Don't let them get you down;Opinion

29th October 1999 at 01:00
AS PART of the celebrations for Monty Python's 30th anniversary, the BBC broadcast The Life of Brian. I switched on just in time to catch the scene in which John Cleese, as the Roman centurion, has caught Graham Chapman, as Brian, attempting to paint on a wall, in Latin: "Romans go home!"

There followed a painful interlude in which Cleese, with much roaring and bawling, and by means of tugging on the unfortunate painter's ear, attempted to extract from him the correct spelling of the slogan, in deference to mood, case and declension.

It's an amusing interchange, but to those of my generation blessed with a "solid grounding" in Latin grammar, it was not so much farce exaggerated for the sake of satire as a historically accurate representation of the facts. In my own Latin class, the only uncertainty was whether the inevitable four of the belt would be preceded by a prolonged tweaking of ear, nose or sideburns.

Happily our current school students exist in an educational atmosphere in which such sado- didacticism has been banished. Long gone are the days when arrival home with a bruised face or marked hands would meet the parental response: "You must have deserved it." Yet you can still detect areas of fear and remarkably they are liable to be in the staffroom rather than the playground.

As Neil Munro reported (TESS, October 15), teachers are being submerged under a welter of statistics from outside of schools which seems to be growing almost weekly, and while everyone is at pains to point out that figures without context mean little, the message that trickles down to the classroom teacher, rightly or wrongly, is that worth is to be judged by decimal points.

Try as they might, school managements have a hard task to present quality assurance in a positive and supportive light, when the political and media agenda seems to be the search for an easy set of figures to prove that teachers are failing, or at least need to do a lot better.

The suggestion that HMI's audit unit will move towards support for target getting rather than issuing figures for target-setting has to be a welcome sign. Most teachers want to do the best for pupils, most are happy to examine their performance to see how best to improve on what they are already doing.

In the words of Monty Python, what else did we get from the Romans? Well, we should have learnt that, north of Hadrian's Wall, the attempt to rule by fear was spectacularly unsuccessful.

Don't let the numbers grind you down.

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