8th October 2010 at 01:00
The policy wonk rethinking your profession


After Bonfire of the Quangos, it's Grilling of the Focus Groups. Scary Paula is in a ruthless mood - no change there - and wants us to weed out the more useless clumps of self-opinionated moaning bastards. "Of course," snarls Paula, "the Department is committed to extensive consultation, with everyone affected by Issues Around Education. We just need to consult more quickly and cheaply. So let's just retain those focus groups that agree with us. Any questions?" Sandra (idiot) puts her hand up. "I said ANY QUESTIONS?" Sandra puts her hand down.


We make an energetic and decisive start in our focus group cull by terminating all those that regularly convene further than half a mile from a London Underground station. Our reasoning is that, as The Gove says, parents as well as schools must take responsibility for education. If people choose to bring their children up beyond the M25's cordon sanitaire they should bear the consequences eg terrible food, awful weather, limited access to focus groups.


Today we're scrapping the Lollipop Ladies' and Gentlemen's Focus Group. In two years of consultation their only suggestions have been a) install cameras in lollipops, b) install tasers in lollipops, c) end sexism within the school crossing patrol community by rebadging all personnel "lollipoperatives".


Gaining momentum. Focus groups on well-being, community cohesion or non-academy schools: scrap. Those relating to discipline, social engineering, cheese or wine: keep. Obviously we've decided to protect the hugely influential and horrible Concerned Mothers Collective. Its nickname here is "YMCA", short for Yummy Mummy Coalition Arseaches. They're bossy, pushy and selfish - adjectives very much aligned with current thinking here at HQ. The Gove's a huge fan. It was this focus group that came up with the idea - currently getting major traction upstairs - of compulsory school uniforms for teachers. Scary Paula wants us to keep lines of communication with the YMCA open and grovelly. Sandra is therefore despatched to their weekly lunchtime meeting at a popular Soho restaurant, with instructions to find out what really matters to them, and to pick up the tab.


Sandra trudges in late and badly hungover. Scary Paula's waiting impatiently. She wants a list of topics from yesterday's focus group, "and NAMES. Mr Gove intends to thank members individually in a speech later at the Women in Education conference". Sandra squints cluelessly and gently nods. Paula sweeps out like the Angel of Death. Later, there's a terrible distant screeching from Sandra's phone. Somehow the dozy mare conflated the list of names and topics. The Gove paid solemn tribute in his speech to Mrs Boden, Anna Sui Top, Chloe Handbag, Isabel Marchantboots and the enigmatic Agnes B.

As intercepted by Ian Martin.

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