A wee act of defiance

20th February 2004 at 00:00
At last I have solved the mystery that has baffled the world for months.

While the finest inspectors have been looking in vain for weapons of mass destruction, the solution came to me in a blinding moment of inspiration, through a dense black mist, as I was reading a piece of spin doctor twaddle.

The latest official propaganda I was perusing stated that the Government was considering whether to make the literacy and numeracy hours less prescriptive.

Suddenly I realised that the answer to the missing weapons mystery lay in education policy. Instead of looking for weapons of mass destruction in places like Basra, we should have been seeking weapons of mass instruction in places like Barnsley.

Weapons of mass instruction are those detailed prescriptions forcing teachers to act in exactly the same way. They are right under our noses: the four-part literacy hour, the three-part numeracy hour, the identical 199 overhead projector transparencies used to instruct headteachers about performance-related pay, the wretched 117-item early-years assessment schedule which must be applied to every reception-class child.

Think about it. All the necessary ingredients are there in these biological and nuclear weapons - "biological" because they turn the brains of children and teachers to a fine mulch, "nuclear" because they are rotten to the core.

Ask anyone how many parts there were to their daily numeracy hour on February 3 this year. Answer: three. How many were there on February 3 last year? Three. How many will there be on February 3, 2005? Three, unless someone has the sense to blow up these weapons of mass instruction.

Further verification of this thesis comes from analysis of the notorious "45-minute" claim, which was clearly based on a misreading of military intelligence. What it said was that a numeracy hour could occupy as little as 45 minutes. Only in innumerate Britain would an hour last for 45 minutes.

Other weapons of mass instruction have been launched from great underground silos, like giving teachers the impression that their vitals will be severed if they depart from Qualifications and Curriculum Authority schemes of work.

These are, in fact, optional, but they have acquired "compulsory" status in many schools, with heads and teachers terrified to say "no" when the Office for Standards in Education asks if they are using them.

What an irony. In Iraq, teams of inspectors look for weapons of mass destruction so they can neutralise them. In England, teams of inspectors look for weapons of mass instruction so they can reinforce them.

What was chilling about the latest pronouncement from Herr Spinmeister that prompted this little homily, is that it said the Government was looking at prescriptions like the literacy and numeracy hour to decide whether they should be made less detailed, or indeed more detailed.

More detailed? Are you kidding, Herr Spinmeister? How, for goodness sake? Let me guess. Instructing teachers what to do every 15 seconds, instead of every 15 minutes? Telling them what coloured shoes to wear, when to sneeze, or what they should eat for lunch? When today's satire can readily become tomorrow's Act of Parliament, one hesitates to jest.

Presumably these new weapons of mass instruction would all be thought out by the same pale-faced policy wonks who dreamed up the "blue skies" idea of a school with no qualified teachers. In which case let me assist with yet more dreary, standardised, uniformly mind-numbing weaponry to launch at schools.

Why not script lessons? All teachers could be compelled to begin each session with "Good morning, my name is Mr Figgis". This will apply even if your name is Elspeth Scattergood. In fact we could make everyone change their name to Mr Figgis. It is a small price to pay for mass uniformity.

Next the teacher must say "What is the capital of France?" and call on Delia Dalek to answer (all children in the class must be given a moniker from the official list of state-approved pupil names).

The justification for weapons of mass instruction, of course, is the assertion that teachers have failed, so the only means of raising standards is for everyone to be blasted into a perfect cube. This is a bogus argument.

The real reason for the ludicrously detailed micro-management of "instruction" perpetrated in recent years, by both Labour and Conservative governments, is control.

In a remarkably close imitation of the solar system, ministers rotate around the Number 10 policy unit, while civil servants rotate around ministers. At the next stage heads are supposed to rotate round civil servants, while teachers spin obediently round headteachers.

Fortunately for the profession, many schools contain bolshie buggers who refuse to rotate. If the next mass instruction says that teachers are allowed a toilet break at 11am, strike a blow for freedom. Tiddle at 10.30am instead.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today