Graves we should dance on

7th January 2000 at 00:00
SO THE millennium has arrived at last. I was uncertain whether it would actually bother to turn up. Perhaps it would see the turmoil in the world and go straight back home, leaving us to face January 1999a on our own.

My education script for the new millennium is entitled Four Funerals and a Wedding. It sums up the mixture of hope for a more harmonious future and a desire to bury deep underground a few monsters from the past.

The "wedding" would be closer liaison between different sectors of education: pre-school and "big" school, infant and junior, primary and secondary, schools and colleges and universities. "Partnership" is a buzzword, but not everyone walks the talk.

The four funerals would be joyous wakes rather than sad farewells. First on the funeral pyre would be the "Football Strategy" style of management, based on the monstrous belief that professional people work best if you constantly kick them.

It began with politicians in the 1980s and was eagerly embraced by a number of newspapers which believed that giving teachers a good kicking would improve circulation (the newspapers', not the teachers'). Some politicians think that putting the boot into teachers raises their party's opinion poll ratings.

This dubious creed reflects either a sad truth about the general public, or an inability to recognise that working with people is much more efficient than working against them. Fortunately most headteachers have been far too sensible to apply this daft and corrosive philosophy in their own school, only a few airheads succumbing.

Burying an ineffective management strategy would be insufficient without seeing off some of the instruments of it, so my second funeral would be that of OFSTED. School inspection is far too important to be done in the knuckleheaded way we have witnessed since 1992. Only the intelligence and thoughtfulness of many of the individuals doing the actual inspections have rescued it from disaster.

OFSTED has now become a quasi-political organisation, ever eager to endorse the government of the day, as leaky as a colander. Its pronouncements are no longer credible wit the profession. The TES in December reported yet another "leak", a spun version of the next OFSTED annual report.

To no one's surprise it said that standards had gone up because of whole-class teaching and the literacy and numeracy hours. "Now there's a shock", I thought to myself as I watched pigs fly overhead and fairies dance at the bottom of the garden. How come science scores went up so sharply then - not a single science hour or science national target in sight?

Look very carefully indeed at OFSTED pronouncements over the coming few months. They will state that standards are going up because of inspection. Any critics will be accused of being hostile to school inspection itself.

Philip Hunter's analysis showed the exact opposite: standards actually went up higher in schools that had not had an inspection, so OFSTED exerted a negative effect, but keep repeating the self-justifying propaganda and the gullible will believe it.

Yet GCSE and A-level pass rates went up annually for years, before OFSTED ever existed.

The third funeral pyre must be for the Teacher Training Agency. Student-teachers now have to be assessed on up to 850 "competencies". That is the madhouse you get when an agency plans your system. Since the TTA was set up recruitment has plummeted. According to the circumstantial OFSTED line of argument, the drop must be because of the TTA, so close it down and recruitment will soar.

Finally let us bury the "only one solution" philosophy: "There is no point in reinventing the wheel". Yes there is, otherwise we would never had had ships or hovercraft.

If there is only one solution to classroom teaching, what is the single solution to crime, poverty, cancer, world conflict?

Unfortunately none of these corpses will ever be interred.

OFSTED will be given responsibility for inspecting abattoirs and casinos, while the TTA will take over the recruitment and training of gravediggers. Competency 1: "Can wheel in stiff". Competency 2: "Can pick up spade". Competency 3: "Can dig hole".

Alas, if only we could bury all the robots and welcome back the human race.

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,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today