'A good service is operating on all lines'

11th January 2008 at 00:00

This is a fact. It must be true. It rings out over the public address system almost every morning as I shuffle my way into the office on the Tube.

Admittedly, my fellow passengers don't look like they agree with London Underground's self-assessment - huddled together with shoulders hunched like an old Eastern Bloc meat queue.

A good service? Even to be satisfactory, surely, would mean being able to pay for one's journey without standing in a queue and then to be able to sit down. A good service would be all these things with the addition of a gentle neck massage and a gin and tonic brought on a silver tray.

But then this is academic. The words "satisfactory", "good" and "service" do not apply to any part of the British public transport system.

All this brings to mind the debate about the words "good" and "satisfactory" in Ofsted reports. According to the Learning and Skills Council, "satisfactory" is not good enough - colleges should be graded at least "good". In other words, in colleges, "satisfactory" is being described as "good", and "poor" is called "satisfactory", while on Ken Livingstone's London transport system, "incredibly bad" is described as "good". What Ofsted, London Underground and the LSC have in common is that they presume to know better than the customer. Everyone who uses the Tube or local colleges will know how good they are.

Now that Ofsted is planning to give up classroom inspection and reinvent itself as a paperwork monitoring quango, we could leave it up to the students to rate the actual teaching.

Of course, with education and training soon to be compulsory up to the age of 18, listening to the needs of customers in order to keep their business won't be as important as it used to be.

But previous surveys have shown that students rate colleges very highly - so at least lecturers would get an annual reminder that they are appreciated by the people who count.

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