Are you a pain in the AST?Or do you suffer from QTS? The abbreviations that litter education are enough to make a language purist lose his cool - or explode, as Jill Parkin finds out
Peter Plaintalk spoke slowly and clearly. He frequently paused and looked at me as if to check I had understood. In the years he spent in exile, the language of his homeland had altered out of all recognition. "I have come back to the world of education only to find I am an alien in my own country," he said. "Twelve years, just twelve years away is all it took."
Plaintalk's lost years were spent at home bringing up three children while his wife kept her job. Now he wants to come back into the classroom. He was a secondary scientist, but every time he read a job advertisement or went to an interview he hit the language problem.
"It's the same every time: they all speak in acronymish and I speak in English," he lamented. "I thought my years at home with children would be valuable in understanding my pupils, but now I wonder if I'll ever have any pupils again."
His drawn looks and bewildered expression reminded me of those cartoon characters who stagger out of the jungle asking if the war is over yet.
Peter Plaintalk seemed antique, a character from a long-gone past who had somehow wandered into our smart new world. He was almost embarrassing.
"The adverts all talk about MS points. Is that a chain store or a deviant practice? I just don't know any more," he moaned.
"What is the difference between MPSUPS plus 2MA and MPS plus MA2? Then when I looked at temporary posts one of them offered CPS plus RR2. By the time I'd worked out the algebra, I was too late to apply."
Looking dispassionately at Plaintalk, I was sad to see a certain amount of frankly irrational paranoia had set in. His self-pity easily turned to accusations levelled at our revered institutions. Some of them, he even went so far as to say, might be unnecessary.
"It's not just acronymish itself," he spluttered. "It's the spawning of a whole new race. There are councils, colleges, networks, associations and units. The units seems to employ not just tens, but hundreds and thousands.
"I need an educational phrasebook. What is lifelong learning? Is it what we used to call reading books and being interested in the world about you? Why does no one teach any more and why does everyone deliver learning instead?
"Has anyone thought that if we succeed in turning all children into independent learners we'll be out of a job? Does anyone think about what they're saying?
"At one interview, I went into a classroom where the teacher was setting out learning intentions, learning purpose and criteria for success. They were learning how to make a Victoria sponge, for heaven's sake."
I decided to cut his lament short - this unproductive nostalgia for the pre-acronym era - and try to help him in his search for work. First of all, his qualifications. Did he have QTS?
He began to rant: "I know that one. It sounds like a disease, but it's qualified teacher status. I am a teacher, for God's sake. I taught for years. They asked me that at one of my interviews. Did I have QTS, where did I do ITT?
"Do what?" I asked.
"Were they being rude? If they'd read my CV - ha! Two can play this game.
They'd have seen I'd been to teacher training college after getting a physics first. Then they said that as I not only had experience of teaching maths but also had a maths A-level, taken in the days when it was worth having, perhaps I'd like to train as an AST.
"Concentrate on your subject, they said. Leave some of the routine stuff to the LSAs and the HLTAs. They'd have to give me an NQT to look after in return, though. I don't want to look after any cutie. I'm a married man.
I've heard of incentives, but that's disgusting.
"I never found out what an AST was, because they then went off me when they heard I wasn't registered with the GTCE. Well the GTCE hasn't ever registered with me, either."
At this point he started brandishing a copy of the The TES jobs section.
Acronyms were all over it like a rash, he said. Before trying to move him on to his own CPD, I let him calm down a little, listening without remark while he rambled about initiatives, strategies and - the ultimate proof of his delirium - talked about the emperor's new clothes.
"Plaintalk," I said, "you will have to come up to speed on this. What about your IT qualifications? Yes, I know you're part of the Einstein online club, but do you have the ECDL or ITQ? You could set yourself up with an independent learning account and get trained. Thanks to Becta and NOF, computers are now a vital part of every classroom - or VLE as we now call them. Virtual Learning Environment, Plaintalk!
"Virtual? What about actual learning?"
"AL? I don't know that one. Is there an NGO behind it? Perhaps the innovations unit could come up with a new idea.
"But going back to your job prospects, of course you'll need clearance from the CRB."
At this point Plaintalk began to foam slightly at the mouth. I assumed this was caused by the sheer effort of keeping up with my fluency. I suggested that with his language problems he could get extra employment points by presenting himself as an EAL candidate.
"That's English as an additional language," I told him considerately.
"English! Nobody in education speaks English any more. I'm fed up with acronyms. Fed up to the back teeth."
And with that he exploded. And all the thousands of pieces we swept up looked just like alphabet soup.