Opinion by Anne Southern
I RECENTLY learned a new word – ‘kakistocracy’ and given that it means ‘government by the least competent’, I am surprised it’s not used more often. In fact my spellcheck doesn’t like it and is suggesting ‘aristocracy’, a different, though possibly not more effective, form of government.
I have, for a while, thought that the British government is a kakistocracy. Health Secretary Matt Hancock was clearly incompetent, guilty of a series of mistakes including not protecting care homes from Covid and lying over the procurement of PPE, that may have led to thousands of deaths. But he was not sacked until found in a clinch with one of his appointees.
It seems that the prime qualification for being in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet is supporting Brexit. That’s why the incompetent Education Secretary, who knows more about selling fireplaces than he does about education, is still in post. The more competent Remain MPs have been cast into outer darkness.
Similarly our current government in Jersey is increasingly looking like a kakistocracy, where loyalty to our indecisive Chief Minister is the main qualification for office.
The election of Scott Wickenden as Children’s and Education Minister is a case in point. He is a nice bloke, but about as qualified to lead Education as I would be to manage the England football team. I’ve just checked his CV and manifestos. He has had no formal education beyond GCSE and though he might have skills in IT, nowhere has he expressed an interest in education or children.
Some might say that a minister does not need specialist knowledge of his or her department, as the chief officer supplies this, but the minister should provide the direction of travel, and have some awareness of the importance of key issues. When candidates were questioned, Deputy Wickenden had to have the word ‘pedagogy’ (the practice of teaching) explained to him. He might have ideas about IT skills, but I doubt he would see the importance of English, given that his vote.je manifesto has a glaring grammatical error. And with the interest he expressed in cutting spending, is he the person to oversee a department that currently needs increased funding?
It is telling that Rob Ward, with his long career as a teacher, his work with the teachers’ union and his chairmanship of the Scrutiny panel had the support of most backbenchers. They could see the sense of appointing someone who had a wide knowledge of his brief.
It was the Council of Ministers (including Deputy John Young who changed his vote between the first and second ballots) whose loyalty to the Chief Minister ensured the victory of the less competent candidate.
I think the public favour having ministers with relevant experience, and there was disappointment that Senator Zoe Cameron, a doctor, did not get a ministerial post in Health some years ago. Arguably the best Education Minister I worked with was the former teacher Mike Vibert.
Never have we been more in need of a government, and particularly an Education Minister, with vision and talent. Our children have really felt the impact of Covid.
Even if the schools have avoided closure, large numbers of pupils have had to isolate. Exams and rites of passage have been abandoned. Who knows what mental-health issues have gone untreated? And I really feel for students, who, with remote learning, have missed out on the vital social aspects of a university education.
Will they get funding to repeat the year?
As we return to ‘normal’ we need to have someone with the vision to rebuild our education system in a way that does not always look to the damaged UK system.
As an example, I will refer to my own area of interest. As a former English teacher, I have shared the concerns recently raised about the reduction in the number of students studying English, both at A-level and university.
This is put down to the deadly influence that Michael Gove had on the curriculum, with testing and syllabus changes reducing the scope for creativity and original thought.
English is not just about apostrophes and the avoidance of dangling participles, vital as these are for clear communication. Studying English Literature and Language develops analytical skills, the ability to argue from evidence, and the ability to spot bias and manipulation.
More importantly it gives an understanding of human nature and relationships. English graduates have brought these skills to many professions including accountancy and law, as well as the creative industries, and they are in danger of being lost.
An Education Minister with an understanding of pedagogy might be able to influence what is taught in our schools for the better and provide imaginative solutions to the problems we face. I fear we have lost the opportunity this time. We can only hope that the kakistocracy will be swept away in the next election.