Fast forward, back to the future

1st June 2001 at 01:00
Finding myself benumbed by the saturation coverage of the election, I decided to steal everyone else's ideas on education, form my own political fighting force, the AllParty Party, and write the manifesto.

Anyone can do it. All you need is an idea or two. They don't have to be particularly good ideas, just fine-sounding vacuous promises. "We in the AllParty Party will develop to the full the talents of every single child in Britain." See, it's dead easy.

Twenty-five pence off a gallon of learning? We shall knock 30 pence off. William Hague's barmy idea for every teacher to have to negotiate an annual contract? Why wait a whole year? We'll introduce weekly wage bargaining.

Then there is wordsmithery, based on the assumption that the nation is full of simpletons. "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country"; "Tough on lemonade, tough on the causes of lemonade" - that sort of thing.

Political ideas must come in threes. Key words must be repeated: strong government, strong leadership, strong beer, strong tights, strong hamburgers, strong anything. Get the idea? It's a breeze.

We in the AllParty Party have used all the buzzwords in our revolutionary manifesto,"Education for a Strong Britain: Facing Back to the Future", so - shoulders to the grindstone, nose to the plough - here are a couple of extracts.

"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in fetters." (All right, so I borrowed the opening from Rousseau, but plagiarism is fine, required even.) "The AllParty Party offers freedom in education. Schools must be free from government interference, free from bureaucracy, free from pupils. No children, no problems."

Just when I was getting bored with politics, along came Chris Woodhead's election manifesto, er, I mean authoritative, serialised "guide to education" in the Daily Telegraph. All the expected ingredients were present: primary school teachers had neglected numeracy and literacy; Ofsted was wonderful; praise for the Conservatives and good old Kenneth Baker, and attacks on Labour ("typical of the woolly ideas this Government has embraced so willingly").

Most hilarious of all, however, was the piece on"the three wise men". Back in 1992, you may remember, good old Kenneth Clarke asked Robin Alexander and two other senior figures in education to write a report on primary education. They became known as "the three wise men". Since one of the other two was Wooders himself, you would expect an impeccable account.

I fell off my chair with mirth in the very first paragraph. "(Kenneth Clarke) asked Professor Robin Alexander, Chris Woodhead and Mike Tomlinson to establish what was going on and what needed to be done."

Er, did you say "Mike Tomlinson", Chris? I'm afraid that, unusually for you, you've got your facts wrong. It was Jim Rose, not Mike Tomlinson. That's why the authors' names appear on the actual report as, "Alexander, Rose and Woodhead".

Surely you remember Jim Rose? He was one of your senior HMI. Bloody good bloke, Jim, organised all your primary inspections for you. Mike Tomlinson is the one who wears spectacles. Go on, you must remember him. He's the chap who was your deputy. Took over after you left, doing a brilliant job. Just so you don't get confused next time, keep it simple: Mike Tomlinson - glasses, Jim Rose - no glasses (except for reading).

I look forward to Chris "Accuracy" Woodhead's future journalistic offerings on the big issues. His serialised guide to the history of the world will surely chronicle the achievements of its mightiest leaders: Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Chris Woodhead.

His authoritative history of music will record popular works over the ages, such as Iolanthe by Gilbert and Tomlinson,Oklahoma by Rogers and Tomlinson, plus, of course, a description of Mike Tomlinson's magnificent opera Aida, as performed by the Verona Ofsted Opera Company. I can't wait.

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