9th July 2010 at 01:00
The policy wonk whose heart isn't in it

MONDAY - I'm doing maternity cover for the Department's Head of Pop-Ups, Gabby. She collates information on groups of yummy mummies truffling round their neighbourhoods for stylish redundant buildings to convert into schools, and then bidding for tranches of yummy money.

Gabby sees at close quarters how after SO LONG in the educational wilderness, articulate and determined middle-class people are finally being listened to. Her conclusion? There is an attractive and properly funded future in yummy mummyhood, which is why she's taken the week off to get pregnant.

TUESDAY - My tireless campaign to bring together the world of the built environment and the magical realm of pedagogy continues. Our architectural taskforce has been gathering data about the types of buildings being considered for conversion into "free schools". One emerging trend is the hypercompetitiveness of the parents' groups. Not just with other parents in their area, but with EVERYBODY. Each group is desperate to find the most gorgeously bijou premises in the country. We're calling it "popupmanship".

WEDNESDAY - The Gove drops in as we're sifting through the latest batch of applications. He's keen on popupmanship. It chimes nicely with his Unified Theory of Competitive Curricula, which holds that the projected velocity for reform is a corollary of the teaching unions' resistance. "I want a list of inspirational Pop-Ups!" he squeaks. "Pour encourager les autres! The Mail will love it!"

THURSDAY - As instructed, we've assembled a shortlist of Emblematic Pop-Ups to show how parent groups can make the system that little bit fairer for themselves.

Take these Grade II-listed, 17th-century "almshouses for the poor" in a nice part of the Isle of Wight. They're being stylishly refurbished by an ambitious coalition of privately educated parents, thus neatly illustrating the idea of "social mobility across the centuries".

A redundant Woolworths building in the Cotswolds is soon to be academised: "Our pick-and-mix selection policy will show how all sorts of children can be taught together as long as they're in the same class."

One parents' group near Reading even has plans to open a "non-faith, though very spiritual in a sort of fundable way" school in a hamlet of luxury yurts on National Trust land.

FRIDAY - The Gove's cross, again. "Pour encourager les autres - do you not understand what that means? It means bloody shooting someone so everybody else falls into line ... ". Oh, NOW we get it.

By teatime, we've found the Ideal Pop-Up: an old state primary school near Wimbledon, which in due course will be deemed "failing". It will close and be resurrected as a bijou "free school". With compulsory Latin and skiing. The snag is that there's no parents' group at the moment. "Close it", smiles The Gove, "and they will come."

Please send your suggestions to

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