101 reasons why I'm nostalgic

21st February 1997 at 00:00
Nadia gave me the latest lowdown a week ago. Sultana was about to be rusticated to her aunty's (Nadia's not Sultana's) because she had proved unwilling to co-operate with the intense efforts lavished on her to follow relatively low grade instructions like sit or walk. As well as this persistent stubborn streak, Sultana had never developed a liking for the niceties. Her habits, Nadia hinted, had remained implacably anti-social in matters of personal hygiene. Sultana, in the local vernacular, was for the off.

I feel a little responsible. I had been party to the idea that the upper school Christmas treat should be a visit to view 101 Dalmatians and Nadia had gone to it. Soon after, it became clear that she had fallen in love with the idea of a dog for Christmas. Bad enough if you are vulnerable to the bug, but I suspect that Nadia wheedled 101 Dalmatians in cartoon form out of her parents as well, and the combined cocktail of emotion, cuddly dog, and wickedness defeated proved deadly. Sultana was the result, but alas no more. There is the basis for a modern morality play somewhere there.

In my bit, as the locals say, a dog's life means what it says. I am unsure if I can apply the expression pecking order to what happens, but there are few sights guaranteed to bring your heart to your mouth with the speed of sound than watching a white-muzzled, nondescript canine amalgam sprinting for its life, pursued by a rottweiler, and both of them making for the open school gate in the middle of playtime. Sultana is better out of it, destined to become a less than fond memory, and that only when olfactory influences dominate. The same can be said for many of the less animated presents that were received for Christmas - many are not even a memory. Only the pay-up costs remain.

Some survive, though. Action Man has proved a perennial visitor to the cloakrooms, sporting a variety of aggressive costume changes and weaponry, living, if that is the right word, proof that the person who persuaded boys to play with dolls was a magician of PR skills who has made the Pied Piper look like a zombie. The other side of the cloakroom is Barbie's boudoir, and her costume changes beggar belief, as do her make-up and accessories, and that includes Ken. What surprises me is that there are no signs of Buzz Lightyear, this year's sell-out character from Disney's Toy Story. Perhaps my children are traditionalists at heart.

Certainly their headteacher is beginning to feel a little like the Swiss Guards of the Vatican among whom a mysterious malady in the last century was diagnosed as simply nostalgia. My nostalgia is for the heady days of not so long ago. I do not mean times when we put in place the implications of class sizes and contracts, when requisitions were sent in to the Office, and formal policy-making was a delight lurking in the future. I hanker after the days when staff and self were finding our way through 5-14 English language and mathematics, puzzling over our path through assessment, and not looking forward to expressive arts. To do all this needed stability in the schools and calmness of approach, though it didn't seem like it at the time. That's all gone, and with it, morale. In its place are the Castor and Pollux of the 1990s, monetary disquiet and employment anxiety.

We have all been caught up in millennium fever. A lot of it is mystical eyewash, but there is a perception in society that expectations are likely to be fulfilled in a few years' time, that things are going to get better, that the good days are ahead. Education is seen as being in the forefront of this, an essential component of such expectation, and my fear is that unless society sees education actually doing some of this leading soon, being a force for stability, and not remaining permanently a political plaything, then it will lose permanently whatever influence and credibility it has left, and this its ability to change things.

Only politicians can restore that stability, because they have the power to control it, and they must do it soon for the good of our children. Nadia's prospects may be no better than Sultana's.

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