Learning to love Big Dave

Paul Strong

In which Winston - hero of Orwell's dystopian vision Nineteen-Eighty Four - is re-educated so that he can appreciate all-seeing, all-inspecting Ofsted. By Paul Strong

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks at school were striking 13. At one end of the ministry of re-education, a coloured poster had been tacked to the wall. It was one of those pictures that was so contrived that the eyes followed you wherever you moved. There was no escape from that all- intrusive visage. The caption beneath it read: "Big Dave is watching you" as the doleful tune of the great Bell rang out.

The people cowered. They had known a more enlightened regime. Big Chris was no more and they had come to terms with Big Mike.

They had liked Big Mike, for he was a righteous man, a man of honour and fairness. An understanding man. But, too late, they now realised he was but "a fleeting shaft of light", "a sputtering flame" extinguished by the power of Big Charles.

Things had changed and they had changed for the better, Winston was told.

They had been seduced by Big Mike and now, by orders of the hirsute one, they were in fear and dread as to who would be next to be "named and shamed" and cast into the fires of "DfES", there to suffer eternal inspection, humiliation and redundancy at a moment's notice (well, at least one working day).

The voice from the telescreen said, in a grave tone: "You are warned of an important announcement within one working day. One working day. This is news of the highest importance and you are not to miss it! One working day."

The music from the telescreen stopped and a voice took over. It was but a brief announcement from the ministry of spin. The six year "cycle of inspection" had just been reduced to three years. Rejoice! More inspections would be carried out. Productivity had been doubled. Inspections would be just as rigorous and detailed, yet the number of inspectors would be reduced.

Winston remembered what he had been taught in re-education. That two plus two equalled five. He understood and did due homage to the "Blessed Big Gordon". He felt a welter of pride, as he recalled how Big Gordon had explained why two plus two equalled five, and why his inadequate 3 per cent increase in pay had to result in a real re-education of his disposable income.

Winston loved Big Gordon.

"They can't get inside you," he had been told. But they could get inside you. They could threaten you with something, something you could not stand up to. You might think there was no other way of saving yourself and you would save yourself in any way. You wanted them to do it to the other person and you wouldn't give a damn what they suffered. All you cared about was your self-preservation.

He was confused and bewildered by the fact that those he had grown up with, taught with and thought his friends had been seduced by the "dark side".

They had ceased to be inspecting and supporting to achieve the universal goal of "improvement". They were now "policing". They were the "EduPolice" enjoying the same unbridled and undemocratic powers as the hated "VATPolice". They were all-knowing, all-intrusive and all-powerful.

And, then, the telescreens howled into his consciousness. A vast armada of inspectors had triumphed. A sudden unexpected incursion and intrusion within one working day had produced "an utter rout - half of the enemy taken prisoner - complete demoralisation - control - victory, victory, victory!"

Winston gazed up at the enormous face. It had taken but two years for him to loathe Big Mike.

Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of Winston's nose. But, it was all right, all was calm, the struggle was finished.

He loved Big Dave.

Paul Strong is headteacher of William Farr Church of England comprehensive, Lincoln (with apologies to George Orwell)

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