Letters from dear pupils

25th March 2005 at 00:00
The idea of the Office for Standards in Education writing a letter to pupils about the inspection of their school sounds like a winner to me.

There is a serious side to it, but it is also the sort of proposal we satirists long for in a society that is now almost beyond satire.

In principle it seems like a logical development: heads, teachers, governors, parents and the public can all read Ofsted reports, so why not a special letter to the pupils? It is, after all, their school. The problem is that you know it will eventually not be quite what it ought to be. The real story will never be told.

The official examples given are terribly reasonable. The school inspected must have been a good one. "Dear pupils, we really enjoyed meeting you and thank you for the warm welcome. Your school is very nice. By the way, we have asked your teachers to have a look at one or two teensie weensie things..."

Very warm and friendly. But what will happen when a terrible school is inspected, where the pupils were complete desperadoes? Will the cheerful tone of the textbook exemplars evaporate?

"Dear scumbags, your behaviour was an absolute bloody disgrace. Most of you appear to have the IQ of an amoeba and the concentration span of a gnat.

"Locking the lay inspector in the toilet was no way to greet visitors, even if your teachers did tell you to do it, and we have come to the unanimous conclusion that public flogging should be reintroduced. So bugger off the lot of you." I think not.

Will there be graded language for different age groups? The letters sent to junior school pupils could attach three adjectives to every noun as reinforcement of the drearier and more mechanical literacy hours. "The tall, dark, serious inspector found the small, blonde, happy girl to be sensible, clever and pleasant."

For early-years children, Ofsted could write "Dear twinkies", with the syllables hyphenated. If the letters were in rhyme, that would also help with reading: "The boy with the toy was a joy. The girl with the curl was a pearl. Mr Catt did tat when you sat on the mat. He was fat and a bit of a prat."

Even better would be if pupils wrote back to Ofsted. It would be fun having new pen pals, so to speak, a kind of global citizenship. They could even write back satirically, in Ofstedspeak.

"Dear Inhabitants of a dark continent, thank you for your generally sound letter to pupils. Compared with our previous Ofsted inspection team, however, we found you below the national average, and noted a number of serious weaknesses in what you did. We are, therefore, putting you into special measures and look forward to receiving your action plan saying how you will get out of them - if we ever let you, that is."

This new pupil-power lark could be a really interesting development. And why confine it to Ofsted? I propose that the DfES should write to all pupils as well.

"Dear pupils, sorry to be sending you yet another initiative (that's a big word, children, meaning 'new thing', except that it isn't usually). The problem is that we have a number of people working here with nothing else to do except dream up silly ideas for schools. So please bear with us and try not to laugh too much."

Goodie. Yet more pen pals to correspond with. "Dear Mr Suit, Thank you for your latest idea. On a scale of silliness from one (very sensible) to 10 (the sort of crazy idea you have been sending us from someone called Mr Adonis in the Prime Minister's office) we graded this a 15. We certainly did all laugh a lot. Our headteacher is still in hospital after badly dislocating his jaw."

So is this new all-smiling, all-joking Ofsted letter a sign of developments yet to come, or is it mere tokenism? Will there be real democracy in education, with the Government taking seriously what children actually think?

That is highly unlikely. If the truth were told, what prevents children from having real power in the eyes of politicians is their lack of three important things.

The first is what is seen as their ignorance. They are felt to be little people, empty buckets waiting to be filled.

The second is their immaturity. They are regarded as rudimentary bad behavers, unable to live up to the superb example set them by MPs during Prime Minister's question time in the House of Commons.

The third lack, of course, is the only one that actually counts. It completely eclipses any other perceived deficiency. They don't have a vote.

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