Saturday, 19 March 2011

Stuff and nonsense

In the NEC are many mansions

To the National Exhibition Centre on the outskirts of Birmingham. I had been given a complementary ticket for the Miniatura show and, though doll's houses are not my bag, it is always interesting to peep in upon devotees in an alien world. Anyway, the Education Show 2011 was on in another hall (and that's free to all comers), so I could kill two with one.


I used to go to such events regularly but till today I have not been to an exhibition like this of any kind for at least two or three years. One thing has changed: now on arrival, instead of filling in a form, I had to book in by computer – permitting the show's organisers to ask an even wider range of more impudent than hitherto intrusive questions to advance their marketing. Once past the doors, however, things seem much the same. This was an event less to do with education that to sell things to schools and schoolteachers.

Once inside, and without donning my bar-coded and disclaimered visitor's badge, I picked up my free show catalogue and asked a lady on duty 'Where are the special needs?' 'Over there,' she replied, 'right at the back'. Fair enough – wherethey have always been. (True to the spirit of inclusion, I should add, the programme confirmed that, outside the Special Needs Zone, other stalls might also offer something for SEN.)

Not a lot there for me in either case. In evidence in the Zone were stalls for the 'softer' problems – plenty about dyslexia, a bit on dyspraxia, and of course communication disabilities and autism (sorry, I couldn't be bothered to write this last sentence with inverted commas). I received a distinct impression that I was being confronted with reasons why certain children, more than you could plausibly imagine, have inherent reasons to find simple human learning inordinately difficult. I avoided conversations with the nice people on the stalls.

I noticed no explicit acknowledgement, by either charitable associations or commercial companies, of all these countless pedagogically neglected children whose attainments and behaviour reflect the effects of our divided society – and whose education may seem as doomed for social reasons as is that of others more socially advantaged, it was implied, for biological ones.

Nor did I see sign of the hard developmental disorders (I believe that these are increasingly now distinguished as 'complex'). Perhaps these are not of interest to the hoards of young teachers and their middle-aged 'managers' who flock to such exhibitions, as not being really matters of educational concern. Should one wish to find out about such complex children, then better perhaps attend a disability exhibition.

What characterised this show for me? As befits an exhibition for companies and other organisations that market to the education industry, the bulk of its concern was to sell 'stuff'. Amazing things for schools and teachers to buy, bright, attractive (not distractive, surely?), often ingenious and beautifully presented – and certainly not cheap. Stuff, I could not help thinking, is what English education spends its money on, rather than pedagogy.

No books stalls. Professional knowledge is not presumably a marketable commodity in this context.

Oh, yes, and not a sniff of Conductive Education. But why doesn't Conductive Education work to tap into the colossal buying power of England's schools. Does it not need the money? Has it nothing to offer schools? On the basis of the Education Show 2011, – just like suggested by the recent Green Paper – No. Again, perhaps CE should be sought elsewere, under disability. I ought to check.


Glorious, splendid, eccentric, dotty, potty, obsessional nonsense (I do hope that none of the autistic spectrum disorder people cast their baleful attention upon the second hall that I visited today). I love it.
No computers to book in with here, just nice retainers welcoming at the gate.

Doll's houses and their accessories constitute a considerable underground culture, manufactury and economy in the United Kingdom and similar countries. What genteel people they seem to attract (on both side of the commercial transactions), what a determined, assiduous effort it does all seem to involve, what studious attention to every detail.

What a very different world, I thought, from 'education' – or maybe I was just observing a gathering at which participants' modal age was probably well over twice that of the one that I had just left.

And yes, there was a bookshop, my favourite stall of all those that I saw there, carrying hundreds of titles, selling rather well:

Oh dear, I must go back to the real world...



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