College 13 blasts off on a mission impossible

4th July 2003 at 01:00
"Coventry, we have a problem!" Our difficult and dangerous mission launched in 1993 in a craft called "Incorporation" - now I was trying to bring the college back down to Earth in it.

Our mission, involving some astronomical growth numbers, had been to reach for the moon; but the technology was untested and budget cuts eventually took their toll. The craft became unstable as the computers gave increasingly unreliable readings. Finally, many of the crew chose to remain on the moon as the pay and conditions were better But I knew the ground staff at Mission Control in Coventry (though they were not the ones who launched us) were there to help: hence my message:

"Coventry, we have a problem." After an age, the radio crackled into life and a reply came through: "Copy, college 13, so do we. Can we get back to you?" I pointed out to them that my position was critical. I hadn't enough fuel for the remaining journey and most of my systems were down, I was flying blind and needed urgent help."

"'Roger that, College 13. Have you read Circulars 0206, 0301,0302, 0306 and 0309 on quality, success, planning and development?" I pointed out that I had been rather busy lately and apologised for not getting round to it.

"Really, College 13, What planet are you on? How can you expect us to help you when you won't help yourself? They tell you what you have to do. For example, paragraph 18 of 0309 points out the crucial importance of a development plan. However, we don't seem to have received yours and we can only help once we have.

"Secondly, in accordance with Theme 1 in Success for All, we need you to redefine your mission. Shouldn't take long. Out."

"Roger, Coventry. My mission is to go the moon; to boldly go where no educational establishment had been before and make contact with unskilled life-forms with extra-terrestrial postcodes."

"Copy that, College 13. But there's been a rethink here at Mission Control.

We have our own strategic plan now and according to that, you should be doing internal flights in Birmingham. Only Craft of Vertical Excellence are allowed up there. Get back here as soon as you can so we can sort you out.

By the way, College 13, in your absence, we have reviewed the performance of your craft. It isn't looking good. You could be eligible for a spot of local intervention. For example, it is far too hot in your command module."

"But, Coventry, it's bloody freezing up here!"

"Nonsense, 13. We are only using data supplied by your computers and it is telling us you are overheating. We expect your development plan to show how you intend to strip off and stuff ice cubes in your mouth.

"Secondly, your management performance is giving us some serious concerns.

Our data - supplied by you, don't forget - suggests that you will fail to reach your target. You should be well into re-entry mode by now but are still out there bouncing off the audit asteroid belt.

"And you are failing to engage aliens in a responsive way. Using your own data, 97 per cent of aliens on Pluto have never heard of you. Until you start to hit these targets, we shall be unable to supply you with more fuel or a re-entry shield. Out."

"Roger, Mission Control. This may not be the time to fall out. What would you like us to do?"

"That's more like it, College 13. Firstly, given that the old measures suggest you are just so much space debris, we are interested in developing new measures of success (paragraph 128 in 0309, by the way). Could you suggest some data to help us evaluate how good you really are?'

"Coventry, how about landing safely with a full cargo?"

"Too simple, college 13. We are looking for a big WOW factor. Get your tape measure out and, if you can spare the time, send us a few cabin size, inside leg and pressure measurements; there must be plenty of ways to celebrate your success even if you don't actually make it all the way back in one piece!"

"Copy, Coventry. By the way, the redefined mission seems to be working already; we are just about to hit the Earth's atmosphere. Anything you can do to stop us burning?"

"Sorry, college 13, it's time for our violin lessons, but we think we know some people who can assist you."

"Well, Coventry, they better be quick..."

"Don't worry, college 13, there's a team of 30 Ofsted inspectors on their way to you as we speak!"

"Coventry, we have a problem."

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