Curmudgeon

29th September 1995 at 01:00
Sir Ron Dearing's recent experience of managing the National Lottery is arguably far more relevant than anything he did before he took on the national curriculum. Think of all the problems he could solve now.

OFSTED, for example, needs to inspect something like 5,000 schools next year, but doesn't have enough inspectors. How, you may ask, could Ron Dearing solve that one? Simple. There are many people, including HMI, who are sceptical about whether inspection leads to improvement, but are firmly convinced that preparing for inspection does a world of good.

It's being on the list that matters, not the full OFSTED experience. There is no need to visit every school; a random sample, selected through the lottery, would be sufficient. The advantage, for Ron Dearing, is that the whole exercise would add a bit of spice to the lottery programme. It might titillate the jaded appetites of those to whom huge prizes have begun to seem commonplace.

The principle could be extended in all sorts of ways. Take school admissions. At a stroke, the lottery could solve all those complicated problems of devising appropriate criteria. The same is true of delegated funding. Why bother with a formula when you can simply spin the wheel?

It is not impossible that I may have stumbled on the Government's master plan. There is evidence to suggest that the DFEE has been moving in this direction for some time now.

The creation of grant-maintained schools, for example, has created an admissions nightmare in some parts of the country that will soon require this kind of radical solution. The scheme for encouraging specialist schools is clearly an exercise designed to explore the feasibility of inequitable funding.

If it works, the DFEE may well dispense with the requirement for schools to submit time-consuming bids and simply hand out the cash on the basis of the lottery.

In time, education might even attract its own TV lottery show, with last week's lucky winners queuing up to parade their good fortune.

"Our daughter won an assisted place, so now we'll be able to afford the second car" (wild applause), or to demonstrate their fighting spirit in the face of adversity, "I was hoping that we wouldn't be inspected quite yet" (sympathetic noises) "but the staff have been preparing for two-and-a-half years now and we've got nothing to hide" (cheering).

The other advantage of a lottery programme devoted to education would be the opportunity to promote government policy. The news could be presented the way the DFEE has always wanted it. "This year, A-level grades are worth only 89.5 per cent of last year's value, but don't get out of GCEs. All the analysts are predicting growth next year as a result of changes in the national curriculum. " The possibilities are endless. That's what you get from a government that is perfectly happy to substitute chance for choice.

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