Arnold's world

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Apart from a certificate awarded by the Junior Red Cross Society in recognition of the splendid things I can do with a triangular bandage, I have no formal qualifications in medicine. I do, however, make an effort to keep abreast of the latest trends, and have for several months acted - in a purely voluntary capacity - as medical adviser to the Teacher Training Agency.

When I first approached the TTA, I honestly believed that the best way to avert a serious shortfall in teacher numbers was not to chase after new recruits but to keep those presently employed at work for as long as possible. I thought that, with a sustained programme of hip replacements andor a fleet of bath chairs, the staff of most schools could be kept in harness, however reluctantly, well into their 90s.

At that advanced age, I recognised, some teachers simply wouldn't feel up to it. But I hoped that the boffins could be persuaded to develop a suitable stimulant. It would work like Viagra - except that users, after the initial hot flush, would suddenly feel an uncontrollable urge to mark a set of exercise books.

I was, of course, being terribly naive. An army of old and experienced teachers is unlikely to appeal to a Government that is hell-bent on the most radical programme of reform in state education since the Butler Act. The old guard, despite the battering they have received, remain far too opinionated, principled and bloody-minded to accept that politicians know more about education than they do.

So the TTA must go in search of new recruits to the profession. Its cinema commercials, sadly, seem to miss the point. Because you deeply admired one of your teachers, doesn't mean that you want to follow in his or her footsteps. Many young people admire Mother Theresa and Richard Branson, but that isn't to say that they want to do spend the rest of their lives doing good works in Calcutta - or have more teeth than are strictly necessary.

The TTA will have to look elsewhere - and, as usual, medical science has the answer. Dr Richard Seed is a Harvard biologist who claims to be busily at work cloning copies of himself. He told viewers of Channel 5's The Clone Rangers that he had the know-how and the wherewithal to knock out as many as 500 little Richard Seeds every year. If Mr Blunkett allows electronic calculators at the TTA, the whizz-kids will have them out, busily calculating how long it would take to fill the nation's emptying staffrooms with clones of a Harvard professor.

Of course, a teaching force of suitable clones would solve that other problem facing the Government. To steamroller through its reforms, it needs a teacher population as compliant as the rows of automata that filled the auditorium at this year's Labour party conference.

I doubt if Dr Seed, who seems to enjoy rocking the boat, will be short-listed as a suitable DNA donor. There is a case for asking Chris Woodhead to contribute a dollop of his, but I am afraid he has shown himself to be far too bloody-minded, opinionated and principled for the Government to risk having more than one of him. Instead, I am urging the TTA to approach Professor Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh University. Perhaps they can be prevailed upon to make a few more thousand copies of Dolly, the sheep.

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