After Sir Michael Wilshaw’s weekend tirade on the re-creation of “secondary moderns by another name”, it seems safe to assume that a fuming prime minister was immediately on the line to the Department for Education. She’s sick of this “secondary modern” taunt. So I imagine she’s given Justine and team 24 hours to give her a credible-sounding new name to describe the future status of all those, er, no-longer-comprehensives.
The name must give the impression that those 75 per cent of secondary schools were all part of the Great New Vision after all, rather than a complete afterthought. “Nothing binary-sounding, trite, patronising or open to ridicule”, Ms May will have stipulated.
It was a tough ask, but she has insisted that she must have something impressive-sounding to wave at the likes of Wilshaw and the rest.
What's in a name?
Here’s the list I imagine a beleaguered secretary of state will offer her, along with her various scrawled notes to the PM against each one:
1. Strictly secondaries: many parents love to hear of an emphasis on discipline in schools. And, Theresa, lots of your “working class” enjoy watching dancing competitions. This name would appeal on both counts. 2. Powerhouses: Osborne texted us suggesting this one, bless him. I think the man’s a bit obsessed. 3. Grammar school lites: do you agree that with this name we could disarm hundreds of thousands of potentially disgruntled parents? Everyone gets to go to some kind of a grammar school. 4. Skills colleges: suitably vague but positive. Year 7 boys love “skilling each other up” with nutmegs and the like so the “skills” bit may go down well after they have failed the test. 5. Growth gyms: indicative of a commitment to growth mindset and also suggestive of those elite German "Gymnasia" schools. There is some concern, though, that the allusion to growth mindset might undermine the whole notion of having grammar schools. 6. Sick schools: "sick" as in youth-speak for awesome, though not sure how long the adjective will keep its new meaning. 7. Non-selective schools: Nick Gibb was very pleased with himself on this one: “Just does what is says on the tin.” Although, might it constantly remind children that they “weren’t selected”?
8. Development schools: the word “development” is fashionable in junior sport for describing what used to be called “B team” matches. They seem to have got away with it, so… 9. Technology schools: we quite liked this as “technological” can mean all things to all men in 2016. It can be anything from working on cutting-edge robotics to winning The Great British Bake-Off.
Or how about 10. Comprehensives: I'm just putting this name and idea out there again, prime minister. That is, perhaps we could scrap this whole “grammar” plan so that we can stick to this? It's so much easier to think of the best name in your head when you have the best idea in your head.
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire