I know you are a failed teacher, but people like you often make very effective advisers and inspectors

Welcome to the seminar, everyone. My name's Grahame, nice to have you aboard. Now you've joined the Group for Raising Academic Standards and Performance, or Grasp as we're known, I want to explain the building blocks that make us so successful. Let's start with a question. Who are we, and why are we here? Clarence?

"Um... educationally, this is a failed borough, and you're the private company that's been brought in to sort it out."

Absolutely, Clarence. And how are we going to do that? Trevor?

"Well, you'll need to get to know all the schools. I imagine you'd get out visiting..."

Whoa, let me stop you right there, Trevor. Visiting is not on our agenda for school improvement. No, our role is to advise.

"But how can you advise if you don't understand your territory? If you want to add a conservatory to your house, don't you get the builder to look at the house first?"

Nice analogy, Andrew, but inapplicable here. You need to see the short-term view. One company has already been... well, asked to move on. We may not be here for long. We need to maximise our potential in the shortest possible time. Take the shrewd option. Give lots of advice... "And make a healthy profit?"

Not a word I'm very fond of, David, but everybody has to eat.

"Your advice to schools seems to consist of a set of questionnaires."

Not questionnaires, Simon. Points for discussion. Our latest has 135 of them. Our people worked on it for weeks.

"How can busy headteachers possibly spend time poring over that?"

Ah, well, that's the dilemma, isn't it? If they don't bother with it, we can say we're trying hard but the heads aren't interested. If they do bother with it, our people collate all the answers and then we organise a conference. This throws up a new set of discussion points.

"And you send out another document?"

You've got your eye on the ball, Simon. We're very proud of our discussion documents. You'll notice we've drawn in some important phrases.

"You mean like 'committing fully to harnessing a range of energies that aspire to a culture of learning and excellence?'"

Nicely spotted, Dennis. Excellence is our keyword. Use it a lot. Carry on like that and you'll be promoted to head of school improvement. Yes, I know you are a failed teacher, but people like you often make very effective advisers and inspectors.

"So what would this range of energies be, Grahame?"

Who knows, Sharon. We'd need steering committees, twilight workshops and lots of dialogue with various interested parties to decide that. Now, I want you all to look at the flow diagrams in your notepacks. Incomes, outcomes, process and purpose. And lots of colour, of course.

"The charts seem very difficult to understand..."

Understanding is not a word we recognise, William. The point is, they look impressive. We send out packs like these to the schools and it creates the impression that we're moving the borough forwards. Driving up standards.

Striving for excellence. You see, there's that word again. Now then, what did I give you to read last week?

"Target Setting for Target Setters, Grahame."

Thank you, Alison. An excellent work, although this week's is even more important. It's called The Emperor's New Clothes...

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.

Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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