Ofsted meets Humpty Dumpty in wonderland!

9th November 2007 at 00:00

Now here's a conundrum. What do Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty, Yoof-speak and Ofsted all have in common? Answer: they all wish to reshape the English language along lines of their own choosing.

Let's start with Alice's exchange with the world's best known egg- head.

Humpty Dumpty: "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." Alice: "The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things." Humpty Dumpty: "The question is which is to be master - that's all."

Then there is the way that kids from Baltimore to Bognor Regis have turned words such as "wicked" and "bad" into concepts that mean exactly the opposite. In fact, these have now become so well established in the mainstream, they'll probably soon be turning them back again.

With everyone's favourite inspection outfit it's that old term "satisfactory" that has been bugging them. For Ofsted there is just something, well, unsatisfactory about the word. First they did it to schools, announcing that from now on being judged as satisfactory is just not good enough. Now, in their latest annual report, they have said the same about colleges. More should be pulling up their socks and moving on from satisfactory to good (soon to be known as mediocre) and excellent, the new "average". No doubt, next year they will announce a new super- grade, to be known as AFB, the first and last words of which will be "absolutely" and "brilliant".

Inspectors will henceforth be chosen entirely on their propensities for linguistic invertability. They will be found wandering through college corridors declaring that ding is dong, day is night, right is wrong and black is white.

Or to put it another way, no change there then.

Job swap on offer .

Some people get the funniest ideas about what other people do or don't know. In particular they assume that others - despite differences in age, class, colour, etc - know all the things they know.

As a corrective to this, I have one simple solution: teach. And if you want to comment on what people might once have known, make sure you teach for a long time.

The above thoughts are prompted by our Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and his recent round of media performances to promote his new book, The Home We Build Together. In this he argues that multiculturalism has had its day and that we need to move to a more integrated society.

One plank of his argument runs as follows: "Until recently, national cultures were predicated on the idea of a canon, a set of texts that everyone knew. In the case of Britain they included the Bible, Shakespeare and the great novels."

But were they? Did they? Thirty years in the classroom, for much of the time teaching literature, tells me emphatically that they weren't, they didn't. Some would have dabbled in Shakespeare, as they do today. Some might have spent their Sundays in church, also like today. As for the so- called "great" novels, the thought that "everyone" had read even one of these is laughable.

On checking, I note that the Chief Rabbi has in fact been a teacher but only in the rarefied air of the top universities. So here is an offer that I suspect he can refuse. Sir Jonathan comes and teaches in FE for a week while I operate as Chief Rabbi. I'm sure we both would have a lot to learn.

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