6th February 1998 at 00:00
A plain brown envelope arrives chez Carborundum, addressed in crude capitals. Hands shaking with excitement - we don't get many of these - we rip it open to discover a real curiosity.

Within lurks a fascinating document - headed Xmas Greetings and Yuletide Competition - apparently from the Department for Education and Employment's team of special advisers - that's political advisers and spin-doctors to the rest of us:

"You are asked to draft a short piece of fiction or non-fiction which must contain ALL of the following words or phrases. These have been carefully selected following exhaustive observation since May 1 of terminology in use across Whitehall by ministers, officials and special advisers."

There follow 21 words and phrases which, to Carborundum's mind, prove that politicians should be forced to speak standard English - to give everyone else a chance of understanding them.

Carborundum, after spending a few desultory minutes leafing through the dictionary for help, concludes that even when the words used by spin-doctors have a straightforward meaning, that is not the one they intend to convey. As the Red Queen said: "Words mean what I mean them to mean."

So in the interests of good communication, we publish the list in its full New English glory. "On message, scoping, novate, mapping, for the many and not the few, 360 degree feedback programme, cross-cutting, strand, cascade, badging of soft skills, iteratively, robust, captured, tasked with, zero-tolerance, emote, nugatory work, prudent, in the margins, no fifth option" and - last but by no means least - "exit strategies which explore horizontal as well as vertical progression routes."

The one heartening aspect of all this is that the political advisers have the good grace to realise how hilarious it all is. An example of a 360-degree feedback programme?

Still spitting teeth after the pay award? Feeling unloved, unwanted, and unappreciated? Never mind: that nice Mr Byers, the schools standards minister, understands your plight and is doing his best to raise your morale.

You no doubt remember his gaffe over times tables, when in answer to a snap question from a radio interviewer he replied that seven eights totalled 54. Oops. Apparently the poor man has been bombarded since with multiplication tables from helpful publishers.

Still, he's looking on the bright side. "We've got a policy of raising teacher morale, and I thought that now I'd done my bit. I'm sure the following day there was hilarity in staffrooms up and down the country."

Far be it from Carborundum to judge, but Leicestershire County Council should be thankful there are no league tables for press offices.

Making a routine enquiry for information about a governing body, a TES reporter had occasion to mention the Department for Education and Employment . . .

"What's that?" asked a mystified press officer.

Our reporter did his best to explain that the DFEE was a Government body which, not surprisingly, had responsibility for education across Britain. But the message clearly wasn't getting through.

"Where's this department based - is it in Leicester?" asked the baffled public relations woman.

Carborundum's informant eventually felt bound to explain the very structure of British Government from a basic level, yet still heard nothing but confusion echoing down the telephone line. Only when the complex issue was passed on to a more senior level was the Government ministry recognised.

Perhaps the DFEE should take note: it may be that it just isn't sending enough urgent circulars to Leicestershire's county hall.

Goodness knows what they make of social exclusion over at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Apparently its librarian - or should that be information scientist? - has classified Dark Heart: the Shocking Truth about Hidden Britain (Nick Davies' foray into the worlds of prostitution, drug-dealing and other everyday features of the 1990s) as "fictioninvestigative journalism".

People can have very short memories, if Carshalton College is anything to go by. According to an excitable fax, the institution has a wonderful alternative to liven up Monday nights, where it is possible to cook Thai curry, sort out a spreadsheet for home finance or learn the basics of interior design.

"A pleasant way to spend a Monday evening," thought one Ms L of Carshalton, according to the press release. The name of this new institution? The Monday Club. Conservative party grandees who thought they had a monopoly on the name must be shuddering at the thought.

And while on the subject of Tory grandees, the thought of attending the forthcoming Institute of Economic Affairs lecture on the educational voucher is more enticing than Carborundum would have expected. But that's only because the speaker is billed as the Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Boyson.


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