we called our eldest son Thomas - although when he is questioning what I am saying I sometimes reflect on the wisdom of this!

As I mentioned belief isn’t restricted to religion and can be seen in lots of other aspects of life. Particularly politics where it tends to be linked to ideological belief. A few weeks ago someone posted a brilliant example of this on this Blog when they relayed a frustrating interaction with South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo about free schools.
Last year, I twice emailed the local MP, Tim Yeo, asking in exactly what way establishing free schools in competition with existing schools was going to help, not hinder, schools like Sudbury Upper. I cited the very low numbers in year 7 and 8 and consequent fall in predicted income to SUS this year which appeared to be a direct consequence of Stour Valley Community College opening.
Unfortunately he did not answer my questions. Instead he suggested:
"Competition always raises standards. I recognise that sometimes it is a threat to providers who believe that they should never be challenged or held to account. I am confident that when Suffolk has a good number of free schools education standards across the whole county will rise."
and when I challenged this, he replied:
"You do not seem to understand that I firmly believe that competition of all kinds will raise the disappointingly low standards of schools in many parts of Suffolk..."
The person making the comment replied that:
"Tim Yeo has been the MP for South Suffolk since 1983. Surely time enough to have even raised his concerns about poor performance in Suffolk schools, and actually done something about it!?
A good point! I am guessing the person making the comment is much more a pragmatist. Such an approach tries a different strategy if the first one does not produced the desired outcomes. Pragmatists live by the maxim:
If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.
Ideologues tend to react to the failure of a policy by doing more of the thing that failed as they are unable to accept that might be wrong. So they say things like "You do not seem to understand that I firmly believe that competition of all kinds will raise the disappointingly low standards of schools in many parts of Suffolk..” Note he says believe not think.

The reason I press the point about competition is that this is just what we have had for many years already in schools. We already have a market with competition.

School funding is almost entirely down to the numbers of children so if a school is “successful” and attracts lots of children it gets more money. The reverse is true if it loses children.

Now this can work to make schools better and compete for children. This is usually true of "good" and "outstanding" schools who can compete with each other without the risk of total collapse and have the money to “up their game”.

However the same market tends to fail dramatically when schools run into trouble. What then happens is like a death spiral. The school loses children and money so has to get rid of staff (which are by far the highest cost) which both reduces its capacity and demoralises the staff remaining who think they will be next.

The school has no money or staff to “up its game” and goes in to a spiral of self-perpetuating decline until it fails.

Then someone comes along and puts a lot of money in and hey presto “turns the school around”.

The market here is making standards fall not raising them. Which might be OK if it was a shop. It could simply fail and close but it is a school and the children are going to fail along with their school. They don’t have the time to allow the market to self-correct.

So this market system for schools has existed for sometime - although in Suffolk it is an imperfect market due to difficulties created by the rural context of much of the County where travel and distance make competition and choice difficult or impossible.

By throwing more competition into the mix Tim Yeo believes this will make standards magically improve.

Anyone who really wants to raise standards in schools (as those of us who have actually done this for real know) needs to have an open mind to what works and does not work and be prepared to change strategy if something is not raising standards as expected.

Holding this kind of ideological belief - and it would be as bad the other way round - is always going to stop the best course of action being chosen. Such ideologues are the real enemies of promise in education be they from the left or the right. There is no difference to me.
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