“Wajid Ali began to cry
When told it was truth and no lie
That the firangs were there
To irreversibly declare
That the Doctrine of Lapse would apply.”
— From The Piranha Purana, by Bachchoo
In a surprise reshuffle of the UK Cabinet this week, BoJo sacked his education secretary Gavin Williamson. This Tory MP was never known for his association with any branch of pedagogy though he did go to school and even to Bradford University. He had spent his professional life as a fireplace salesman and then an executive and owner of a pottery manufacturer.
To be fair, Gav had worked his way up the bigots’ ladder of the Tory Party from being the national chairperson of Conservative Students, then a local councillor and subsequently an MP who was appointed to various jobs in Theresa May’s government.
He then supported Boris Johnson for the leadership of the party and was rewarded by BoJo with the education portfolio.
The Covid year forced schools to close. Apart from the breach in the education of a generation, Gav inherited the headache of what to do about exams. There was consensus among teachers and universities that the school leaving exams, used to judge qualifications for entrance to universities, the most visible step of British meritocracy, should not be scrapped and should be set and marked by the pupils’ teachers together with an assessment made by these teachers of each pupil’s course work.
During the school closures, teaching was online and for that first batch of results last year Gavin’s ministry determined to put the results through an algorithm filter.
Gav didn’t invent the procedure, but he approved of it and made it mandatory. It involved gathering the final exam results of the previous years of all schools and coming to a paradigm of the average performance of the school. Then passing the current pupils’ results through the algorithmic filter to make them conform to the average of the school.
This sort of test would of course work very well for some industrial quality-control procedure, but it was denounced by parents, pupils, teachers and universities as a test that may possibly apply to the performance of schools but not to the performance of the individual pupils who had nothing to do with the abilities of those that preceded them.
It didn’t do much for Gav’s proficiency as the education supremo, but BoJo did nothing about it and Gav continued, applying a more acceptable regulation this year to the exam system.
Then last week he made an absurd gaffe, proudly boasting to the national press that he had been on a fantastically friendly call to footballer Marcus Rashford. If he indeed had, this would have been an acceptable piece of news as Rashford has spent a lot of time and energy in the last year forcing the government and Gavin Williamson to change their minds about giving free school meals at home to those children during the pandemic who would have had the right to them when schools were open. Rashford’s campaign and public persona, as one of Britain’s leading footballers, compelled the government into a U-turn on their policy and forced them to supply the money to feed children trapped in poverty.
Marcus 1 or maybe even 2 —
So, it would have been a sporting event if the two had had a genial conversation. Alas! It wasn’t so. It was pointed out to gormless Gav that he hadn’t been on a Zoom call to Marcus Rashford at all. The person talking to him on the screen was the equally prominent British rugby player Maro Itoje. Both Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje, apart from being national sportsmen, are black. Was Gav sacked for thinking they all look the same?
And so, gentle reader, to a personal story of a few decades ago: I was employed at the time as a commissioning editor at Channel Four TV and as such had returned from a trip to India one afternoon to find an invitation to dinner at the home of an eminent TV news presenter. I don’t suffer jet lag and accepted and went. After a drink in the sitting room with the various guests, among them a very well-known liberal journalist on the Guardian — Britain’s leading leftish newspaper, the hostess led us to the dining room in the basement. I was seated opposite this lady journalist who leaned over to me and said: “Farrukh, I am so sorry to hear of the death of your friend Darcus Howe.”
I could have fallen back in my chair but rushed upstairs and called Darcus’ wife Leila. I asked what happened to Darcus. “He’s watching cricket on TV and drinking a bottle of St Emillion,” she said.
“So, he’s not dead?”
“Didn’t you just come back from India? What have you been smoking?”
“Whew! Someone, a Guardian journo, told me…”
“That was Bernie Grant. Died yesterday,” Leila said. Bernie was a prominent London MP who happened to be black.
I went downstairs and took my seat at the dining table. Everyone looked at me, expecting some reaction.
“I’m sorry to hear about Bernie Grant — and I suppose relieved to hear it wasn’t Darcus,” I said.
And then, not being able to resist, turning to the table generally: “I suppose to some people they all look the same.”
Yes, it was cruel....