Russell some feathers

Stephen Petty

Are teachers thick? Yes they are, according to a recent correspondent to this magazine. He illustrated his point by citing the case of a teacher-neighbour who apparently struggled with simple multiplication and who could not recall the years of the last two general elections.

This was, of course, an unfair depiction of the profession. I suspect only about two-thirds of us are thick - and in some schools the proportion is lower. In a number of schools, the bright teacher may even predominate.

Whether we are intelligent or thick all depends nowadays, you see, on whether or not we are "Russell Group". In other words, did we go to one of those "proper" universities - the only places that Michael Gove mentions in his letters to Ofqual when asking for universities to help restore rigour to "A" levels - or did we go to some lesser institution in the world of Gove? That's what counts. That's what separates the sublime from the sub-prime these days.

Given that the call of the Russell is now the only one worth listening to, surely it's time that schools began to reflect this in their own staff hierarchy and culture? For starters, all the Russell Group graduates at a school should be invited to take over the running of the place, whatever they might be like as teachers or managers. Dim, non-Russell colleagues should shut up and listen.

Any senior teacher with a so-called degree from a lesser place should pack away their gaudy desk trinkets and vacate their office immediately. They should swap places with the highest-qualified Russell on the staff.

The Russells should be allowed to use force if necessary. They are now the Corleones of secondary education. They have always made Ucas offers that no A-grade student felt able to refuse, but now they are beginning to control the entire neighbourhood. The mysterious Fischer Family used to rule the roost. Not any more.

Every staffroom should now have a "Russell only" zone, solely for the use of the said elite teaching staff. This specially designed new suite should take the traditional gentlemen's club as its model. It should be furnished with elegant wood-panelling and classical works of art. Any non-Russell on a free period should be on hand to provide refreshments as required. There should also be some en suite bathrooms, well away from where the lumpen-proletariat teachers may wash. The rest of the staff should be left with the regular dilapidated furniture and furred-up kettle.

This new form of discrimination should be welcomed. A divided profession is a dynamic profession. We have had enough of all that old-fashioned staff unity. Look how more productive things are now that we have that (once seemingly needless) EBac GCSEECac GCSE subject schism. And just consider how much more dynamically disunited a school will be if a more full-on payment-by-results system gets the go-ahead. But we need the government to create still more competition, more disunity. We need the staffroom itself to be a market-place, where the need to be a Russell will first become essential for senior posts and one day a requirement of the profession itself. So come on, Michael Gove. Make it happen.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in 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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