Wherefore art thou, Gavin?

Oh, Gavin. You twat. Like most people who have proper lives I only heard about Gavin Williamson when he managed to hustle himself into the job of Defence Secretary a couple of years ago, judging that Theresa May was at that point so weak she would have let Peter Sutcliffe fill the role if it just gave her a few quiet seconds to herself. There’s something deeply impressive and manly about exploiting a situation to grasp yourself a slab of power you can barely control. Sorry, my mistake, it just looks greedy and sly and opportunistic; like a rat in a bin bag. By most accounts the military top brass were not particularly overwhelmed by having a 13 year old running their department and so I imagine they were rather pleased when Williamson was shunted across to another, even bigger, even more unmanageable department. Much of this beggars belief but, naturally, there is more.

Ah, who cares? Gavin Williamson is sorry. He’s said he’s sorry so it must be true. He’s says he’s really, really sorry and I expect he promises it’ll never happen again and if he does promise that then it must also be true. In reality he’s full of shit and he absolutely should not have a job with as much gravity as Education Secretary; I wouldn’t trust him to spray the shoes in a bowling alley. What Gavin really said is that he was “sorry for the distress” that this huge exam cock up of his has caused and we know that means about as much as when someone says “I’m sorry you feel that way”. It’s a classic deflection of responsibility, something that the last 30 years of politics has been very good at saying, only unfortunately it’s rubbed off on everyone else. What he should have done if he had any dignity would have been to apologise for every step wrong that has taken place under his watch – he was in charge when the exams got cancelled and he was in charge with coming up with a way of directing the response. So far, so bloody obvious.

What’s particularly special about the government response is that rather than try to understand human beings by being human beings they just came up with an algorithm, or rather they’ve let the equally clueless exam regulator do the dirty work, badly, for them instead. Algorithm’s are all very well when they’re working out things that don’t matter much but they are chiefly the domain of the more spoddy amongst us; the big mistake being that many people who are seriously into their algorithms are often not very much into other human beings. Algorithms are cold and mechanical and while they can calculate quite complex processes they are indifferent to the emotions that drive the brain. Boiled down it means they can automatically order more milk for your fridge but they still can’t take a piss for you.

Gavin’s magical algorithm (and it is ultimately his call, whether he likes it or not) hasn’t worked and there is a sense that maybe a bit more trust should have been handed to teachers – they normally take the bulk of the flack when schools fail or results are too low and are very frequently told they can’t do their jobs (quite what qualifies any Education Secretary for their job entirely eludes me) so why they haven’t been trusted to screw this up all by themselves is something of a mystery. Believe it or not most teachers do know their arse from a hole in the ground and it is not so crazy an idea to have let them do the predictions themselves rather than put faith in a mathematical equation. I concede that this is a first time situation, just like everything else these days, but the chances of a huge balls up on exam grades coming over the horizon was as particularly obvious as an overweight orangutan trying to hide in a bathroom sink. I’d look up Gavin Williamson’s qualifications but I’m fairly sure he’s OK (in fairness he’s not that posh, but he is a Yorkshireman, which goes against him). Of course what’s really important is that he’s already sorted, which is why he didn’t really care about anyone else’s qualifications until enough of them complained. This could make or break him, but I doubt it’ll take long for him to be rubbish in another vital national role so for this one we’ll play safe and give him an straight F.

G B Hewitt. 18.08.2020

Ps – if I’ve got anything wrong or seem misinformed then please forgive me; I can’t be right all the time, just like an algorithm.

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