Nice little earner for the spiv inspector

7th July 1995 at 01:00
Education usually has less than its share of dirty business. But naughty things have happened lately, so I have instituted the Arthur Daley Awards for shabby practice in education. The much-coveted "Ada" will recognise supreme achievement in this highly specialised field.

The first prestigious Ada is awarded to those inspectors of the Office for Standards in Education to whom this astonishing warning was addressed in the 14th issue of the OFSTED Update for school inspection: Conduct of Inspectors "Several schools have brought to our attention situations where inspectors were thought to be misusing their position in order to seek work in a consultancy capacity. Although such concerns can arise as a result of genuine misinterpretation of good intentions, we want to draw the dangers specifically to the attention of inspectors.

"Guidance on the Code of Conduct states that inspectors should refrain from using their position to secure further employment for themselves, or others, where this would prejudice, or appear to prejudice, their impartiality or impair the integrity of an inspection. In particular the handing out of business cards has resulted in a number of complaints.

"We also advise that where inspectors offer 'free' advice following an inspection, the limits of what is being offered should be made clear and this should not be a prelude to seeking further paid work on the back of an inspection."

These three paragraphs from OFSTED blew my mind. Since the privatisation of inspections, Her Majesty's Inspectorate has been turning in its collective grave. What on earth did it say on the business cards that these entrepreneurial inspectors handed out during inspections? "Illegal assemblies"? "Call Holierthanthou Plc for expert advice"? "Sid Spiv, Consultant Extraordinary"?

The last paragraph baffled me. How did "free" advice become chargeable? Did these slimy inspectors, all smiles and affability, cheerfully offer a few tips and then send a bill later, or turn up round the back with an unmarked van and a cash register? If you've got an OFSTED coming up, keep a lookout for Sid Spiv.

Presumably de-briefing after an inspection nowadays goes like this: "So to sum up, ladies and gentlemen, Swineshire School is below the national average in mathematics. Now we have some really nice maths tests available, only fifty quid a dozen. No, look, I like your face. To you, forty quid. All right, cor blimey, the missus'll kill me for this. Thirty quid, that's my final offer. Tell you what, I've gone completely crackers, it must be your bleedin' birthday today. Twenty quid - and an OFSTED T-shirt". I can't remember this happening back in the days of HMI.

While Sid Spiv was avidly plying his seedy trade in the inspection business, the second Ada was being won comfortably by the Department for Education.

In the 21st century, researchers into media management will find rich pickings in the press releases from the Department for Education, or the "Ministry of Truth", as it will be known. DFE press releases stretch the word "truth" into hyperspace. Their main purpose is to persuade journalists and the public that all is well with Government policy.

A report comes out saying: "Government policy is about as effective as an aerosol at the North Pole". Next day, the DFE press release, under the headline "Report supports Government education policy", states boldly: "Mr Henry Farnes-Barnes, Minister of Truth, welcomed the Youmustbekidding Report, saying, 'This glowing report is a great testimony to the success of our North Pole fly spray policy for raising educational standards in inner cities'."

Two years ago, the National Commission on Education published a thorough report on the state of education. Last month, it brought out an update on what had and had not been done by the Government. The Commission's own press release was headlined "Education Commission signs off on note of dismay - 'Action has lagged behind rhetoric'." It went on to talk about a "long catalogue of neglect".

By contrast the DFE press release dismissed these criticisms as "misplaced". It documented examples of Government "progress" it claimed had been ignored by the Commission. This "progress" included "education will be at the top of the Government's expenditure priorities as the economy delivers further growth" and various other meaningless events in an unspecified future. If that is "progress", then I'm a banana, as the editor of Private Eye once said. Congratulations on your Ada, DFE. Arthur Daley himself takes his hat off to you. Even Sid Spiv, the bent inspector, is looking envious.

The third Ada goes to those naughty schools who are said to have cheated in the national tests. I don't know whether they were being egged on by Sid Spiv, but giving pupils the answers to the tests is definitely offside. It reminded me of a story told by one of our leading educational psychologists.

One day he went to a school to test children's reading. One pupil was tongue-tied. So the psycho-logist thought that, before he actually gave the boy the reading test, he ought to break the ice, engage in a bit of light conversation. However, there was only silence from the lad. The psychologist tried everything, conversation, banter, easy everyday questions. Not a sausage. Not one word crossed the boy's lips. The psychologist despaired. How could he do a reading test with a pupil who would not even open his mouth?

As a last resort, bringing all his years of experience to bear, he tried one desperate ruse. "Isn't there anything you'd like to say to me before we start?" he asked, "Anything at all?" The lad furrowed his brow. With one enormous effort he slowly uttered seven words: "Sit: card: duck: push: cow: hat: sheep."

They were the first seven words of the psychologist's reading test. The boy's teacher had been coaching him in it all week.

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