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A SIP leaves a bad taste

X will provide expert support to secondary schools in their drive to raise standards and improve the education of all pupils." The Department for Education and Skills, its predecessors and its cousins everywhere have been reproducing this sentence since forever.

If you glare too hard at a DfES computer it will trot it out in self-defence. It was recently the key to translating some hieroglyphics in a cave in Mali. It is the Rosetta Stone of education.

The X, of course, changes. Old Xs wear out or become outmoded. But, have you noticed, there is always another X ready? An X is ever with us. Where do these Xs come from? I believe that deep in the bowels of the DfES there is a department devoted solely to producing Xs. I cannot prove it: brave men have gone to find it and not returned. Within this department, which I call Department X, educational geniuses with dubious social skills and complicated sexual preferences strive endlessly to develop ever better providers of expert support.

Now the new model has arrived. The latest X to head that time-honoured sentence is the school improvement partner, or SIP.

This is the trouble with geniuses: they're rubbish at names, and really, really bad at acronyms. Any X worthy of the letter should be thrusting, dynamic, someone who arrives in a whirlwind of energy to inspire and rejuvenate. For this you need someone called ZAP or POW. Anyone who watched Batman on television at a formative age can provide lots of possibilities.

But what do we get? SIP.

Can you imagine something called a SIP being the answer to the prayers of a harassed headteacher, plummeting into the league table abyss while the students steal the lead from the roof?

No. A SIP will not conquer. A SIP will be found within a week in the middle of a dual carriageway tied to an interactive whiteboard. And possibly interacting with it. SIPs stay in on Saturday evenings to iron their socks.

Nevertheless, more than 1,000 people applied to be SIPs last year, and only 250 have made it to accredited SIP-dom. That means there are over 750 failed SIPs out there somewhere. They probably don't go out much anymore.

Still, no need to worry. The boffins are all busy boffining away. Soon all the SIPs will be ex-SIPS, and a new X will be born.

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