A polite debate with the Daily Mail

I occasionally like to read The Daily Mail. It’s like eating a vindaloo curry, inflaming me and reminding me what my brain is for.

So as I was sitting in the cafe yesterday morning, I picked up a copy on the table, flicked through the frankly very silly articles and reached Andrew Pierce. Here’s what he said about us. You know, teachers.

With his radical plans for hundreds more free schools, Education Secretary Michael Gove is the chief bogeyman of the Left.

But it’s not just his enlightened mission to end their decades-old stranglehold on the schools system that inflames the powerful teaching unions.

They claim Mr Gove is unwilling to meet them to discuss their grievances.

Teaching unions claim Michael Gove is unwilling to hear their grievances. But he has met with officials 28 times.

But they are — as usual — in denial of the facts.

For the truth is that, as an official document shows, Education Department civil servants have held 146 meetings with teachers’ union officials in the past two years to discuss ‘pay, pensions and conditions of service’.

As for Mr Gove himself, he met union officials on a further 28 occasions over the same period.

The document also reveals that Mr Gove has invited the general-secretaries of the two biggest teaching unions, the NUT and the NASUWT, to ‘attend a programme of talks about the implementation of education policy, including in those areas covered by their trade disputes’.

Such co-operation seems very admirable — although some people might argue that the Education Secretary’s willingness to meet up so frequently has given the unions too much, not too little, input into Government policy. meet up so frequently has given the unions too much, not too little, input into Government policy.

The beauty of the modern age is that I could sit there and reply to him. I find that the best way to approach a debate is with an empty mind, setting aside any antipathy. So I treated it as I would a piece of extended writing, to be remarked upon for its merits as well as its shortcomings. And I replied:

Dear Andrew,

Here are two points to consider.

Firstly, inviting people to a meeting doesn't necessarily equate to accepting their point of view. I spent twenty years in management consultancy, in the public and private sectors, was seconded to an agency of the Treasury for two years and consulted with those opposed to the CrossRail Bill. I've seen a fair few meetings that had little to do with consultation.

Secondly, "halfway" implies a balance in points of view. I must exclude myself from a personal interest in this as I gladly gave up a six figure salary to become a primary school teacher and I teach out of love for my calling and for the children. But as a newcomer, with my experience of introducing change to organisations, the government's position cannot be met half way without rendering the teaching profession a singularly unattractive prospect for the young, bright people alongside whom I trained for a year.

Finally, I'd like to congratulate you on your eye-catching editorial: however much I may disagree with it, your writing held my attention and got me thinking.

Regards, etc

So far, so “Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells”. And here, as a digression, I must mention my A level history teacher from back in the 1970s. He told us that he used to pen letters to The Telegraph from supposedly retired army officers, taking such obviously reactionary views that he daily expected to be uncovered, but instead found himself published in the ‘Readers’ Letters’ section, and agreed with by the paper’s regulars. And now back to the main feature.

As I sat in my car at the local recycling centre, this message pinged at me. The name at the top caught my eye. Andrew Pierce himself!

You make some interesting points and thankyou for the compliment about the writing. Im in every Monday so I hope you if you’re not already, you become a regular reader. And belated Happy New Year.

Now, apart from the ‘next steps’ I’d be writing at the bottom of this hastily Blackberried message, I was delighted that a) I’d kept my cool and actually engaged in civilised debate, and b) civilised debate occurred.

I’m not sure I’ll be a regular reader (and for all I know, Mr Pierce may have some starving intern managing his email traffic) but it sets an example that I may well use at school. We need more respectful debate amongst our current and future citizens.

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