Thursday, 23 August 2012
The Coming of Age of Ofspare
Ricky Mauve took up the reins as SoS for Parenting with great enthusiasm. He’d arrived in power on the back of his promises to increase freedom in parenting and to properly reform Ofspare. A recent journalist with the Jeremy Mogul empire, his close friendship with Mr Mogul himself ensured he had all the freedom he needed to describe how wonderful his ideas were in all the major papers. The uninitiated were enthusiastic (or at least they were according to the papers – and enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm in these situations). Those who had children reserved their judgement. Some had heard Mr Mauve speak and were concerned that his slick rhetoric served to effectively conceal deeply ignorant views. Others had read all his articles and had noticed that in one of them he had declared that he was going to run a cultural revolution like the one in China. Because, unlike Mr Mauve, they were aware of that particular era of Chinese history they and were also concerned.
What happened next took those who watched it by surprise. Of course most people didn’t see what happened because they were reading the newspapers which reported only Mr Mauve’s brilliance. During his fist few weeks in power Mr Mauve forced through legislation to create freedom in parenting. However the unexpected twist was that this freedom in parenting was offered only to children, who were invited to select their own parents. Birth parents were stripped of all their rights, as were all other bodies who had traditionally overseen parenting. All other bodies, that is, apart from Ofspare. Mauve effectively created a free market in parenting so that professional parents who made a profit from what they did could thrive.
The media gushed in admiration (usually in Mr Mauve’s own words) at these tough policies designed to strip the incompetent, amateur parents out of parenting. The papers paraded the triumphs of the children who had moved from low scoring parents to high scoring ones in the past. They waxed lyrical about how Mr Mauve’s increased emphasis on parenting ability would drive up the standards of the behaviour of children in society. Mr Mauve’s brilliance in shutting down all the government’s advisory bodies on parenting was also lauded (as these bodies were clearly responsible for the slow rate of progress in the past) and the press enthused about the discipline he showed in systematically clearing out the enemies of the state who worked in the department for parenting and didn’t entirely share his views, replacing them all with young people who knew nothing about parenting.
There were riots, which of course confirmed timeliness of and the need for the inspiration leadership skills of Ricky Mauve and the public were extensively reminded. Mr Mauve cranked up the energy of his reforms, establishing plans to shut down all university departments in parenting and instead to ensure that parents received their training directly from parents who were highly rated by Ofspare. Mauve’s deputy, Nichola Glibb, proclaimed that she would rather her children were raised by young parents of many children than by older parents who were raising only his child, no matter how good they were. The fact that, of course, she’d never been a mother went without saying as no self respecting person over 30 who had not completed the NPQOP (the National Professional Qualification in passing Ofspare tests in Parenting) would dream of attempting to inflict their deeply flawed parenting skills on a child.
Mr Mauve was found guilty in court of not consulting on his policies, so he set up sham consultations with remits which prevented relevant discussion. Freedom of information requests were a source of embarrassment but his decision to replace all those around him at the Department for Children proved wise as the replacements were so passionate about his policy that they had no qualms about deleting the evidence of his illegal behaviour wherever necessary.
Mr Mauve persuaded his idol Sir Jack Monterey to deliver his dream of driving up standards with the help of Ofspare. A grade 3 rating by Ofspare which meant that there was no cause for concern about the progress of the children was reclassified as being an unsatisfactory rating requiring intervention. All parenting which responded to the needs of children rather than proactively parenting them in all the Ofspare approved ways which was now being classified as grade 3 was therefore eliminated in a stroke aside, of course, from the fact that it had only existed with the support of the university departments in parenting which were now being shut down anyway. Many parents operating in very difficult circumstances, such as them having children with special needs or little money slipped from achieving satisfactory rating to being failing parents. On of Sir Jack’s key initiatives was to ensure contextual circumstances were not examined as part of the test. There were to be no ‘excuses’ for poor parenting.
The image of the wise HMI inspector was much publicised but in reality hardly any existed now as the original inspectors were gone and the new ones had been trained in an era where they’d have few or no failing families to inspect so had learned only to tick appropriate grading boxes. Blessed with the image of credibility their predecessors had created for them most had little awareness of their own limitations or of the stark contrast between their own methods of operation and those of other regulators.
Some HMIs who were still far more capable than the system which had produced them, and occasionally one such individual would be tasked with coming up with proposals to reform Ofspare in order to appease the voices of complaint. But while changes were rapidly and frequently made, they did not address the issue associated with finding the increased numbers of parents to be designated as being failing parents which Gove and Monterey demanded. In practice these changes served to ensure that all complainants were deflected with the response that the system had changed since the issues they had observed had taken place (or was about to change) so their concerns had already been addressed. The chaos of the constant changes created a fog in which parents could be labelled as being failing parents for not having adjusted sufficiently rapidly to the new standards and this helped towards achieving the target number for failing parents. The shutting down of Parents TV which had previously informed parents about changes in standards and best practice thickened this fog, as did the sudden change in the behaviour of the state parent discussion forums (the non-state forums had withered as they had been the poor relation to the well funded and run state forums under the previous government).
Ofspare were arriving at inspections with the results of those inspections having been pre-determined based on the outcomes of the tests the children had sat which were designed to test how well they knew the skills their parents should have taught them. Their job was simply to adjust words in a pre-written text to make it sound like it related to the particular situation. Other inspectorate bodies looked on in horror. Ofspare inspectors didn't notice.
Mr Mauve then took personal responsibility for appointing those deemed fit to be parents. It was suggested that he was using his position to allow his personal friends to be parents. Given the pattern of inspections it was clear that he was telling Sir Jack which parents to inspect and fail directly to create a supply of children to give to his professional parent friends. In response to these accusations the Mogul press turned up the volume of its proactive denunciation of all those who raised any objections to Mauve’s improvements in parenting who found not only that they had no voice and no rights, but that if they raised objections they know that not only would they be punished but all their friends and family would be too.
In a committee room in parliament one night the head of parenting in Neighbourland came to speak to anyone who would listen. Given that Neighbourland was topping all the international comparison tables in parenting he spoke to a packed room. He spoke about how he'd been inspired by the parents he'd met here 25 years earlier when he'd done his PhD in parenting. He explained how the principles of developing parents and children together had been applied in his country as it was considered important that children had excellent role models. He emphasised the importance of tailoring parenting to the needs of the particular child and of parents (rather than politicians) determining policy in parenting. He was asked about Neighbourland's inspectorate body in parenting and he explained that he had been appointed into the role of Chief inspector and that his only action in that role had been to shut down that central inspectorate body - replacing it with a system where parents could select from accredited inspectors. At this point Sir Jack Monterey walked out. But everyone else stayed and when the two hours was up the applause went on and on. Nobody wanted this brief moment of sanity to end. Nobody wanted to return to a world they couldn't control and to madness they couldn't stop.