In a league of our own

Stephen Petty

Poetry and formula-led spreadsheets rarely come together. However, the latest advances in league-table analysis have made me think of Tennyson's seemingly prophetic words on leagues: "Half a league, half a leagueHalf a league onward". That poem, as we all know, is about the calamitous charge of the Light Brigade into the valley of death.

As for those of us on the front line: "Theirs not to make replyTheirs not to reason why". So, no change there either. What could the poor troops do, surrounded by so many new measures on that spreadsheet? "Columns to the right of themColumns to the left of them". Once proud school regiments now face the grim prospect of becoming little more than a sickening stream of scarlet red on a Department for Education spreadsheet. Death by conditional formatting.

And I fear Spreadsheet Man may not be finished with us all yet. As far as he is concerned, it really is only that "half a league" at the moment. If parents want to know the complete story about a school then it seems only logical that each individual teacher in the country is also slotted into a league - a teacher league table. It's already happening in the US.

It is time we got used to the idea. I can see how it would be sold to us. Since thousands of teachers are already assessed by pupils online - in particular on the website ratemyteacher.com - a new "teacher league table" could be conveniently presented by the ministry as a "more professional" way of "assessing teachers independently and fairly". Better this, they will surely argue, than the "mere hearsay of pupil internet postings".

Lists of teachers' results might initially sound too dull for the media to take on board, but we can surely predict how they would jazz it all up. Newspapers would rate each one of us in terms of football team status. Teachers appearing to have the best results would get the "Barcelona" tag, the worst would be known as the "village pub team".

So, if you are a teacher, which team do you think they might call you? Are you perhaps a "Manchester United" - someone with a long and distinguished reputation for inspiring, league table-topping performances? Or perhaps you are an "Arsenal" - pretty to watch and full of invention but perhaps not offering quite enough steel to grind out the best results. An "Arsenal" mysteriously underachieves at the end of each season. If, on the other hand, you feel that your pupils achieve acceptable results but that your performances lack the extra spark that would take you into the realms of greatness then you will presumably get the "Everton" tag.

Or will you be considered a "Leeds United" - once a formidable performer but someone for whom the golden days are perhaps gone for ever? As for me, I am probably playing for the Six Bells Reserves in the Tavistock and District League Division 7 - certainly on a bad day.

So let us all await our respective names in our respective leagues. When you wake up one day to read the headline: "Are your children's teachers top of the Premier League or floundering in the Spartan South Midlands? Free CD inside" just remember that I did warn you.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire. 

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