For Alan Shearer, read Tinky Winky

5th September 1997 at 01:00
August is known as the silly season. This is largely because schools are shut and journalists feel they can mess about while their former teachers are away.

"What on earth do you think you are doing, writing all that rubbish? You can do better than that. Now sit up straight, get a clean sheet of paper and start again. Write something sensible. Nothing silly. And make sure it's in your neatest handwriting".

"Sorry Miss".

The fuss about the BBC Teletubbies series is a prime example. For anyone who was out of the country in late August, let me explain that the Teletubbies are four rotund furry puppets, called Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Po and Laa-Laa, who have television sets in their midriffs and who talk a funny language.

Instead of saying "Hello", they say "Haro" to each other. There, I knew you would be shocked. Apparently "pundits" have claimed that this will ruin children's language for the rest of their lives. "Haro, Your Majesty", the Prime Minister of the day will say to some foreign dignitary in the year 2050, and World War 5 will break out.

Anyone who believes that most children cannot distinguish harmless nonsense words from good sense does not understand them. Many create their own "in" language with friends or family anyway. Understanding a "secret" code, even if it is known to millions of others, is part of the fun of being a child.

In any case, nonsense language is a central feature of the human race. When one of the Teletubbies says "Tinky Winky biddle boddle", he is simply preparing children who may in future want to join the teaching profession.

One day they will be able to understand the language of National Vocational Qualifications, or the literature on kwality in education.

Unless, of course, the critics are right. Maybe the compilers of NVQs watched Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot Men, when they were young. That could explain why they write in their literature, "The underpinning knowledgeunderstanding - ooh, flubbalubba - and the range statements - ooh flubbalubbalubba - as well as the performance criteria - ooh flubbalubbalubbaloo . . ."

Perhaps the kwality fetishists were raised on the Clangers, those little knitted creatures who whistled and cooed their way through children's television programmes. "Quality assurance is best delivered when the - whooooooo whooooooooooooo . . ." It all begins to make sense now.

I was still mortified to hear that the Teletubbies were going to be made sensible and grown-up. Anna Home, head of children's programming at the BBC, said: "It may be there is a need to get into more traditional speech. There may be some modifications and we may hear some more adult language".

More adult language? No, steady on Anna, don't do it. Ride the criticisms. Grown-up speech is not all it's cracked up to be.

"I say, Tinky Winky, have you been delivered of most of the programmes of learning and completed the attainment targets of key stage 1?" "No, Laa Laa. But I have fulfilled all the desirable learning outcomes of the pre-school phase of education." Biddle boddle, Anna. Keep the Teletubbies childlike.

A German television executive then stated that they would not be shown on that country's television as they were too scary, saying: "These are like spacemen. I think they will frighten our children."

Perhaps the only chance we have of winning next year's World Cup is to pick Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Po and Laa-Laa as the back four of the England football team, if they scare the pants off foreigners.

No silly season would be complete without at least one story that sounds daft, but turns out to be true. The Office for Standards in Education, the spiritual home of the Teletubbies, can usually be relied upon to provide one or two of these, and this summer was no exception.

The best was an announcement from Tinky Winky Woodhead about the grading system for teachers when watched by inspectors. You may recall that teachers used to be placed on a five-point scale. Last year this was changed to a seven-point scale. In future it will be a three-point scale.

If you are wondering when you last saw so many rapid changes of mind and policy in such a short space of time, then it was back in 1991. Between May and September that year, the science national curriculum had first 17, then five and eventually four attainment targets. I am trying to recall who was in a very senior post at the National Curriculum Council in those vacillating times. Ah yes. Haro again, Tinky Winky Woodhead.

All OFSTED inspectors will in future dress as Teletubbies and rate teachers on the new, rigorous three-point scale. Grade 1 will mean "Haro teacher. Dipsy thinks you are brilliant, but occasionally crap". Grade 2 indicates "Laa Laa says you are good, but sometimes crap", and grade 3 will mean "Tinky Winky says you are biddle boddle crap". Anyone suggesting there is a hidden agenda will have a television inserted into his midriff.

Another belter in late July was a review of school inspection reports by OFSTED itself. Apparently some of these contain the very same mistakes that inspectors are supposed to criticise in children's writing. There were grammatical, syntactical, spelling and punctuation errors. Worse, a number of suspect judgments were highlighted, such as the inspectors who said teaching was "satisfactory overall", when 43 per cent of it was rated unsatisfactory or poor.

Stunning comments were cited, such as the startling conclusion "Where teaching is good, pupils are challenged". Confucius could not have put it better. I would rank that alongside some of the great human insights of the age, such as "When it rains, you might get wet", or "If it's Friday today, yesterday must have been Thursday".

Haro, haro, haro. This is pure biddle boddle flubbalubba, Tinky Winky.

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