I recently got involved in an unseemly brawl with a professional development trainer. It was a mistake. The external trainer proved to have all the ripped muscularity of a personal trainer at the gym – just without any of the flexibility. I was struggling, unsuccessfully, to get a “deal” on the rather daunting £260 price they were asking teachers or their schools to pay to attend a course about two additional elements in a new A-level syllabus.
In a way, you have to admire the ingenuity of that £260 price-tag. The organisers probably reckoned that £250 would have sounded just a little too neat a figure for the market to trust. By moving up to £260 it would make the pricing sound more “considered” – a figure particular enough to suggest that it must bear some kind of proximity to the cost of the various outgoings involved. In short, we punters would somehow feel happier paying £260 rather than £250.
Well, not this punter, who thinks the course could and should be less than half the price, despite its importance. It is just one of many instances of private sector enterprise (trainers, book publishers etc) making a killing from the changes to exams. State schools are facing major budgetary cuts. There has been no extra money to prepare for these new exam courses. Stop kicking us when we are down.
I mean no disrespect to the two teachers presenting the course, but in the same month, in the same city, I could go to see the band U2 for £60 less. Could those two teachers really offer me a similar Beautiful Day? Alternatively, I could take a return flight to any number of European cities and still have more than £100 spending money, or take my family to a top West End show. It would take a surprisingly exotic script and stage set for the two teachers to begin to offer similar value – particularly when we remember that each person in their audience is already costing their schools another £100 to £200 each just to be at work that day, leaving aside all the travel and lesson-cover costs involved.
A further difficulty is that only one of the two topics is relevant to my teaching. The other topic would help a colleague teach his side of the course. So I wrote to the organisers suggesting that he and I both attend as one person for the £260. I thought this seemed fair, given the daunting price and that the day would only be “50 per cent useful” to each of us.
I offered that – if it really mattered to the provider – we would ensure that my colleague and I were never present in the lecture hall at the same time, but that they could perhaps overlook that requirement. I offered to stay outside in the afternoon, reading a book and eating sandwiches, while my colleague replaced me in the lecture hall.
But no. We would have to pay the full £520 – or, it was suggested, one of us could simply “cascade” afterwards to the other. But surely, I have since argued, if it were that easy to disseminate the day’s content then it cannot be worth so much money in the first place?
Maybe they will reply, but I am not holding my breath.
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire