Boys & Football Clubs

I’ve just read this, and it made me think about something which has bothered me for quite some time.

Like most teachers, I’ve taught boys who have dreamed of becoming professional footballers. And like many teachers, I’ve taught boys who have appeared to have been on the way to ‘making it.’

It feels to me like there are more such boys now than there used to be. As a schoolboy, over twenty years ago, I played in a league in which one club had one boy who was on Chelsea’s books. His status was legendary, though of course you’ve never heard of him, because of course he didn’t become a professional footballer. He was the only one. No one else in the league I played in, nor anyone at my school, had ever been taken on by any other football club.

So the first time I taught a boy and was told that he was part of a junior squad at a Football League club I was impressed.

I’ve learned not to be. At my school – and this is a private school, remember, which isn’t the usual breeding ground for professional footballers – I have known of several boys who have been described as ‘playing for’ one club or another.

This, needless to say, is something of which they are inordinately proud. They have indeed been selected by these clubs; they are indeed better than their peers; and of all the professional footballers, it is likely that they have come through these programmes. Not all of them ‘turn professional,’ but of the professional footballers at the peak of the game there aren’t many who were discovered at semi-professional levels. So if anyone is on his way to stardom, and of course someone is, it’ll be someone who has already been identified in this way.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. Nick Hornby wrote about the process in his brilliant chapter on Gus Caesar in Fever Pitch (1992):

At school he must have been much, much better than his peers, so he gets picked for the school team, and then some representative side, South London Boys or what have you; and he’s still better than anyone else in the team, by miles, so the scouts come to watch, and he’s offered an apprenticeship not with Fulham or Brentford or even West Ham but with the mighty Arsenal. And it’s still not over, even then, because if you look at any First Division youth team of five years ago you won’t recognise the names, because most of them have disappeared.

But the sausage machine appears to be taking in many more boys than it used to.

The attitude of the clubs themselves is understandable. They want to gather as much talent as they can, harvest the wheat, and discard the chaff. It’s not as though the attrition rates are a secret. The boys know the deal. Their parents know the deal. Is it necessary for those clubs to give boys contracts to sign in which they agree not to play rugby for their school team? I doubt it, but I suppose they have their reasons.

And I also understand the desire on the part of the football fraternity as a whole to support these academies (as they are, perhaps misleadingly, known). English football in particular has been criticised for a lack of sophistication, and that lack of sophistication has been linked to the way young English footballers are treated when they first take up the game. I remember being ten years old and playing eleven-a-side games on full-size pitches with full-size goals; I remember the convention that the centre-half was selected on his ability to kick the ball as hard as possible; I remember games on windy days in which an entire half (as in the time period) would take place in one third of the pitch because even that lad couldn’t get his goal kicks any further; I remember the boys who were perennial substitutes; and yes, I certainly remember the parents’ behaviour.

That, infamously, was a major drawback of that wholly amateur system. Those adults who were involved in it were motivated, mostly, by nothing more than a desire to do their best for the boys (I wasn’t aware of any girls’ teams in my town at the time) and for the game itself. But those youth football clubs, Burke’s idyllic ‘little platoons,’ too often became wretched and twisted versions of the real thing.

When my brother was twelve (twelve!) his team played against another team, placed in a higher division, in the league cup; they took them to two replays (those were the days), and the coach of the opposing team then spent the next few weeks coaxing two of my brother’s team-mates to join his club, which they eventually did. When I was sixteen, a club in my league folded in December: it had spent the previous summer trying to persuade some of the best players in the area to join, and some did, promised the glories of being the glamour boys in the area; but existing players (some of whom had played for that team for years) were utterly alienated, and team spirit collapsed; one cold afternoon they found themselves 7-0 down at half-time, to the team top of the league who they’d expected to be their only rivals for the title, and they walked off, never to play another game together.

So look – I’ve got no illusions about the good old days.

And yet I wonder if the new system is better. I wonder if top football clubs are being grossly irresponsible in telling boys that they can now consider themselves A Chelsea Player, knowing that in a few years’ time they’ll be telling them that they’re not wanted. And I wonder if, in the long run, the boys themselves would enjoy their football more, and indeed their other sports, if they were playing for their local club instead.

Almost none of these boys are going to become professional footballers. I don’t quite know what we should do about this phenomenon, but the current situation – where we allow them to kid themselves that they are, and to allow their futures to be curtailed in the way that Jeff explains, is wrong.

Anonymity

Some time ago, I had an informal chat with a senior colleague, himself active on social media, and asked him a question. If you knew that one of your subordinates was tweeting or blogging anonymously, I asked him, and if the Head Master suspected the same thing, and if he asked you if you shared those suspicions, what would you say?

He was careful not to answer the question.

Am I anonymous through a desire for self-preservation? That’s certainly part of it. It wouldn’t be difficult to interpret some of what I’ve said on here as bringing my employer into disrepute, and I prefer having a salary to not having one.

But that is no longer a consideration for me. In a few days it’ll be the end of term. Tomorrow I’ll receive my salary payment for June. At the very worst, were I to be unmasked and sacked this afternoon, I’d miss out on two more instalments, and at least I wouldn’t have to endure the colossal waste of time that is the last few days of the academic year.

So I don’t fear being unmasked. Threats to reveal who I am and who my employer do not worry me. It may be that I stay in teaching in some form – I’m enrolled on a TEFL course to start at the end of August – but I won’t be a full-time schoolteacher again, and I’m leaving the country, and although yes, I know, these things can potentially follow you online everywhere and forever, I think the chances of this little corner of cyberspace becoming a big enough deal that it has a significant impact on my future chances of employment to be so small as to not be worth worrying about.

Even so, although I no longer fear the sack, I won’t be announcing who I am at the end of August. This is why.

I genuinely hold a great deal of affection for my current place of work and even for those who manage (or, if you must, lead) it. Like all schools it has its problems. But – and this is rather Marxist of me, I know – I don’t think that those problems are primarily the fault of the school itself, or those who currently occupy its most senior positions. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of my bosses actually agree with me more often than they’d like to admit, but can’t say so. They’re constrained not only by their own careers, which require them to introduce inadvisable initiatives, but also by governors, inspectors, and parents, all of whom may have silly ideas about what a good education looks like, and all of whom must be placated.

And of course there are areas where they don’t agree with me, where they have persuaded themselves that the brave new world of twenty-first century learning, for jobs that don’t yet exist, requires the school to pay thousands and pupils to spend hours on iPads … but I’ll give them this. I think their hearts are in the right place. The people I work for do genuinely want the best for our school and for our pupils. They must compromise, as we all must, with forces which are stronger than ourselves.

If my ramblings are attached to this institution then it will look bad as well, at least in some people’s eyes, and I don’t want that for the school, nor for its chiefs.

This is leading me down a path I don’t particularly like. Because if I believe all that, and I do, then isn’t it utterly irresponsible of me to be tweeting & blogging in this way? Now that it won’t be me that suffers the consequences, shouldn’t I be all the more careful about what I type?

Maybe. But the issues are there. They’re bigger than any one school. I want to grumble about them. I’m not sufficiently pompous or deluded as to think that anything I put on here will make any difference to anything, but if everyone did this, then someone would, and if no one did then no one would, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Immanuel Kant.

I don’t actually see what knowing my name would add to the Grumpy Teacher. You’d know I wasn’t fibbing? You’d know how representative I am? Maybe. But I think you can make your mind up about that from the content. (I’m not fibbing, but I’m not at all representative: this is just one snapshot of one teacher and the four schools I’ve worked in.) You don’t trust me? That’s easy: don’t follow & don’t read.

So yes, being anonymous protects me from the slings and arrows of outrageous educationalists who would ‘expose’ me, confident that all that they publish is approved of by those on whom they depend for their income. But that’s not all it does.

On Being Not Quite Jewish

It was a cold winter’s Saturday morning, and I’d walked from my flat up to the school playing fields. Normally I’d have jogged up in my refereeing kit, but this was a special Saturday morning: there were fewer rugby fixtures than usual, so there was (for once) a surplus of staff; my colleagues being selfless and generous people, one had agreed to referee my game for me, so I could watch the boys and concentrate on managing replacements.

On the touchline a mother came up to me.

“Mr Grumpy! Good morning. How are you? I saw you walking up and I said to my son, I didn’t know there was a shul around here! And he said no there isn’t, that’s just Mr Grumpy. And I said I didn’t know Mr Grumpy was Jewish! And he said, well, I don’t know if he is or not. So I said I must go and talk to Mr Grumpy, and he said please don’t, but you don’t mind, do you?”

Now it so happens that not only do I have a name which Jews usually recognise as being Jewish in origin, but I also have a somewhat rabbinical beard and a very fetching black fedora, in which I’ll have you know I look amazing, and which I was wearing that day.

“So Mr Grumpy I have to ask you, are you Jewish?”

Well.

And at that point every Jewish person knows that the answer is going to be one of two things: either this is a bona fide Jew who has decided to repudiate the faith and culture of his ancestors, or it is someone with a Jewish father but a Gentile mother. The latter applies to me, which is what I said to this mother.

“Oh,” she said, briefly showing her disappointment before pulling herself together, “but were you brought up Jewish?”

I wasn’t. Old Man Grumpy was an atheist who certainly wasn’t about to waste his time taking his son to synagogues. I didn’t quite say that to her.

“But Mr Grumpy. Do you feel yourself to be Jewish?”

Tricky one, I told her. On the one hand I’m certainly not embarrassed or ashamed of my Judaic heritage; on the other hand I don’t practise Judaism, nor am I in any sense a part of any Jewish community. (The State of Israel considers me to be a Jew, and I’m eligible to make aliyah; but many Jews would, I know, object to me claiming a Jewish identity, and as Yiddishkeit belongs to them more than it belongs to me I wouldn’t want to press such a claim.)

“Oh.”

There was a pause. We watched the boys warming up. She was about to leave: her son wasn’t in my team, and kick-off was just a few minutes away.

“But Mr Grumpy…

…surely you had a bris?”

History’s Superpower

“A man acquainted with history may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century.”

That’s David Hume’s answer to the question posed by Mark Enser (@ensermark) about the superpower conferred by studying a subject. I suppose it’s mine too.

There are genius teenage chess players, and musicians, and mathematicians. Some talented teenagers are celebrated for their achievements in the arts, and in business, and in sports. But there are no genius teenage historians. There are no celebrated works of history written by teenagers. CV Wedgwood was in her mid-twenties when she published her biography of Strafford, and (doing no more research than thinking off the top of my head for a quarter of an hour) I don’t think many younger historians can have written a book which has entered the historical canon.

Good history requires good judgment which requires a great deal of knowledge. School leavers can’t be good historians. The most we can do is pump them full of knowledge, prime them with some understanding of what historians do with that knowledge, and inspire them with the desire to find out more, and thereby enable them to go on and turn themselves into historians.

Not much of a superpower, you might think. And fair enough. History might give you wisdom, but only after you’ve studied a lot of it.

And yet I think you can tentatively suggest that someone who has done a fair amount of history at school, and has been taught the importance of only ever drawing careful, nuanced, limited judgments, can nonetheless be in a somewhat better position to understand some aspects of the world than he might otherwise have been.

This morning on my way to work I listened to John McDonnell citing Gandhi on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme. And like everyone who has studied or taught the history of the Indian subcontinent in the first half of the twentieth century, I shook my head.

Gandhi is regarded, in many circles at least, as one of the finest men ever to live. And yet historians know that the story is at best (as they say on social media) complicated, and that a critic of Gandhi, the politician and the man, has got plenty of ammunition with which to attack him.

Gandhi’s image is of a humble man. Historians know that Gandhi’s insistence, at the Round Table Conferences and thereafter, on being recognised as the only voice of all of India was not just very far from humble, but also hugely damaging to his cause. Plenty of people who supported the Indian independence movement did not consider themselves represented by Gandhi and the Indian National Congress.

Look, this isn’t going to turn into an essay about Gandhi. But let’s not forget that his refusal to listen to India’s Muslims was a huge factor in Partition. You want to blame Dan Hannan for Brexit-related racism? Okay. Then you can blame Gandhi for the violence which accompanied the end of the Raj, and indeed for the rupture between Pakistan and Bangladesh; you can blame Gandhi for the dismal persistence of Hindu nationalism, and you can blame Gandhi for the fact that the Pakistan cricket team can’t play matches at home any more.

Gandhi’s carefully-cultivated image as the embodiment of India was a great success. He was, and continues to be, very popular. Gandhi described the Dalits as ‘children of God,’ and suggested that the essence of India was rural backwardness. Historians would tell you that. What you did with that information would be up to you.

Gandhi’s image is of a man who wanted to avoid violence at all costs, and you might respect that, but you might also think that of all the points in human history when ‘I’m afraid we need to use force on this occasion’ can be defended, the Second World War against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan is fairly high up on the list.

Historians will tell you that Gandhi launched the Quit India movement, demanding immediate British withdrawal from the subcontinent, in 1942, a moment of great danger for civilisation in the Old World. Historians will tell you that Stafford Cripps offered India self-government after the war in return for the support of India’s nationalist leaders, and that Gandhi described the offer as ‘a post-dated cheque drawn on a failing bank.’

When telling classes that information I try to do so as neutrally as possible. We look at both sides. We consider the motives of people on all sides. However, when I tell them about Gandhi’s decision that he needed to purify himself by taking nubile young women into his bed, and not touching them, I’m afraid I do dabble in a bit of the sort of interdisciplinary approach which I normally disparage. “This,” I say, “is what is meant by ‘objectification’ [something teenagers often struggle with]. Not looking at a girl and thinking ‘I like the look of her, I wonder if she’d like to go for a coffee and an argument about the High Middle Ages.’ Not asking a girl out because you like the way she smiles when she hears the cricket scores. No, the very definition of objectification – treating someone not as a person but an object, a body to serve your interests – is what Gandhi did here.”

You think I’m being unreasonable? Console yourself that the rest of what they’ll learn about Gandhi – especially, I’m afraid, in too many Religious Studies lessons – will be hagiography of the very worst kind. It’s all right. Gandhi the Saint will persist for a long time.

What has this got to do with superpowers?

Well.

The pupil who has studied this stuff knows that the conventional wisdom about Gandhi is misleading.

In having learned that she’ll also have learned that sometimes the conventional wisdom is wrong, and should therefore be imbibed cautiously.

(This isn’t, of course, restricted to the Indian independence movement. Spend a year on European dictatorships, or on the Cold War, or on the Russian Revolution, or on the French Revolution, or indeed the English Revolution; spend a year on the Reformation, or the Crusades, or the Norman Conquest, and you’ll learn that these events, and the central figures involved in them, weren’t like you thought they were.)

But the more history you learn, the more you’ll learn that circumstances are always sui generis, but also that there are comparisons which can be drawn, while recognising that trying to do so is fraught with danger, and yet knowing that your understanding of one part of history can be very useful in understanding another.

The French Revolution and the Russian Revolution were very different, not least because the Russian revolutionaries were very conscious of their French forbears. Still, in both countries a decaying system headed by a bad king (with a foreign wife, from the country’s traditional enemy) saw the monarch forced to accept some measure of constitutional liberalism before a bloody war provoked a reign of terror which culminated in the assumption of power by a dictator. They should have seen it coming: it happened in seventeenth-century England too.

But were the systems decaying? Francois Furet & Norman Stone say not. Were the kings bad? Or did they find themselves in impossible circumstances? France’s war was with a foreign power, with some domestic disturbances; Russia’s was the other way round, a civil war with foreign intervention. The Bourbons were restored; the Romanovs were not. There were plenty of similarities. There were also plenty of differences.

A man acquainted with history knows that Gandhi was a far more sinister individual than is usually recognised. He knows that the Mahatma was actually a very ordinary soul, with the same self-regard as your average politician; he might well find himself considering Jinnah and Nehru as greater men. When he comes across other alleged heroes he may well find himself asking whether there is an Ambedkar in the shadows whose perspective may be rather different.

He knows that some combinations of circumstances are dangerous. He knows that he mustn’t assume that just because something happened in some way in the past that it’ll happen in the same way again in the present, or in the future. If he uses this knowledge wisely, his judgment will be improved.

Okay. So it’s not a superpower. But it’s worth having.

Citizenship

This post is prompted by a question, asked on Twitter by Dawn Cox  ( @missdcox , as I’m sure you know )  whether the teaching of citizenship be mandatory in all schools.

I voted no. But I’m not sure.

My immediate reaction was no, because as a teacher of History & Politics I’d expect to get roped into teaching it, and I’d rather teach History or Politics. Not just because of the content: I’ll come to that shortly. But as a mandatory-but-not-respected subject it would fall into one of two categories: either a subject which the pupils wouldn’t take seriously, and which would consequently just be that bit harder to teach, or a subject which the pupils wouldn’t take seriously and so are entered for a public examination in order to ensure that they do take it seriously, possibly with less teaching time than other GCSE subjects, but with all the usual pressure on results. I don’t fancy being responsible for that.

As I’ve voted no, and it’s too late to change my mind, at least on Twitter, I’ll take this further. The demand to make something a compulsory school subject is frequently made, and the corollary – that something will have to be taught less in order to accommodate it – is far less often acknowledged. The demand is made for History; it’s made for coding; it’s made for financial literacy; it’s made for ‘wellbeing,’ or whatever this week’s trendy fad is. So which part of the curriculum should be scrapped or downgraded in order to make way for Citizenship? I can’t think of an obvious example of a subject which gets too much attention at the moment.

My school doesn’t have to teach citizenship, and it doesn’t. We are, though, bringing in new compulsory subjects. Computing and Metacognition are being introduced. This will no doubt make the school look modern. But it will also mean that pupils will be dropping subjects like Art, Design & Technology, Drama, and/or a modern language even before the end of Key Stage Three, and I’m inclined to think that this is not a positive development. Which of those subjects is unimportant?

Add it to the PSHE programme? I’m willing to acknowledge the potential benefits of ‘personal, social & health’ education. I’m well aware that it is important for inspection, and that consequently what I’m about to say will be rejected by everyone who depends on the opposite being true for positive results when the Inquisition arrives. And maybe in some schools it is taken very seriously indeed: my experience may well be unrepresentative, even of the independent sector. But in my experience PSHE is taken seriously neither by pupils nor by teachers. I use the allocated time to chat to my form. Should I be finding a dozen different ways to tell them not to smoke, or drink, or have casual sex, or cyber-bully each other? Sure. Is it my professional duty to become an expert not just in the effects of illegal drugs but also in how to communicate their dangers to impressionable young teenagers? Maybe, but I’m not one. I’ll just tell them that there’s a reason why there are legal restrictions on these activities, that here’s what they are and why they exist, and that they should, when offered any of the above, say no, and if asked to give a reason say that Mr Grumpy told them so.

Seriously … here’s how you vote, here’s why it’s important, make sure you do it? Maybe. But I really doubt that teachers going through the motions to appease someone who has ordered them to deliver that content a couple of times a year is going to create a renewed citizenry. If we’re going to do this, we’d better do it properly, and wrapping it up with PSHE isn’t doing it properly.

Is this a bit of a cop-out though? Citizenship is very important. Perhaps we should decide what every pupil ought to be learning first, and then start negotiating over how much curriculum time each part gets, rather than immediately dismissing every proposed change to the ‘core’ with the rather unhelpful question about what we should stop doing.

When, for instance, as happened a couple of weeks ago, my Upper Sixth pupils rumble into my classroom full of outrage at just how ignorant of the political process their peers are, I am inclined to think that there’s something wrong. For once, as I told her, I had every sympathy with a girl about to sit her A Levels in Politics, who won’t be eighteen years old until August, and who therefore won’t get a vote, but who was explaining to the young adults around her, who will, what a Member of Parliament was.

(This, remember, is one of the best-performing schools, in terms of academic results in public examinations, in the country.)

Should what is now the AS in Politics be transformed into a kind of British Citizenship Qualification? I’m not hugely impressed with the academic standards of AS Politics: it’s nowhere near that of AS History. But that’s partly because it’s new. Should there be … well, a kind of GCSE Short Course in which pupils learn what democracy is, and what pressure groups and political parties are, and how elections work, and the nature of the UK constitution, and the workings of the institutions of government?

In theory I’d be inclined to think that this would be a positive thing, yes. I would. (And not just because it’d enable A Level Politics to be more academically rigorous throughout the course, though that’d be a welcome side-effect.)

At the expense of GCSE Physics?

Ach.

As a teenager I’d have said yes, definitely. Why on earth were three sciences mandatory? I wasn’t going to be a scientist. Or a mathematician. Why couldn’t I do geography and religious studies and history? Why not French and German and Latin? What was so special about the sciences that the three of them had to be compulsory all the way to sixteen?

I continue to have some sympathy for the teenage me. But this would be my answer now.

Yes, it’s appalling that school leavers know nothing about politics. But they’ll pick it up. (Or they won’t. It’s not as though the population is full of people who remember their valencies, or how photosynthesis works. Quite why we think mandatory Citizenship lessons would create a population of political animals I don’t know.) Reaching adulthood without knowing the most basic elements of politics and citizenship is unfortunate. But so would be dropping sciences at the age of thirteen: for those pupils, too many doors would be closed.

Finally, what about History? American schools teach ‘social studies’ – History and Politics and Citizenship combined in one subject. Could it be the job of the History teacher to use the study of the past to teach citizenship too?

One answer is that since pupils can drop History at thirteen this wouldn’t be much of an improvement. Could a traditional chronological sweep, covering 449-1992 across five years, culminate in a final year of compulsory study which, in educating our pupils about the history of the twentieth century, would also cover the essentials of citizenship?

Well, I think in terms of the structure of how the past is taught between eleven and sixteen the ship sailed on that prospect some time ago. But there’s another and greater problem with the prospect of History teachers becoming instructors in citizenship.

Let me just confine myself to a very short period of history. Not one chosen at random, no. Let’s go back one century to 1917. What was going on then?

When we teach the suffragettes … what is the citizenship message?

When we teach the Defence of the Realm Act … what is the citizenship message?

When we teach conscription … what is the citizenship message?

When we teach the Irish question … what is the citizenship message?

Now there are reasonable historical debates about those issues. And yes, historians disagree about them; and yes, of course historians tend to take the views which conform to their ideological preferences. But I’d like to think, at least, that when History teachers talk to their classes about those issues they try to communicate their tremendous complexity, and to try to avoid the temptation to indulge too much ‘who were the goodies and who were the baddies’.

Here’s a controversial thought to end with.

Might a ‘good’ citizen be one who fervently believed that the NUWSS were sheroes, while the WSPU were villains? Like it or not, the teaching of citizenship is intended to create good citizens. A good citizen doesn’t vandalise property or deface works of art or attack elderly gentlemen on the platforms of railway stations, even if she is under the misapprehension that he is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because that’s not how good citizens go about effecting historical change.

Does a good citizen do his government’s bidding in time of war? What if it’s a ‘good’ war? What if his government bids him join the armed forces? What does someone who doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of constitutional arrangements owe to those arrangements? These are Citizenship questions. But they’re not historical questions. Or, at least, while they’re interesting to ponder in class for a while, they’re very much not what the study of the past is about.

It is possible – though, dismally, there aren’t many people for whom this is true – both to disapprove of Emily Wilding Davison and to think that she made a positive contribution to women’s suffrage. (And, indeed, vice versa.)

A Citizenship course would require a teacher to tell pupils that Davison was Wrong. (Some teachers would, of course, tell their pupils that she was Right. Just as ahistorical.) This isn’t what should happen in the History classroom.

So I am in sympathy, broadly, with the principle that we should teach Citizenship. But I don’t see how it could be done.

I’m open to persuasion.

Don’t Rely On Tech

“How much will it cost to provide un-means-tested childcare for 1.3 million children?”

“It will obviously cost a lot to do so, we accept that.”

“I presume you have the figures?”

“Yes I do. It does cost a lot to do. The point I’m trying to make is we’re making it universal so that we’re in a position to make sure every child gets it; those who can at the moment get free places will continue to get them, and those who have to pay won’t, and we will collect the money through taxation, mainly through corporate taxation.”

“How much will it cost?”

“I’ll give you the figure in a moment.”

“You don’t know it? You’re logging into your iPad there.”

“Can I give you the exact figure in a moment?”

That, in case you didn’t recognise it, was from Jeremy Corbyn’s interview with Emma Barnett on BBC Radio Four a couple of days ago.

Politically I don’t quite know what I think about this. I can see how a politician can be caught unawares by a question about what a proposed policy would cost: political parties do make lots of proposals in their manifestos and perhaps it is unreasonable to expect them to carry around every cost for every such promise in their heads. Having said that, the Leader of the Labour Party’s gaffe was not a result of his being put on the spot: he was on Woman’s Hour, he wanted to talk about his approach to childcare, and he didn’t prepare an answer for the rather obvious question of ‘what’s it going to cost?’

Perhaps he’s ahead of his time. Advocates of twenty-first century learning may well approve of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition’s response. The people who told me that “I don’t know, so let’s find out together: get out your iPads!” was the best kind of answer to a pupil’s question must be delighted at the adoption of this approach by so great a figure.