Jetboots and learning pills at the ready;The shape of things to come;Millennium edition

31st December 1999 at 00:00
School trips that are out of this world, thought transfer . . . and A-level reform. Ted Wragg, left, looks into the future.

Despite the ambiguous and vague prophecies of Nostradamus and other soothsayers, who would really have predicted in detail, back in the year 999, that the second millennium would see jet and space travel, organ transplants, telephones, radio and television, computers, or even electricity?

Most of the really mind-blowing innovations came in the last 5 per cent of the millennium. Guessing what will happen even next year is hazardous, so I shall attempt a modest and no doubt foolhardy forecast of some landmarks in the first century of the third millennium.

2010: The first decade welcomes the return of a reconstituted Inner London Education Authority ("New Labour, new ILEA: tough on loonies, tough on the causes of loonies"). The retirement of the chief inspector of schools to become Lord Woodhead of Woodhead, chief inspector of old people's homes and crematoria, allows the Office for Standards in Education to be closed down and replaced by an inspection service that actually works.

2020: The 20-20 vision devised in 2001 finally arrives. Universal video-on-demand provides millions of clips of digitised television through "virtual reality" eye and ear pieces, worn like an enhanced Sony Walkman. The national curriculum can no longer be staffed by human teachers, since the recruitment collapse of 2003, so machines take over. Schools and the remaining teachers operate only one day a week for group activities. All old people's homes and crematoria are now under special measures for failing their inspection.

2030: Parents rebel at having their children at home six days a week, glued to their virtual-reality Walkman. "We used to love school," say Sir David and Lady Beckham, patrons of the Campaign For The Restoration Of Schools As We Used To Know Them. A great national debate is launched on the topic "Should we reform A-levels?" There are no elderly people's homes or crematoria left, so the over-75s are stockpiled on the outskirts of cities in sprawling LLTs (Lifelong Learner Tips).

2040: A Nobel Prize winner develops a "learning pill" which improves brain processing in children who previously had learning difficulties. Everyone can now graduate at the single National Polyversity. A four-year master's course is standard, but there is also a two-year MBA (Master of Bugger All).

2050: The celebration of the 50th anniversary of performance-related pay (set up in the year 2000, abandoned in 2004) is marked by an announcement by the President (formerly Prime Minister) of the New Conservative and Free Trade Party that all teachers will be registered as an individual plc and be paid whatever can be negotiated.

2060: The chaos of individual plcs is abandoned, as teachers were being paid anything from 1 million Euros a week (the last remaining physics teacher) to 50 Euros a month (Miss Scattergood, former head of special needs, aged 64). A massive swing of the pendulum leads to all teachers being paid the same salary, irrespective of age or responsibility, by decree of the newly-elected New People's Party.

2070: Parliament decides to de-politicise education (pigs also fly this year) and sets up an autonomous National Education Assembly which determines all major questions about education, leaving local interpretation to schools. A squad of NEA inspectors is established to check the quality of education, but all paper transactions are forbidden: no mission statements, written policy documents, quality assurance pro formas, tick boxes or schemes of work. Only actions are judged. The motto of the NEA Inspectorate is: "Trust people, but kick the crap out of them if they let you down."

2080: Mass space flights are now possible and a regular school trip is the week-long Mars excursion with a two-day stopover on the Moon. All children in Birmingham have an entitlement by city statute (cities became autonomous in 2075) to spend a week in space, the most popular departure date being St Brighouse Day.

2090: Children are forbidden to travel to school on their jetboots (footwear which permits travel at up to 60mph) after several accidents and fears about poor health through lack of exercise. Thought-transfer techniques are developed, so the mass print and broadcast media are replaced by "thought channels". One major topic dominates debate through the thought media: "Should we reform A-levels?" 2100: Brain-scanning techniques are developed which allow learning to be analysed and reproduced in another person. The new science of "brain patterning" replaces the need for education, as children are simply programmed with vast stores of knowledge at each stage of their development. As the century closes, the national brain-patterning programme is run by a newly-created quango called the Office for Stuffing-in Education (Ofsted).

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

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