Lay down your prescriptions

28th March 2003 at 00:00
A most unusual letter from a headteacher arrived in the morning post. Would I mind, it asked, leading a revolution? Heads and teachers were in utter despair about barmy prescriptions. Someone was needed to lead a revolution, so could I kindly start one? Thousands would follow.

As a fully paid-up member of Apathetics Anonymous (if ever you think of rebelling, someone rings you up and talks you out of it) I was shaken to the very centre of the string of jelly I call my spine. We buttock-clenching British professionals do not do revolution.

Stamp your foot and say "Drat!", put an official letter through the shredder, cry into your cocoa, stage a decent collective whinge, all these are fine. But revolution is strictly for the French.

The first and last time I started a rebellion was at the age of 12. We boy scout members of the pewit patrol awoke one morning in summer camp to find that our flag had been stolen during the night. Full of revolutionary fervour, I proposed that we storm the tent of the older boys who had nicked it. Everyone agreed, a strike at our arrogant seniors was the only answer.

I wondered why the mischievous thieves were doubled-up with laughter as I approached the whites of their eyes, bellowing "Charge!" at the top of my voice. It was because my five patrol mates, erstwhile fellow revolutionaries, were by now disappearing over the horizon in the opposite direction twice as fast as I was running at the enemy.

Like most people in education I wanted to believe the Government's hint that the days of prescription were over, that "weapons of mass destruction" were banished. The unhappy truth became apparent during and after Christmas in a welter of announcements.

Teachers in primary schools would be required to do yet more phonics, heads and governors were harangued to meet their targets. We must have more tractors, even if they are piled up in the backyard.

It would not be so bad if telling teachers what to do actually worked, but schools in Wales have managed to improve numeracy and literacy faster than in England without the heavy hand of government. The key ingredient - trust of professionals - is simply missing.

Instead, a fundamental suspicion, virtually impossible to displace, decrees that every move must be determined from the centre. Teachers' judgment is out, they themselves are emasculated.

Without an appeal to individual imagination and creativity, how are we going to recruit the 200,000-plus new recruits needed over the next decade, as masses of seasoned practitioners hang up their chalk? Who will want to be a mere technician with a stick of chalk, waiting for the next set of instructions to arrive in the post? Certainly no one with spirit.

Contempt can be a major provocation of revolution. There is no exact equivalent of a Hippocratic oath for teachers, but it is only loyalty to children, parents and the community that has prevented mayhem in the past few years. Stiff upper lips abound, hands are liberally wrung, but no one wants to jeopardise children's one chance of a decent education.

Saddam Hussein was set targets, as is appropriate in this target-mad world, so I am putting forward a last possible condition for achieving the full disarmament of further barmy, unrooted proposals.

There are six tests that must be met. The actual wording remains under discussion, but the essential requirements are: 1 A public statement in English by the Prime Minister, admitting to the possession and concealment of prescriptions of mass destruction and declaring his regime's intention to give them up.

2 A number of members of the No 10 policy unit (probably about 30) to be allowed to go abroad, together with their spin doctors, for interview.

3 The surrender of any hidden prescriptions and bureaucratic initiatives, or an explanation of their previous destruction.

4 An explanation of the drone found cowering in the Department for Education and Skills by inspectors, together with the numbers and locations of any others.

5 A commitment that the so-called "mobile initiatives", like the 117-item checklist for five-year-olds and prohibitive top-up fees for students, will be surrendered for destruction.

6 Commitment to the destruction of "prescribed missiles", including the remaining proposals of Ad-Onis.

If the Government does not comply then I shall reconvene the pewit patrol and revolution will follow. Provided that's OK with the No 10 policy unit, of course.

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