What Quintin Hogg Might Teach Us About BSF

In 1957 Quintin Hogg reluctantly took on the role of Education Minister. He did not want it.

“I next found myself summoned by the new Prime Minister and asked to join the Cabinet as Minister of Education. After four months of office this was promotion with a vengeance. But strangely enough I was not at all pleased. I had given my heart to the Navy, and believed I was popular. Such change is not good for morale, and I was afraid that there were people who would accuse me of careerism, as of course they did.”

Hogg nevertheless says he threw himself into the role. One major problem was a pressing need for more school buildings due to high birthrates and the raising of the school leaving age. The situation facing Hogg sounds remarkably like the one facing Gove when he entered office in 2010.

“The shortage of cash was intensified by the fact that the actual expenditure on school building had to be incurred by the local authorities who were small, numerous (146 in my time, I think), sometimes absurdly self-centered, often extravagant, and competitive with one another.

I found that they were actually driving the cost of school building up in a variety of different ways. They tended to employ their own architects with the result that their design were markedly more costly than we knew to be necessary, and had none of the advantages of large-scale production, which even in a labour intensive industry like building, can greatly reduce costs.”

Hogg could have cancelled the projects, just like Gove. But he took another path. Instead he found ways to link schools with similar problems – e.g. all schools with subsidence issues worked together on one design. He did so not by telling them they had to work together, but by making them think it was their idea and giving lots of public credit for it.

“On this idea was founded the first consortium of school building and authorities and, modestly, I claim the credit for it now. The secret, I may say, was that at the time I claimed none.”

Perhaps, in 2010, if Gove had instead asked local authorities to convene the schools together and collectively they had prioritised building needs, the government could still have only given out monies now allocated for Priority Schools but it would have been based on the ideas of what local people needed, and might have encouraged co-operation that would reduce cost. It would also have been a more humane approach to deciding which young people would be stuck in squalor, than simply scrubbing names off a list inside a Westminster Ivory Tower.

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