Back in the saddle with league tables

19th January 1996 at 00:00
I feel pathetic. I was stumbling through one of those cathedrals to car maintenance that have sprung up in recent years on the outskirts of our major cities. Gleaming tools and bits of machinery were everywhere; big hairy men, with oily overalls, shouted things like "torque" and "valve clearance".

Lost in ignorance, I wished I'd paid more attention to Gregor Steele's columns. Maybe he should instigate a helpline for the mechanically challenged with a mobile number that could be called when we felt automotively inadequate; he could call it Skodaphone.

I eventually reached my destination at the back of the hangar: the bicycle shop. January being father and son birthday month, and the junior partner having been promised a bike, I felt I should take a giant wobble into eco-consciousness, and return to the saddle myself.

My, what changes since I last casually flung my leg over the Raleigh Countryman I had been given for passing the 11-plus. (Idle thought: what rite of passage now bequeaths a new bike to children in these comprehensive, non-selective times?) My old bike had no gears at all: some of these have 21. What would I do with them all? Even my car has only five (I think).

An assistant approached me with a strap-like contraption that might have come from a Cynthia Payne end-of-season sale. When he started muttering about inside leg measurements, I claimed to be browsing and fled, trying on a helmet to cover my embarrassment. On noticing at least three bystanders stuffing their months with tissues to stifle the incipient laughter, I quickly removed the offending article and looked about for escape.

There was a league table of "Best Bikes" on the wall, which I scanned hopefully, but found nothing to suggest what model would be most suitable for "Fortysomething Dad, returning to saddle after 25 years". Miserable and confused, I hurried out, almost knocking over a board containing a league table of the most effective brands of anti-freeze.

The end-of-holiday blues hit me; school on Monday, and more league tables there, no doubt, judging by the press over the past weeks, and all of them value added, vitamin enhanced and digitally remastered for stereo as well, for all I know.

I can recognise, as a parent, the need to supply information that might aid the choices I make for my child's education, and, as a teacher, I'm not averse to self-evaluation and target setting. I'm just not sure that the league tables, on everything from Highers results to attendance and costs, are providing information that is wide ranging enough to be meaningful.

How about a measurement of the value added to each pupil's self-esteem in their time at secondary, or a guide to the development within the school's roll of concern for others?

More cynically, perhaps we should be listing how many family weekends are ruined by teachers' need to catch up on marking, preparation and paperwork; or how many jannies have inadvertently received frizzy perms while attempting to restore electrical circuits in sodden temporary hutted units.

The trouble is, I suspect, that it is just not possible to compose a league table that does justice to that vital part of the curriculum which, perforce, we must call "hidden". So, for the present, as both a teacher and a Hibs supporter, I have to conclude that league tables, like my interest in them, must remain purely academic.

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