Thursday, 7 August 2014

The DfE website: another casualty of Gove's Stalinist regime

I wrote a piece yesterday about the writing out from history of the entire concept of Assessment for Learning. One of the most extraordinary things I discovered was the removal from the DfE website of any document whatever on the subject, and this led me to investigate further. If under Gove such a central document as the AfL National Strategy document could have been expunged from the government's Education website, what else has disappeared?

So I visited what used to be www.dfe.gov.uk and my first surprise was that that address no longer exists. The website is now at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education, and lest one think that this is simply a matter of web redirect, look at the URL: the word "education" appears only after the third backslash. So what? I hear you ask. Well, what this means for instance is that the default behaviour of the site's search box is to return results from any of the government departments. So if you put in the word "learning" and hit return without changing any of the default options you will get a large number of results dealing with subjects as diverse as driving, justice and births, marriages and deaths. The first link that returns anything remotely to do with learning in schools is the 25th. Put in a more generic term (but one that is central to the effective delivery of high quality education in schools) like "leadership and management" and fewer than one in ten of the results returned are anything to do with schools at all.

This is not the only change though. The first visual impression of the site is of something put together by one of the more budget school website providers back in the late 90s. Carry out a search for instance and the only way back to the Department for Education's section of the site is via your browser's "Back" button. Click on the Gov.Uk link at the top of the page and you get to this page which has no mention of the DfE on it anywhere!

This is extraordinary stuff. With the internet now firmly established as any teacher's (or school leader's. Or anyone's) primary tool for research and planning how can the DfE provide a website that is so appallingly badly designed and unwelcoming for its users?

And even that isn't the main issue. It is when you do finally track down the content on the site that you face the biggest surprise: there isn't any. Or hardly any, at least. The DfE website used to be crammed full of advice and guidance, case studies, examples of best practice, curriculum resources and a myriad of links to external sites of all sorts that might be of use to the web-savvy teacher or school leader. And now?

Well, the resemblance to a late 90s school website continues as regards content too. There are a number of policy documents, all pdfs and written in the sort of quasi-legalese that marks them out as the sort of thing one takes to a tribunal but otherwise leaves prominently displayed but unread on one's shelf. There are some press releases on the main page, and some of what the site calls "Collections" of guidance douments. Ah ha! Here we are, I thought. And found this. Guess how many of these documents have anything to do with the delivery of education to students in school? Give up? I'll tell you, thirteen, and all, it turns out, the same quasi-legalese pdfs from the policy document section.

There were only two links to external websites that I could find, one to the DfE performance tables and one to the "Get Into Teaching" website. The latter incidentally must represent an as-yet unreformed aspect of the DfE's work that Gove never noticed: it is colourful, informative, packed full of content and actually useful.

Maybe I am missing something. Maybe there is a wealth of government guidance, case studies and sharing of best practice somewhere else on the web, but if so I would be delighted if someone could point it out to me. Out of curiosity I visited the Scottish government education websites and the contrast could not be more dramatic. Even the main departmental schools site is worlds better than the English equivalent, but as well as that there are two other enormous sites: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/ and http://www.gtcs.org.uk/. There used to be an English equivalent of the latter of course- the General Teaching Council, or GTC, but Gove killed it off and its website is no more.

So aside from anything else he has done, Michael Gove has been responsible for the wholesale removal from the internet of anything that could reasonably be considered useful Governmental advice and resources for school teachers and leaders. It is not just the scale of his scorched-earth policy that amazes though, but its intention. This is a Stalinist elimination from the public sphere of anything ever produced by "the Blob" of those who know anything about education. In fact it is almost akin to Mao's policy of anti-intellectualism and what I find utterly extraordinary is the apparent lack of public outcry against it.

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