G and T? Make mine a double

6th June 2003 at 01:00
"EXCELLENCE and enjoyment." I like the sound of it. Two contemporary buzzwords placed neatly side by side, like "fish and chips". Pairs of words seem to abound in the titles of official papers nowadays, though how many people remember the contents of previous strategy documents such as "Choice and diversity"? Anyway, it was good to see the word "enjoyment" in the title of the pronouncement on primary education.

If the crass targets-and-testing regime of recent years really is to be dismantled, then there will be much rejoicing. At its worst it was crude and insensitive. (I must stop using these pairs of words; it eventually takes over your brain, until one word on its own feels inadequate.) It was sad to read about the steps taken by schools, often working in dire circumstances, that were struggling to meet their targets. Those threatened with closure if fewer than 15 per cent obtained five high GCSEs have had to resort to desperate measures. Some offered pupils money to turn up, while others actually drove them to school. Cash and carry. (Those wretched word pairs again; stop it, we are supposed to be talking about "excellence and enjoyment" here). Others allowed pupils to wear what they wanted. Marks amp; Spencer.

The neatest solution of all was to allow truants to work at home. I would go further and rename them "home-based scholars", though critics would no doubt say that this was like calling burglars "inverse philanthropists".

Nonetheless I thought it was a brilliant piece of deft footwork. Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Other strategies included putting on weekend study schools in posh hotels.

It was courageous of Charles Clarke to use a word such as "enjoyment". I hope this long-absent emotional state does return to education. The national management of education has been dreadful and its production-line philosophy disastrous.

Anyone who has taught for more than a few minutes knows that, at its best, education can be extremely enjoyable. It is not so much that teachers and pupils should be giggling merrily as they complete their quadratic equations, but rather that learning is intrinsically exciting when it arouses and then rewards curiosity. Education is the exact opposite when squashed into bureaucratic pulp. Sausage and mash.

Most new teachers start off with tremendous enthusiasm, because they know that teaching is one of the most important jobs on the planet, especially in times of uncertainty and rapid change. It is form-filling and box-ticking that have turned what should be a constantly stimulating challenge for teacher and pupil into a dry and somewhat sour activity. Salt and vinegar.

The twin words that will prevent enjoyment ever returning to universities are "Margaret" and "Hodge". I was amazed that she got the job, but even more astonished that she has kept it, since she has an annoying habit of blundering every single time she speaks about higher education. Foot and mouth.

At the very moment when universities are being urged by the Government to take more working-class students, she states that, if students were rational, they would not go to the new universities at all, thereby managing to insult more than 30 institutions with an excellent track record in recruiting and educating them.

The two words that most readily come to mind here are "bloody" and "idiot".

The quickest way to restore enjoyment to universities would be to give them a minister with more than a single-figure IQ. This would head off another potential disaster, for it ought to rule out a political return for Stephen Byers. Stevel Knievel, the man who used to leap over rows of named and shamed schools on his metaphorical motorbike, has been letting it be known in national newspapers that he was wrong when he was a minister and has now seen the light.

For the past few months, he tells us, he has assiduously travelled the world, sat in his attic wearing a hair shirt and scourged himself with whips and scorpions, though I may be wrong on one or two of those things.

The prospect of the Prime Minister being taken in by Byers' trip to Damascus and reinstating him as an education minister is enough to make you want to weep. Tripe and onions.

Enjoyment is probably the only feature that can both raise standards of achievement and improve recruitment to the profession. If it remains absent from schools, despite the firm promise to the contrary, then there will only be one solution to the state of despair that many teachers and heads have felt in recent times. Gin and tonic.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today