Count to 10 and forget about plans and tables

27th December 2007 at 00:00
Here are 10 things I hope to see and hear no more of in 2008:

1. Plans, as in Children's Plan. Plans were very big in the 1940s, when even the Americans had them. After the 1970s they went out because they were thought to betray a socialist mindset. They were replaced by programmes, strategies, schemes and roadmaps. Their return under Gordon Brown is no doubt intended to signify his wish to return to old Labour basics. But plans originally concerned matters in which governments had a proper role, such as the economy, jobs and transport. Now they herald more attempts to meddle in things, such as parenting and diet, which are none of their business.

2. League tables, whether national or international. They are forces for conformity, standardisation and caution. And are we seriously supposed to believe we can learn anything from comparisons with Russia, which topped one recent league table? Russia's election results aren't reliable, so why trust them on school tests?

3. Fee-charging schools and Oxbridge colleges claiming they have a "wide social mix". This usually means they've got a couple of plumbers' children in the latest intake. They should be prohibited by law from making any such claim unless they can show that at least 10 per cent of their parents come from one or more of the following groups: a) asylum-seekers, b) long-term disability benefit claimants, c) holders of criminal records, d) single mothers, e) travellers, f) father unknown.

4. Stories about schools banning hot-cross buns and nativity plays. In all my years in school - in England nearly half-a-century ago - I was never given a hot-cross bun. And I don't remember more than three or four nativity plays: most schools don't do nativity plays every year, and they never did.

5. "Raising the bar", "stretch" and other terms used to suggest that teachers should treat children as though they are in some kind of gymnasium or torture chamber.

6. Change. This is promised, not just by opposition parties, but by prime ministers in power for a decade. Every time we get a new education (sorry, children's) secretary, he or she also promises change. I await ministers who promise to change nothing, but do it better.

7. Lessons in Britishness. Since nobody seems to know what it is, how is anybody supposed to teach children about it?

8. Politicians promising one or more of the following a) all children to read by six, b) 90 per cent to reach level 4 in English and maths by 11, c) 90 per cent to get five or more higher grades at GCSE including English and maths. These are promises comparable with that made by President Kennedy to put an American on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. The difference is that he could deliver and they can't.

9. NASUWT. Nothing against it, but it really is time to find a snappier name.

10. Trendy teachers. Most of these were supposedly trained in the 1960s and early 1970s. If they are still in the profession, they must be close to retirement, right? So how can they still be trendy?

Peter Wilby, Former editor of the New Statesman and The Independent on Sunday.

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