Inchworm

18th June 2010 at 01:00
The policy wonk whose heart isn't in it

Monday The Coalition's year zero five-year plan is now under way. State machinery constructed during the Balls Terror is being systematically dismantled. Gone are the loathsome youth panels set up by Labour's sixth-form activists to weed out teachers with reactionary haircuts and suspect tastes in music. Gone are the DCFS, the feared Drink and Carbohydrates Flying Squad, whose armed inspectors would swoop on staffrooms to check for illicit alcohol or pies. Yes, everyone's feeling very relaxed and liberated and not at all worried about so-called "cuts". These "cuts" will make everything seem leaner and tauter, with a wide-eyed neuroticism and a posh voice.

Tuesday An interesting experiment in selection is underway at the Department, and I am privileged to witness its blossoming. The Gove has invited me to monitor Dragons' Academy, the new publicprivate schools initiative. The preparation has been meticulous. A warehouse has been furnished with random objects - a giant clock, a Victorian bath. A TV crew has set up a base there and the whole process is to be filmed for an autumn airing on BBC Two. They've even got Toby Young to do the ironic voiceover.

Wednesday Dragons' Academy: upstairs, four grim-faced millionaires wait with their little desks piled high with cash. There's Sneery Bastard who makes a fortune from fish fingers, Sceptical Cow who runs her own behaviour-controlling drug empire, Hostile Twat who cornered the market in those bloody children's scooters now clogging up the nation's pavements, and Haughty Tosser who owns a chain of street dance studios. No teachers today. The crew just spend hours shooting close-ups of the sponsorship dragons looking astonished or disgusted.

Thursday A miserable procession of head teachers creaks up the stairs to face the dragons' barked questions. What's your Learning Unit Turnover per annum? Projected obesity expansion? The dumb-downmark-up forecast? Then a confident young woman appears, says she's looking for #163;14 million in return for a 50 per cent stake in her academy, and unveils a blackboard. It looks pretty traditional (top marks from The Gove), but is actually a touch-sensitive screen with a "smart stylus" instead of chalk. She demonstrates with some French verbs. The dragons stifle yawns. Suddenly the screen explodes into a high-production ad for oven chips starring David Tennant. She explains that this will happen automatically if the blackboard is idle for 10 minutes. Advertising space is also available along the perimeter, like at football matches.

Friday I've come to the conclusion that academy sponsorship, far from being a measured response to the funding crisis, is capricious and undignified. Plus, I need to pitch some of these stolen ideas to educational suppliers. I'm out.

Please send your suggestions to inchworm@tes.co.uk.

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