The ghost of David Pickup

18th August 2000 at 01:00
THERE was a joke doing the rounds at Christmas about the funeral of a popular librarian. Apparently, out of respect, his mates observed a minute's noise for him. Around the same time, I received a piece of inside information that I kept to myself, having been sworn to secrecy.

See, I knew back then of the events that were to shock the teaching world at the start of the summer break. John Mitchell, writer of The TESS's Morris Simpson's Diary, told me of his plans to kill off David Pickup.

I have a notion to ask John if I can borrow the ghost of Pickup to help my private HMI with his investigations. The new column would be called Harrass and Pickup (deceased). On the other hand, perhaps not. The truth is, Pickup makes me uneasy.

I began teaching just as Standard grade was launching. Everyone called it Munn and Dunning then. Opinions on the new courses were sharply divided, for want of a better cliche. I joined a department that was largely enthusiastic but met enough sceptical Pickup types to make me feel I was either naive or a goody-goody to be sharing in the enthusiasm.

There were two types of Pickup. There was the genuinely caring sort, who had worked hard to provide courses for the sort of pupil the old O grade courses left aone. Along came Standard grade to jackboot over these courses and replace them with what must have seemed to be gratuitously complex structures of separate elements and grade-related criteria (remember them?).

The other sort of Pickup was adept at seizing on one or two elements of a new initiative, finding plausible arguments to cast them aside as unsound, and using that as an excuse to pronounce the whole scheme as worthless. This then becomes an excuse for doing as little as possible.

In science at least, the three big reforms - Standard grade, 5-14 and Higher Still - have all been worth while. (OK, the jury's still out on the last one.)

Along the way there have been numerous national and local projects that have taken up time and come to nothing. This sort of thing, plus a lack of thought on the pace and management of change, is cause for complaint.

Heaven forbid that we should now be left alone to rest in peace with our redesigned, integrated, world-class curriculum. That would never do. There could be no more jokes about naive goody-goodies, whiz-kids or cynical old sods. What on earth would there be left to write about?

Gregor Steele was promised a drink by John Mitchell five years ago. He is still waiting.


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