Science of succession

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Unravelling the jargon of educationspeak

There you are, master of vast empires, your dotage fast approaching, horribly aware of the fact that someone is going to have to take over before long, but unable to decide who it's going to be.

Congratulations, you're Rupert Murdoch.

If you're not, the empire probably isn't vast, or even an empire. You might have nothing but a small room and the ability to create fear and loathing in a number of other people who have to act on the pompous and nasty little memos you take such pleasure in devising. Nevertheless, sooner or later you're going to have to go, even if it does take six burly bruisers with wire cutters to get you out. And somebody is going to have to take your place.

Choosing who it's going to be is called succession planning. It used always to be someone called Buggins who was next in line. (Indeed, so many ambitious people used to change their name by deed poll that sometimes there were whole organisations consisting entirely of employees called Buggins.) But now there's a science to it - probably because there are too many scientists around without enough to do. Finding a successor is now about spotting talent at an early stage and nurturing it, preparing it for power, imbuing it with the ethos.

Unfortunately this daft idea, as all daft ideas eventually do, has now reached the disinfectant-smelling halls of education. Daft because, as everyone in power knows, having potential successors grinning over the parapet is fatal. The only way to stay at the top is ruthlessly to crush anybody who looks remotely like climbing into the imperial swivelling chair while you've nipped out for a couple of stiff ones. The first thing any self-respecting tyrant did in the old days was to poison andor garrotte his entire extended family, to discourage the others. Then he did in the others as well, just to be on the safe side.

Today, as the scientists would have it, our tyrant would have to identify the person most likely to want him out of the way as soon as possible and then teach him advanced backstabbing techniques. Why, it would be Caesar giving Brutus a dagger, or Tony Blair making Gordon Brown the chancellor.

This sort of thing clearly has no place in the modern education system. If you don't believe me, ask Ruth Kelly.

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