The DCSF, headed by Secretary of State from 29th June 2007 (that blessed day), and for which he received a salary of £79,150 (2008-2009) has objectives.
1. Secure the well-being and health of children and young people.
Short of being the sort of saint who can cure those unfortunate souls who are born with various problems or the other sort of saint who can transport him or herself into a building at double quick notice, I fail to understand how the department can secure the health of our youngsters. Interesting thought. If your child happens to fall ill during the course of a day, does the DCSF miss its objective and get punished?
It would be delightful to think that one department could miraculous be the arbiter of well-being (and what is that exactly? Is there a definition?) and health. I would guarantee them veneration and rather large gifts from every segment of the population.
So, objective 1. Untenable and unreachable.
2. Safeguard the young and vulnerable.
I have two young people in my house, and I would love to stop them getting broken hearts and making mistakes that end up in tears, but then I would have to stop them from living and that wouldn't do for the fifth objective. No one, but no one (to use a Canadian expression) can guarantee that another person never encounters something that you would far rather they never encounter. Occasionally, your soul has to drag itself through a mini-hell to emerge a better soul after the bad times. It's just the way the cookie crumbles.
2. Impossible. Into each life a little rain falls.
3. Achieve world-class standards in education.
Erm. "47.6 per cent of teenagers scored five crucial A*-C grades including in maths and English. One in seven pupils failed to achieve a single C grade in any GCSE subject". (ThisisLondon article)
To throw a little positive light on that I will say that I don't think that not being able to pass a GCSE is evidence of a lack of education. It may mean that the GCSE subject didn't appeal to you; it could mean that you panic at the sight of an exam paper or that you were too stressed to recall anything.
What are world-class standards anyway? In comparison with some countries who don't bother with education as we see it, we must be superlative. In comparison... but there's that word. How can you compare one person's performance with another person. It just don't cut it. You can only compare what you were with what you are now or become later. As I get older I find the idea of statistical comparisons of people rather odd really. The only one I can improve on is me.
Could it be that the DCSF means it desires to have its own employees achieve world-class standards in education? What is education anyway?
And THAT is a whole stratosphere-high can of worms.
4. Close the gap in educational achievement for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
On the face of it, that seems a reasonable and kindly thing to want. When you start to think about it, however, what gap do they mean? Is there a gap? I'm not convinced - I'd have to see lots and lots of studies about gaps. Then, I would have to have lots and lots of people I trusted to care about the statistical analysis and be honest during the analysis of the studies. You'd have to scrutinise the premises, the way the questions were asked... etc. etc.
Again, there's the educational achievement and, again, what do you mean by educational achievement? If you mean school, it's a major victory for some kids to attend for a week and others to stay awake during class. How do you measure educational achievement? What does it mean to the person who is 'achieving'? Perhaps their interests lie in other directions. I knew one girl in my street when I was a kid who was determined to become a ballerina with a major dance company. Her every waking moment was spent on dancing, preparing to dance, cooling down from dancing, watching other people dance, practicing the dance moves in her head and talking about dance. I took ballet too, but failed to be impressed with the thousands of hours I needed to devote to it to develop the expertise so I didn't. I was vociferous about it. I spent many playtimes informing my friends about how little ballet engaged me as a hobby. And still I got books on ballet from my best friend for my birthday!
My friend grew too tall for the ballet but became a dancer. But she was never an academic type of lass. It didn't interest her. It wasn't her thing.
Disadvantaged backgrounds. What constitutes a disadvantaged background? Now the Universities are accepting foreign students and cutting down on British students so that people who haven't truck-loads of money cannot travel to the University of their choice perhaps?
Disadvantages come in many shapes and sizes.
It's my belief that people will do what they want to do. If they want to do it enough. That is the way we are made.
'Disadvantaged backgrounds' sounds to me like a little bit of prejudice talking. Does it to you? The you and we thing again. We're OK. Our parents have silos full of money and we went to Eton, Harrow, Roedean... wherever. Anyone who doesn't come from our background is disadvantaged, what.
We all disadvantaged in that case, bud.
5. Ensure young people are participating and achieving their potential to 18 and beyond.
How can you ensure another person is doing anything? Ever? Ensure young people are participating...? In what? Eating ham sandwiches? Volunteering with Victim Support? Street gangs? Mowing their neighbours' lawns? Enjoying reruns of the X-Factor?
Ensure young people are achieving their potential. In schools? How can you ensure they're even listening to what you're teaching in a lesson? What is a person's potential? Who has achieved his potential? Gandhi? He was reviled by many as a troublemaker. John F. Kennedy? He was a US President who was shot. Maybe that's a sign he wasn't too popular with someone (or a group of people) and therefore maybe he didn't reach his potential.
What is potential? If you don't define it, you cannot measure it which then makes a mockery of your performance managing targets and turns it all into 'wedding speeches'. (Thanks for the analogy to my husband's friend) Pretty words, but do they get put into action? Most brides and grooms would be doubtful about that.
And isn't a human being's potential his OWN BUSINESS? In my opinion, I would say that I have yet to reach my potential. I only know this because I realise that I am capable of doing more in certain areas than I do. In one area, though, I know I have reached all I am gonna reach. I will never be a better ice-skater than I am now (I can stand upright and skate a bit, but not much)because my right ankle turns over if I walk down a street sometimes. It goes over, off the edge of a flagstone. The joint hurts, and it goes on hurting for a few weeks. I know I couldn't progress as an ice dancer however much I avidly watch programmes about skating and remember most of the performances of the greats I saw on t.v.
Young people achieving their potential to 18 and beyond. You're an adult at 18. What you do after that, other than the outrages a small minority of individuals commit against other individuals, is up to you. Your potential and whether or not you choose to achieve it is entirely a private matter, Jim.
The state has no place dictating our dreams; it has no place telling us what we should be doing except in limited circumstances. It is not our master. We, each of us, are our own masters.
We are the arbiters of our fate.
We are the captains of our ship.
6. Keep children and young people on the path to success.
Again, WHAT? What does this mean? What is success? I live frugally (which I like to do to spare the earth the depradations I might otherwise make on it). Very people know my name (still waiting for fate to knock on my door). I don't steal, tell lies (well, the spare 'Your hat looks lovely, Mother' type now and then), cheat, borrow other people's ideas, claim insurance falsely, lie about my age, throw tomatoes at politicians (sometimes I'm tempted) or abuse anyone's trust in me (at least, I try). I live the best life I can live. I'm quite successful at it. Do you think that will count? I haven't got a line of sports clothes, a set of perfumiers pouring out stinky stuff with my name branded across the bottles or a handy-dandy aeroplane in which I whirl over from my chateau outside Paris to visit Crown Prince Humhah from the Creightonn Republic. So am I a success? Probably not.
Do your children want to be successful? Do they want to go to the shops in a wig and hat and large shades, looking a bit of a prat in order to get some privacy? Do they wish to wake up every morning terrified that the stock market has dropped and pig's trotters have plateaued?
Any and all of that stuff would kill part of my spirit, I'm sure. That doesn't count as 'success' to me.
You might be different. That might spell 'success' to you.
And that would be your choice. Not some demand of the DCSF.
7. Lead and manage the system.
Here we come to the nit of the grit. The nub of the hub. The nose on the face. The plug of the bath. The claw of the cat. The closing sentence of the paragraph.
To have a system, you must have managers and leaders. Who would tell us what a towering mess we're making of our lives if the DCSF wasn't there? All these managers and leaders receiving their stipend for managing and leading a totally unnecessary system.
Who would encourage our success and cheer lead us to our potential, if the DCSF disappears?
Well, we would.
And we'd do it for nothing.
There, now, Mr. Brown. That's saved you some money.