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The Less Deceived

Wherever one looks in Britain, one sees an insidious kind of corruption: not the obvious, money-under-the-table variety, but something even worse and in the long run more corrosive because it is more difficult to eradicate. It is a deep moral and intellectual corruption.

The Times Educational Supplement is Britain’s most important journal for the teaching profession. In the January 6 edition, it described the methods school principals use to deceive the official inspectorate of schools. The inspectorate’s reports, in the words of the TES, “are vital checks on the performance of schools, relied on and trusted by parents and those running and working in the system.” The precise extent of the principals’ cheating is, in the nature of things, difficult to measure. But once the principals know that an inspection is coming, many employ techniques such as paying disruptive pupils to stay home, sending bad pupils on day trips to amusement parks, pretending to take disciplinary action against bad teachers, drafting well-regarded teachers temporarily from other schools, borrowing displays of student work done in other schools, and so forth. It’s Gogol’s Government Inspector translated to the educational sphere.

In response to such stories, the inspectorate is now to make unannounced inspections instead of routinely warning schools in advance. But how much knowledge of human nature did it require to know that inspections announced in advance were likely to be, not inspections at all, but elaborate charades? In other words, the deceived practically demanded to be deceived, so that (in reality) there was no deceit at all—except, of course, of the public.

The apparatus of pseudo-inspection led the public to believe that the ever-solicitous government was doing its best to raise educational standards. Only in this way could the fact be disguised that government spending on education—with the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs, easy to create but difficult to destroy—doubled while standards actually fell, either relative to other countries or even absolutely.

First published in City Journal.

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