Newspeak of the devil
Sorting through boxes of old school documents in the garage at the weekend, I came across some faded letters sent to me by the local education office in my first weeks as a school leader. There was no email in those days, of course: everything was done on a typewriter. One letter in particular grabbed my attention.
"Dear headteacher, now that the borough has moved its education office to larger premises, we'd like to make it a special place for parents and visitors. The entrance and waiting area is rather plain, and since our schools produce outstanding work, we'd like to celebrate that by setting up exhibitions of children's work. If your school has been working on a project, and you would like lots of people in the borough to see it, please get in touch."
I jumped at the chance. I had recently instigated a whole-school topic on famous artists. We had filled one of our halls with work and had plenty left over, so we were able to create a lively mini-exhibition of artwork, models and creative writing for the education office. It was quite a hit: I received letters and phone calls from visitors complimenting us on the quality of the work. And, even more importantly, increasing numbers of parents began to visit my school seeking a place for their children.
The local education office has undergone many changes since then, but the officers there don't seem to realise I have retired, because they still send me frequent emails. At the start of term, I received this one.
"Dear headteacher, the Department for Education has made available a 'beta' release of the 2013 Autumn School Census, and they recommend that all schools load a file output from their MIS, allowing double-checking that all the required data is being output from the MIS into the Autumn Census return and whether validation errors or queries are being generated against your data when loaded into 'Collect', which will need to be resolved before the collection goes live. Please note, the test blade is available for only a short period."
Could there be a starker contrast between what was deemed important when I began as a headteacher and what is considered essential now? I still get a barrage of emails from companies desperate to sell me their latest electronic tool, which will tell me, at the touch of a button, just how my school is doing in the driving-up-standards stakes.
One said that the dashboard provided by the school inspectorate was a wondrous thing, but that their program went into even greater depth, with meaningful benchmarks, adaptive management systems, weighted FSM, SEN and EAL, and data crunching for a broader context.
My governors, I was told, would be especially grateful for this tool. I think they would be terrified. I'm sure, like me, they wouldn't even know what a test blade was.
Perhaps, years down the line, we'll realise what we've done and the word "child" will appear again in letters to school leaders. But before that can happen, we'll need an education secretary who knows what one is.
Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher in England. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.