Pass me another piano leg, Douglas

12th July 1996 at 01:00
I have managed to get hold of the most sensational scoop. The only copy in existence of the new national curriculum for teacher training has come into my possession. It was found in an attic beside the long-lost manuscript of a Mozart song. Both will shortly be sold at Sotheby's, and foreign buyers are expected from all over the world.

I am thinking of selling my unique copy of the national curriculum for teacher training to the British Museum for several million pounds, and having the Mozart manuscript perforated at six-inch intervals, adding the slogan "Now wash your hands". Or was it the other way round?

The pedigree of the new national curriculum for teacher training appears on the back of the document. It was lovingly prepared by the Office for Standards in Education and the Teacher Training Agency, which is a bit like expecting two carrots to perform triple bypass surgery, but never mind, they have tried. The final version will eventually be validated by the Monty Python Appreciation Society.

The purpose of this Government curriculum for teachers is to restore finally and irrevocably to education the last missing jigsaw-puzzle piece of the mythical Golden Age. In the 19th century, teacher-training institutions were called "normal schools", because there was one single approved way to teach - the "norm". All teachers were fitted into the same strait-jacket. In 1854, in his novel Hard Times, Charles Dickens wrote of Mr M'Choakumchild: "He and some one hundred and forty schoolmasters had been lately turned at the same time in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs. " It was a withering description of these 19th-century clones.

By 1888, the Cross Commission was equally devastating in its condemnation of young trainees who had had a fixed repertoire of approved methods hammered into them: "All they could do was faithfully to transmit the letter of the lesson they had received, for how should they have seized its spirit? Consequently all they were called upon to do was to apply exactly the mechanical processes in which they had been drilled."

Final examination papers reinforced the dreary sameness of it all. "To what subjects would you apply Collective Instruction? What are the disadvantages of this method?". A 1997 teacher-training exam question suggested by Chris Woodhead? No, it is much too liberal for that, since it actually permits a discussion of disadvantages. It is in fact an exam question set for teacher trainees at St Luke's College in 1857.

Anyway, to return to this copy of the new national curriculum for teachers that has fallen into my hands, I can reveal that it has already caused a Government split. The Euro-sceptics want it to be called Back to the Future, while the Mad Cow Faction prefers Forward to the Past, but this is a minor matter.

The major purpose of this curriculum is to ensure that the "normal master" idea of the 19th century is restored. All teachers will have to teach using the same methods, no matter what age group, subject or activity they are teaching. The essential ingredients are these: Training institutions: The Government will hand over both initial and in-service training to groups of estate agents, accountants and OFSTED lay inspectors. Other people with absolutely no knowledge of education may also be invited to bid for contracts.

Teaching methods: The only method permitted is whole-class teaching, irrespective of context. PE teachers will be shown how to teach 15-a-side tennis (five rows of three pupils either side of the net is the mandatory formation). Driving instructors will give mass lectures on "the clutch" or "torque", instead of individual tuition.

Information Technology: Computers and new interactive technology are supposed to individualise learning, but since this is outlawed, 30 pupils will have to sit in front of a single keyboard and screen, taking it in turns to use the mouse (Government-required method is for each pupil to have the mouse on the same day each month, so if your name is Montmorency, you probably get it on or about the 15th).

Teachers: All teachers must be the same. In future every teacher, male or female, will be called Douglas. Any clothing worn must be in the official government colour, grey. Teachers will be trained to start the school day by leading pupils in the singing of the new national anthem ("Woodhead save our gracious Queen, Woodhead save our noble Queen, Woodhead save the Queen", etc). Teacher unions will be abolished and everyone will have to join the National Association of Pianoforte Legs.

Group work: There won't be any. Drama lessons will consist of the chariot scene from Ben Hur with the whole class either acting as members of the crowd or sitting in the chariot. Science experiments will be done in groups of 30. Constructing the "string telephone" will involve making a spaghetti-like telephone exchange with 30 pieces of string knotted together and everyone shouting at each other down them.

Projects: Illegal, too trendy.

Qualifications: All degrees and certificates for teachers will be abolished. Those successfully completing a course will have "Clone" stamped on their forehead, and be allowed to call themselves Douglas. Teachers embarrassed at the stigma will be permitted to cover their brow with a headband which has "Vote Conservative" on it.

Actually I have made all this up. They don't clone people, they only clone sheep. And the Government wouldn't want that, now would it?

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