I'm surprised the Observer ran your article, Miliband, because it wouldn't have made our school magazine

27th June 2003 at 01:00
Ah, Miliband, come and sit down, lad. Oh, I forgotI we sold the furniture so we didn't have to sack a teacher. You'll have to stand, I'm afraid.

Perhaps you'd have a word with young Brown about the finances when you get back to the dorm.

The thing is, I've got a copy of your recent essay, the one you sneaked to the Observer earlier this month. I'm surprised they ran it; it wouldn't have made our school magazine. It makes no sense. I'm twice your age and my brain is addled, but I've given it to other staff and they can't make head or tail of it either. How often have I said the first rule of factual writing is to make sense?

So you visited a north London comprehensive the other day? Well done. And it's doing something special called "tailor-made learning". Fascinating.

The trouble is, you don't give us the slightest idea what this is. Then you tell us that Ofsted says it works, but they haven't seen it in many schools. If nobody knows what it is, I'm not surprised.

And how often have I warned you about jargon? If you're going to get anywhere in education, you'll need to start thinking for yourself instead of repeating that tiresome stuff about giving us "a powerful new analysis of pupil achievement with data based on value-added". Nobody believes it, lad. You've slipped prior attainment, poverty and gender in there too.

We've heard it all before. It means nothing.

Then you lurch into key aspects for a "reform agenda". "Every pupil needs a curriculum that is inspiring and interesting," you say. I agree. Trouble is, that means money, and aren't you busily taking it away rather than putting it in? And "embracing" ICT, telling us it'll make "a reality of personal learning paced to meet individual needs". What does this mean? Screen-staring, button-pushing youngsters with numbingly boring individualised learning programmes? You've obviously never spoken to a teacher who's tried to supervise them, or fiddled with machines that won't work.

Your third key aspect amused me because you can't resist pushing the party line. "Individual pupils need individual attention," you say, hence an extra 50,000 classroom assistants. Doesn't impress me. A lack of funding means a lack of assistants. Anyway, weren't they supposed to be looking after classes while teachers had planning and marking time, or has all that changed? I'm a patient chap, but by key aspects five and six I began to get cross. In three sentences you list statemented children, ethnic minorities, children with special needs, children who are gifted, children with special talents, low achievers, and disaffected white boys. You don't say anything about them, just list them. Still, Trevor Phillips will be pleased to know that it's now white boys who are disaffected and underachieving.

And your summing up won't do. Saying "we need to make secondary children a new offer, delivering quality and equity wherever you are from and wherever you live" might impress the nursery class, but since the purpose of education is to let people cut an informed path through the murk, nobody will tolerate that kind of simplistic claptrap unless you say how you're actually going to do it. Frankly, it's bullshit. Take this piece of paper and write out a hundred times "I must contain my garrulous tongue between jaws of sanity and discretion".

Now, cut along. And don't forget to have a word with young BrownI Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.

Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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