All present and correct

19th January 1996 at 00:00
As if it wasn't bad enough that every school has to have a policy on everything from sex education to stationery, that these laboriously hand-crafted documents (hacked out of the living silicon on the school's word processor) have to be "owned" by the "whole school community" so that "each individual" can be "empowered", the wretched things have to be "in place" for the visit of the dreaded Office for Standards in Education.

How, pray, can a policy be in place? If it is not tied to a corner of the whiteboard with string, or languishing in the resources cupboard with discarded history worksheets from the days of the Gestetner, where is its proper place?

One place you will find many is in the school booklet. There they are, page after page of deliberations of teachers probably dying to get home at the end of a staff meeting, all resulting in stiff sentences which say things like "everyone in the school is a person deserving of respect" (as opposed to people outside the school who don't?) or "religious worship is of a broadly christian nature" (as opposed to one built on original sin?). But does anyone read these policies?

And if they do read them, what then? As you witness a scrap in the playground, is the policy eschewing physical attack of more than idle interest? If you are wrestling with a hyperactive pupil, three recent refugees and a seriously gifted mathematician, is a policy which upholds the school's commitment to "equality of access" and "differentiation in teaching and learning styles" anything more than a fantastic irritant?

Ah, said Browning, a man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? Policies likewise, a local authority apparatchik told me, uphold ideals as a "beacon of excellence". Practice, on this reading, need have no more than a nodding acquaintance with policy. We may have axed the youth orchestra, but "entitlement" to a "balanced curriculum" of arts education is "enshrined in policy".

It is policy to "monitor" the mounting increase in head lice infestation, though it was "unavoidable rationalisation" to get rid of Nitty Nora the school nurse. I wonder where that policy is in place?

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