Smothered in Kelly jelly

15th July 2005 at 01:00
David Hart, as he retires from more than 30 years of sterling service with the National Association of Head Teachers, has nominated John Patten as the worst secretary of state during his long period in office. There is now a strong challenger for that crown, namely the Prime Minister's snooty glove puppet.

"Ladeeees and gennelmen. This is a one-round contest for the heavyweight no-no championship of the United Kingdom. In the blue corner, the defending champion, John 'Bonecrusher' Patten. And in the . . . er . . . even darker blue corner, the challenger, Ruth 'Android' Kelly".

If you need a sample of her right hook, consider the statement she made in June at a lunch with journalists.

David Bell, chief inspector of schools, and Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, had both expressed the view that the Tomlinson committee proposals, to introduce four levels of diploma, were likely to come in anyway, even though they had been turned down.

The lofty words of the duchess's response are worth scrutinising closely, for they indicate not only why she is such a strong challenger for the no-no title, but what is wrong with the relationship between the Government and the professions.

Insisting that GCSEs and A-levels were here to stay, she stated: "The education world can sometimes cloud the debate and give the wrong impression."

There would be a review in 2008, to see "what, if anything, could improve A-levels". That says it all.

Her use of the phrase "the education world" is pure hauteur. The professionals who work in it are clearly not a constituency she identifies with, even though she is supposed to be in charge of it. More than 400,000 teachers and masses of others working in or with our schools are dismissed.

Little peasants from an alien world.

These insignificant tiddlers "can sometimes cloud the debate". Ooooooh, dearie me. Naughty naughty children. How dare you express an opinion and enter the domain of your intellectual and social superiors? It's not your debate, stupid, it's only for the top table. Slapped hands all round.

Moreover, the intervention of this underclass, these lepers and pariahs, can "give the wrong impression". She right, you wrong, dimbo. Get back under the table and wait till you're told to come out. I wonder if, like Cardinal Wolsey, she goes into the schools of the lower orders with a spice-stuffed orange to her nose, in case a teacher breathes on her.

The ultimate conservatism is setting up, in 2008, a "review" to decide "what, if anything, could improve A-levels", a neat bending of the English language.

Which definition of the word "review" is being invoked here? More honest would be "reassertion", "confirmation", or "reaffirmation".

I was on the board of the QCA for six years. It was usually a tea party for masochists, but it was one of the few places where you could challenge at first hand, largely without success, the stupidities of government policy.

In the end I only went for the biscuits.

Those selected in 2008 by the duchess, for confirmation of the status quo, should hang their brain up in the cloakroom before entering the room. It will not be needed. The conclusions of the committee will be written before the first meeting, so its brief will be expressed in two words: "sign" and "here".

Since I have been patronised all my life, I don't really mind it too much nowadays, but why can't I be patronised by someone I really admire, like Bobby Charlton? He is far too much of a gent, so I end up being smothered in Kelly jelly.

Anyway, enough of ephemera. Let us get down to the serious questions in life, like my perennial favourite. How do you spot a teacher on holiday? Giveaway signs include: the only one picking up litter, rather than dropping it; counting people on and off buses; being sick when asked to tick the boxes in a holiday evaluation questionnaire; wearing a Hawaiian shirt with elbow patches.

The next question is: what should teachers eat on holiday? I suggest starters like initiative soup (changes daily), or Ofsted salad (generally sound). A good main course would be cock-up au vin, or porky pie, both government-tested, with duchess potatoes, in honour of the Secretary of State.

Desserts include self-evaluation eclair (impressive exterior, hollow centre), and privatisation pudding (same as ordinary pudding, but twice the price). This can be washed down with a chilled glass of Chateau Kelly (tr s superieur, very dry, a hint of raspberry).

Finally there is the key question, the challenging puzzle on everyone's lips. How many people does it take to change Ruth Kelly's light bulb? Answer: none. The light bulb isn't broken, it's the "education world" that's at fault.

Have a good summer.

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