“We need our BMWs,” sums up the response from the Swale Academy Trust, defending the decision to spend a large chunk of their budget on executive cars rather than on more obvious forms of educational investment. The head of the trust, for instance, needed to be “safe and comfortable” in his journeys between the different Kent and East Sussex schools.
I can sympathise. I was brought up in Kent. I have driven the Badlands between Eastbourne, Maidstone and Sittingbourne, the same lawless landscapes through which those Swale Academy executives must boldly go. No way should any executive be expected to travel in such terrain in their own humble car. A slick and robust BMW – capable of quickly accelerating the executive away from any trouble – is the very least that is required.
Motoring doesn’t get much scarier: mile after mile of sinister, cowled oast-houses clustered together like witches covens, countless drug farms (aka hop fields) that continue to ruin so many human lives, cold if seemingly pretty clapper-board villages hiding dark and brutal secrets, all those wayside Kentish bandits with their offerings of flowers and freshly-picked fruit. This is before we have even reached those perilous mountains known, with quaint local understatement, as the North and South Downs. This is no place for an ordinary car.
Part of my heroic father’s job for the Kent authority was to visit every single school (a few hundred more schools than the eleven in the Swale Academy) and – incredibly – he went about the county in the same humble Ford Sierra. God only knows how he survived. We used to wave him off tearfully each morning, not knowing whether we would see him again.
So, rather than lambasting the leaders of this trust, we should be questioning whether a mere car is quite “safe and comfortable” enough for them. Are there not some securer alternatives?
I understand, for instance, that the latest and upgraded Challenger 2 British Army tank handles well and is a really quite comfortable ride these days. A trust executive could reach up to about 40mph on key Kent roads like the A20 and A249 and, if late for a meeting, the tank can always be taken on a few scenic short-cuts through fields, rivers and low-level housing. New ones start at £4 million (tanks, I mean, not trust executives) and there are probably some much cheaper deals on the used-tank market.
Tanks parked up in school playgrounds may, however, not sit comfortably with everyone. A trust executive perhaps needs to present a more human face when turning up at a school – in fact, maybe present a horse’s face too, for surely the best all-round option is a trusty high-spec steed. A horse can handle most Kent terrain and even the roughest elements on Kent's highways and byways will back away deferentially from a mounted executive.
If the Swale top brass are seen regularly galloping across the county’s horizon on horseback – on their way, like chivalrous knights, to support and protect another school – this would surely command immediate awe and respect. The trust's teachers and pupils would no longer feel any resentment about executive pay and perks – just pride. It's the perfect brand image. The symbol for Kent is a horse; the Swale Academy Trust would literally ride on the back of it. The way ahead is clear – and it goes clip-clop.
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire. For more from Stephen, see his back catalogue
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