Monsters of think-tank lagoon

9th January 2004 at 00:00
So now we know the true "direction", for want of a better word, of the government plan for getting classroom assistants to take lessons on their own. According to a document leaked to The TES in December, the Department for Education and Skills master plan seemed to be a school with no qualified teachers in it. Without a hint of irony the paper was called "blue skies".

You just can't compete with this sort of surreal artistry.

I try my best. Goodness knows, I bust a gut to come up with something ludicrous every fortnight, but what chance do we satirists stand against such denizens of the distant Kingdom of Dementia? A few weeks ago I watched a Spanish football match on television. When Barcelona won a free kick, the opposition lined up a five-man defensive wall. It consisted of Zidane, Figo, Beckham, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, a multi-million pound quintet of the greatest footballers on the planet. This fabulously talented assembly reminded me of the world-class crapologists working for the DfES. They must be the Real Madrid of fertiliser production.

It is utterly ludicrous that people who do not have the faintest inkling of the realities of classroom life are given immense power to determine its nature, while those who do understand what it means to teach classes of children every day are rendered completely impotent. What amazed me about the leaked paper was that the tone was so bloody pleased with itself. By trumpeting the proud discovery that the rules required only the headteacher of a school to be qualified (what a good spot, squire!), the authors clearly believed that proposing a return to Victorian times, when there were very few qualified teachers, was an act of unparalleled genius.

Where else are solutions to 21st century problems being sought in the distant past? I suggest the DfES unintelligentsia call themselves a hansom cab, row across the oceans, and go for a nice long holiday in Sydney. If they fall ill, no doubt some doctor, seduced by nostalgia for a bygone age, will mutter a medieval spell, get them to swallow a few tadpoles and then saw their leg off.

I've got an even better retro idea for 21st-century education. Why not go the whole hog and educate children in caves? They can paint pictures on the walls (art), hunt sabre-tooth tigers (geography, history and maths), make and use their own spear (technology and PE), light a fire (science), and then sing a song about it (music and English). That must be the ultimate DfES dream: the whole national curriculum taught cheaply, without a qualified teacher in sight.

The saddest feature of the whole sorry episode was the deeply ingrained attitude it revealed. Complete contempt for teachers and for the art and science of teaching can be cleverly concealed, until the mask slips. The begetters of this leaked paper clearly believe that anybody can teach children. Give a stick of chalk to a moderately motivated chimpanzee, a prawn, a well-formed amoeba, or for that matter a cauliflower, and so long as the head is a qualified teacher, you're in business.

Denials filled the air, or course. Oh deary me, where on earth did this paper come from? Never seen it, honest guv.

Must be some office boy. If senior civil servants and politicians are that unvigilant, I suggest someone should stick a note under their nose saying "I owe you a million pounds in used tenners" and get them to sign it.

Protestations of innocence fool nobody. Menials produce what they know will please their masters.

Stephen Byers may now be trying to reconstitute himself as Mother Teresa, but when he was a cabinet minister, his assistant produced her notorious memo, about September 11 being a good day to bury bad news, because she knew that was the kind of deft spinning regarded as smart in modern politics. A vicar or a teacher would never have dreamed of advocating anything so shameful, which their colleagues would condemn.

I wonder how many more whimsical "blue skies" ideas, like the school with no qualified teachers, are floating freely in the deep underground lair where these things are produced. How about a school with no pupils? Think of the cash we could save, and there would be no discipline problems.

We could have exam papers with no questions on them, which would reduce both stress and the problems of marking. A textbook with no pages? Brilliantly compact, and cheap. A school dinner with no food could cure the nation's obesity problem. Or what about a government department with no idea? I think that is where we came in.

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