More cooks please

23rd November 2012 at 00:00

It's the restaurant where I once inadvertently set fire to my menu after failing to spot a Valentine's Day candle on our table, prompting wife, various nearby lovers and a waiter to dive for cover beneath the napery while I rapidly emptied a jug of water, mainly over myself. Nonetheless she and I still occasionally treat ourselves to a meal out at the Brasserie Blanc in Oxford. I think they have forgotten.

French chef Raymond Blanc set it up as a (relatively) cheap local option compared with his highly exclusive Le Manoir a few miles away. The brasserie option suits the middle-income masses very well. We know we are not at the place, yet it still carries that all-important "Blanc" stamp of quality.

I sometimes wonder whether the pioneering headteacher and political biographer Anthony Seldon was dining at said brasserie when he first hit upon the idea of creating a state-sector Wellington Academy just a few miles down the road from his Wellington College - perhaps after some reunion at his old Oxford college just five minutes away. The Le Manoir-Brasserie Blanc relationship seems so uncannily similar to the one now working for Wellington College and Wellington Academy.

The marketing is much the same: some punters are happy to pay thousands of pounds a term to access the full "Beef Wellington", while others in the area go for the perfectly appetising "Wellington Lite" - though for God's sake, marketing guys, make sure the customers paying a fortune up at the College are still contentedly aware of the difference in quality.

Seldon himself is plainly a well-meaning, able and engaging figure. I can understand why the BBC and other news media might occasionally seek a comment or sound bite from him. But should the public be hearing Seldon's opinions on educational news stories quite so often while so rarely hearing from the other half a million or so teachers in this country? On Radio 4, in particular, it seems to be Seldon all the time, seldom anyone else.

Surely the public should hear more from a random selection of normal teachers and heads? The folly of the seemingly automatic "phone Seldon" approach was illustrated recently in the issue of setting homework in primary schools. Rather than asking the views of primary heads, they opted first to hear from Seldon, once again. And what insightful gem did the poor, beleaguered, quote-drained Wellington head have to offer on the matter? That homework "should be fun". A brilliant answer. Not a single primary school teacher in the country could have thought of that.

The only other people from whom the public usually get to hear on such occasions are union leaders Keates, Blower and Bousted. These people are important voices in the debate but they too hardly present the many shades of opinion that teachers may have on an issue - something only really represented in online forum debates at www.tes.co.uk. When does the non-teaching public ever get to hear what a selection of ordinary teachers really think? I know that's because a few of us might simply call for "more biscuits", but at least we would feel more fairly and fully represented.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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