Planet Hgios going nowhere, but very fast

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Jim Aitken Teaches In Edinburgh

Many staffrooms will have smart white-boards with the letters HGIOS on them. Many teachers at in-service sessions will take a few minutes to realise that this stands for How Good Is Our School, Part 3: The Journey To Excellence. Sadly, many more, as they are taken through this document, will think they have landed on the planet Hgios, instead of being presented with the latest HMIE text.

Language can do many wonderful things: it can inspire and uplift; it can make you think; and it can make you feel. But it can also obscure - sometimes deliberately. It can demean, control and oppress.

Frantz Fanon, in Black Skin, White Masks, wrote of the colonised who had to live by the coloniser's language, and how this actually worked to continue their oppression. HGIOS 3 can be seen in a similar light. It was produced by RR Donnelley B 48369 0307. Who or what this might be we are not told.

The publication is typically ring-bound and multi-coloured. Bullet-pointed throughout, it has grids, tick boxes, photographs of HGIOS students and looks what one would customarily call "user-friendly".

Sadly, it is written in a language that pretends to be consensual, or "collegiate" as we now say, but is in fact prescriptive and as negotiable as fog. HGIOS 1 and 2 are "embedded" in this new document, which is intended to be the definitive word before The Journey To Excellence commences. Where "excellence" is, we are not entirely sure, but HGIOS will get us there. No need to stop and think. In fact, this document forbids that, because control must be constant, which means endless movement and change. HGIOS forbids anything remotely settled; for there must be continuous improvement.

It all reminds me of the birth of New Labour, when we were told there were new conditions in a new Europe and a new world. Just like New Labour, it is a hugely expensive exercise in spin, which deliberately obscures while appearing to sound perfectly au fait with all aspects of our illusory journey.

We are told, for example, that "a shared vision doesn't come easily", without being told what that vision entails. It would be inconceivable under this regime for any school to come up with a vision that sought to dispense with, say, 50 per cent of the current assessments, or tried to downgrade computers in favour of books, or attempted to cultivate critical thinking in both class and staffrooms. That is not what the vision of HGIOS is all about because, we are told John Donne-style, "schools are not islands".

And when you are told "indicators are not checklists or recipes", what exactly are you supposed to feel about that? Or if you read "we educate for sustainability and prepare our learners for global citizenship", how do you translate that to the S3 student who has just told you to "**** off"? Similarly, how can you ever begin to fathom the mythological heading to Appendix 3, which reads: "The relationship between the quality framework of indicators and the ten dimensions of excellence"?

It's that allusion to John Donne that gives the game away. Schools clearly are not islands - and more's the pity since HGIOS non-think now pervades the entire civic and social space we inhabit. It is indoctrination devoid of doctrine, a framework without a frame, words without meanings. And Appendix 4 gives us all a clue as to how far this will spread - "a common approach across all public services". There must be no islands anywhere now. HGIOS is spreading in order to guarantee that we journey nowhere, faster and more frantically than ever before.

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