Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair

25th November 1994 at 00:00
From time to time human achievement seems to reach its pinnacle. There are rare moments in our lives when we are privileged to witness pure genius - Hamlet's soliloquy, Pavarotti singing Puccini's La Boheme, Pele playing football for Brazil in the 1970s.

There was, for me, a moment last week when all previous instances of supreme human endeavour paled. I had the privilege of experiencing perfection, the ultimate example of the immaculate. Alongside it Shakespeare, Pavarotti and Pele appeared shoddy. I read a pile of papers about National Vocational Qualifications.

Now I don't want you going out and doing the same thing without clearance from your GP that you are in robust health and that your cardiovascular system can cope with the ecstasy. Reading about NVQs is only for the comprehensively fit person. This Rembrandt of rubbish, this Beethoven of Bakerspeak, this Einstein of eyewash, is not for anyone who is frail or of a nervous disposition.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against vocational education, quite the reverse. Nor do I break into a cold sweat at the prospect of analysing human performance, or indeed at the notion of "competence" or "performance". It is just that when NVQs are written up in the full glory of triply distilled Bakerspeak, the mechanical dreariness is unparalleled. Hence the widespread belief that NVQ stands for Not Very Quotable.

Some people believe that the NVQ "competency" approach should be imposed on the training of the teaching profession. If you wonder what this would mean, then consider some of the gems in the NVQ-style teaching certificates for teachers in further and adult education. These documents are already saturated with "element codes", "range indicators", "negotiated evidence", and "performanceproduct" evidence. Confused? You soon will be.

Take "competence element" 3.1 of one document, for example. Candidates must "deliver a programme of learning sessions". Come again, competence element 3.1? Is this what we traditionalists used to call "teach"? Will the National Union of Teachers now be renamed the National Union of Deliverers of Learning Sessions, or, if we were so foolish as to saddle the teaching profession with this tosh, the appropriately termed NUDLS? Will staff rooms echo with banter like, "It's OK for you, but I've got to deliver a programme of learning experiences to Darren Rowbottom this afternoon", as oodles of noodles set about their daily task?

In this fantastic world, where teachers - pardon me, noodles - are seen as Thunderbirds, "range statements" are defined as "contexts in which the individual is expected to achieve the standard" on dozens of "performance criteria". Reading this mind-numbing accumulation of hundreds of performance criteria is like wading neck-deep through treacle. What on earth does this typical example mean, ignoring the grammatical error "Referral is conducted in a constructive and sensitive manner which is supportive of the learner and their learning objectives"? We noodles have a right to know.

However, I don't want to be sniffy about it, so I offer this set of NVQ performance criteria for my "Thunderbirds Are Go" Diploma of Noodling. I hope NVQ fans will not think I am trying to teach my grandmother to suck eggs, or rather, in NVQ-speak, "deliver a programme of learning experiences to parents' immediate female ancestor within the range statement pertaining to the acquisition of the performance skill of drawing the contents of hard-shelled reproductive bodies into the mouth by inhalation and the force of suction".

NVQ Noodling Unit 999, Element MADCAP lb, "Use the Blackboard".

Candidate's performance criteria: * picks up stick of chalk of desired colour; * breaks it in two, if whole stick; * accurately judges distance between self and blackboard; * advances purposefully towards blackboard, avoiding loose bags and coats on floor; * successfully selects empty space on blackboard; * prepares to face class, first discreetly checking flies or blouse buttons; * asks class current calendar date; * checks answer in personal diary; * writes date on blackboard, accurately spitting on sleeve and erasing any errors.

Knowledge evidence required: * how to hold stick of chalk (knowledge of three different grips required, including Steinberg's Three-fingered Backhand); * where blackboard is located (10 minutes allowed for search); * which pocket contains personal diary (half an hour allowed for search); * compass-bearing and national grid reference of own location relative to blackboard; * name of last-but-one Secretary of State (not related to blackboard expertise, but only way Clarkie will ever be remembered).

Range statements.

* Resources available: blackboard, sleeve, saliva, stick of chalk, flies, blouse, emergent human learning receptacles (pupils).

* Expected ways of working: health and safety (no inaccurate gobbing on sleeve), equal opportunities (any pupil to be permitted to gob on own sleeve and erase errors), appeals procedures (pupils not allowed to gob on sleeve offered right of appeal), confidentiality (pupils permitted opportunity to gob on sleeve anonymously).

Any comments on the proposal to impose NVQ procedures on the education and training of the noodling profession should be sent to Captain Thunderbird, NVQ House, Naff Enterprises Inc, Drowning-in-the-Jargon, Tillit, Herts.

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