Acronyms? Make it up as you go along

30th March 2001 at 01:00
David Marriott offers new governors a light-hearted guide to education speak. It's time to try out those TLAs

ONE of the most confusing things for a new governor is the plethora of acronyms that crop up in documents, meetings and in training.

CATS, PANDAS and PICSIs seem to have been invented with the sole purpose of catching out the unsuspecting newcomer. And so many sound the same.

What exactly is the difference between EBD and an EDP? Is the IT in ICT the same IT as in ITT? It can take ages to understand and remember them all.

Even then, you can't afford to relax. Just as you've reached a stage where AWPU or EAZ trip off the tongue as easily as "industrial tribunal" and "deficit budget", they change or disappear. Like a Hydra's head, get rid of one and several new ones sprout in its place.

It can drive you round the bend unless you make acronyms work for you. The most important thing is to have fun with them. If, like me, you're a crossword puzzle addict, you'll see straight away that acronyms lend themselves to hours of innocent pleasure. Here are a few games you can try.

Alternative acronyms

Any acronym could stand for one or more phrases other than the official version. Look at your fellow governors. 'Andy wears pink underwear' could just as easily be the meaning of AWPU as age- weighted pupil unit. Or how about another wearisome pointless utterance?

Test your creativity with some of the more recherche acronyms on the list, like NPQSL or SWGFL. If you've a slightly rude turn of mind, make a beeline for acronyms containing particular letters of the alphabet. I think that's enough of a hint for now.

Catch me if you can

Peppering your conversation with acronyms can make you sound as if you know what you're talking about. It can also make you sound like a pompous twerp. It's a good wheeze to catch out the worst culprits by asking them what that last acronym they mentioned actually stands for. The chances are they'll have forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place

You need to choose your moment carefully if you don't want egg on your face, though. Some acronyms are easier to unpack than others.

Blue Peter

Why are there so many acronyms in education? It's because they're easy to make up. So why not make up a few for yourself and start introducing them into your conversation? Don't go over the top to start with. Most acronyms have only two or three letters, so avoid the longer ones to begin with. Make sure you have a plausible explanation of what it stands for in case you're challenged.

TLA (three letter acronym) is a good starter for 10. This game also uses the skills you developed in playing alternative acronyms. It's what's known in educational circles as the reinforcement of learning (TROL) or the spiral curriculum (TSC). You've won when somebody else uses one you made up earlier (OYMUE).

A cross stick

An acrostic is a piece of writing - usually a poem - in which the first letters of each line, when read vertically, spell out a word or phrase.

Try one, starting with a longish acronym - or, better still, someone's name, such as WOODHEAD or BLUNKETT. The advanced player will strive to ensure that content matches style, so that the poem captures something of the essential character of the person or thing named vertically. A rhymed poem wins extra points. Deduct points for crude abuse.

Doctor's orders

Education isn't the only profession to generate an endless series of impenetrable acronyms. Your GP has limited space to note observations about you on your medical record.

See if you can guess what these stand for: FLK; OAP; PAFO; TEETH; GOK; SIG and TUBE.

Acronyms can be fun. Instead of groaning when some bright spark at the Department for Education and Employment invents a new one, welcome it as a new opportunity to amaze your friends and liven up a dull meeting.

David Marriott is head of governor support at Wiltshire County Council and author of 'The Effective School Governor', Network Educational Press 1998

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