Friday, 26 April 2013
The Internet is Flat
Yesterday Michael Gove made a speech to headteachers praising a number of favourite bloggers - including Oldandrew; Tom Bennett; David Weston and others.
The reaction amused me. A lot of people seemed to think he couldn't possibly read the blogs himself. Perhaps, it was suggested, he has a minion who presents him with occassional supportive blog extracts to help him feel in touch?
Nothing could be further from the truth. He reads dozens of education blogs, including many he didn't mention yesterday. And while he's a particularly voracious reader (he is a former comment editor after all) he's not alone.
There's a very common misperception that politicans and advisers of all parties don't listen; that they have no interest in what practioners or ordinary people think about their policy area. In my experience the opposite is true. They're all desperate for information and feedback from the outside world. That doesn't, of course, mean they agree with or act on the feedback but they certainly want to know what people think.
It's difficult to convey how claustraphobic working in a Ministerial private office is. As a Minister or adviser you are swamped with material from your department. During my time as one of Michael's advisers I received an average of 200 emails and 100 pages of policy submissions a day. That's on top of constant internal meetings. It was a struggle to see anyone from the outside world. Even when you did they usually wanted something. Schools visits were, normally, carefully stage-managed. When the Minister visits you don't take them to see bottom set year nine being taught by a supply teacher...
So twitter and blogs are a lifeline; a way to access at least some unvarnished truth about what people really think. And while I don't want to overdo the impact of the blogosphere - policy is still primarily driven by the traditional internal processes - I do think its rise is having quite a profound effect.
Suddenly an insightful classroom teacher like Tessa Matthews, Laura McInerney or Joe Kirby has a direct line of communication to the Secretary of State and his advisers. Anyone can make a case against a policy and if it's strong enough to be picked up and retweeted a few dozen times there's a good chance it will be read by the people who matter. I can think of a fair few changes to nascent policy ideas off the back of a particularly perceptive blogpost which raised points that had been missed during internal discussions - and not necessarily from the bloggers you'd expect.
None of this means we don't need more structured ways of ensuring teacher's voices are heard. In yesterday's speech Michael joined the bipartisan chorus calling for a Royal College of Teachers - and plans are advancing. Work also needs to be done to build research networks through Teaching Schools.
But I still think it's exciting that for the first time ever any teacher anywhere can sit down and write something that could shift national policy.