Spin me sunshine in your smiley

If you want a relaxing time, plenty of laughter, a jolly interlude after a busy school year, then don't go away to Benidorm or Blackpool. Stay at home and read the newspapers. This summer was hilarious. The Department for Education and Skills spin doctors spun their webs, there were chuckles galore and some events were even dafter than usual, if that is possible.

Standards of journalism fell for the 20th year in a row, or was that A-level results? The memory can play cruel tricks after weeks of undiluted mirth. The Office for Standards in Education produced one of its more lyrically stupid inspirations, and the Government launched its annual bombshell at the customary time of early August, when schools were safely shut down. Tee hee, the teachers are away. By the time they get back it will be old news.

This year's midsummer pronouncement, assiduously hyped round the newspapers by the two DFES spin doctors, Morecambe and Wise, was the proposal that new teachers would not, in future, flog their way up an incremental scale, but would be subject to annual appraisals, which might or might not lead to salary progression. The new cinema recruiting slogan will be: "Join the teaching profession and earn . . . er . . . search me, guv".

OFSTED's little gem was about pupils assessing teachers' professional competence. A scheme is being piloted whereby children as young as three will evaluate their teachers during school inspections. To help with this process, since the little twinkies would be unlikely to write "Her handling of deviancy and challenging behaviour is above the national average", there will be sheets of smiling or frowning faces for children to tick.

I swear I am not making this up, by the way. In fact, we in the satirists'

union are getting jolly sick, I can tell you, at real life beating satire every time. Whenever I think I have gone right over the top and fashioned some piece of fictitious lunacy, out leap Morecambe and Wise to spin another government wheeze that trumps my ace. Satire nowadays is just copying out one of their press releases.

Indeed, the official view of early-years education has now become so daft it is a rich inspiration for those in need of a laugh. DFES statisticians are keen to play with lots of digits describing three to five-year-olds, so over the summer there have been consultations about assessing children at the end of the foundation stage.

These proposals involve teachers in assigning up to nine levels for each of six "areas of learning", such as maths, literacy, or personal development. Every pupil, therefore, will be graded on 54 items in total. That means 54 ticks or crosses, 54 labels, 54 assessments of each little twinky. Might as well start early on the examination treadmill.

Wait until parents get hold of this. I would not like to be present at the obligatory consultations that have to take place with them, when Mr Farnes Barnes discovers that young Horace has only been given a level 6 for social competence, while Mrs Scattergood next door has been boasting that her smart daughter Laetitia was awarded a grade 9. The main beneficiaries will be private tutors and the Kenneth Baker Rest Home for Broken Teachers.

So we now have the farcical situation of teachers assigning endless grades to nursery age pupils, who in turn award their mentor smiley faces when the inspectors call. In this assessment-mad world, everybody assesses everybody else, from cradle onwards. Award the cat a mark of 10, get children to assess their hamster for social development, ask grandma to appraise the window cleaner. Give each newly born baby a baseline mark out of 54, then we can check value-added parenting.

How about grading the wheeze merchants?

I award three out of 54 for the wally who dreamed up the idea of classroom assistants taking classes entirely on their own, while teachers sat in the staffroom preparing the next lesson for their classroom assistant to teach.

We should mark inspectors as well. Two out of 10 for the pompous prat whose sole experience of inner-city schools was to drive past one. Full marks for the registered inspectors who have the courage to abandon Ofstedspeak and talk in plain English. Nought out of 10 for the inspector who fell asleep at the back of a science laboratory and was gleefully photographed by the teacher. Heads and governors can present Ofsted teams with a set of ticked smiley faces.

I know where I would like to stick all these pieces of August spin doctoring. The only question is how Morecambe and Wise would get them back out again.

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