Spherically yours

23rd November 2007 at 00:00
It's tough at the top - in education, as elsewhere. Whatever you do is bound to be wrong. And if you do nothing, that's wrong too. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Take the issue of teacher retirement. These are people who have given years of their lives - sometimes the whole of their working lives - to serving others. OK, they've been paid for it, but you'd have to be a bit slow if you came into teaching just for the money.

If you are the education minister, you get a little note from the Teachers' Pension agency each time someone in the scheme decides to call it a day. Or at least your office does.

Dilemma: do you mark the occasion or ignore it? Send out letters full of polite platitudes and you are in danger of being labelled condescending. Do nothing and you risk being seen as heartless and ungrateful.

Being at the top of the education tree must be an even tougher job if, like our current Secretary of State, your name also happens to be Balls. You have, of course, heard all the puns, jokes and smutty asides a thousand times over. Sadly that doesn't stop every smart-arsed little commentator wanting to have his dig too. So - with apologies in advance - here goes.

Technically I am retired. For reasons of vanity, I would like to make it clear that this is early retirement. In practice, I continue to work full-time - it's only the pattern of my work that has changed.

Somewhere in the system, though, it has been noticed that Jones is taking his pension. Wheels have turned, cogs have whirred and last week a letter dropped through the box with the red logo of the Department for Children, Schools and Families stamped proudly on the top.

What followed was a couple of paragraphs, ostensibly from the Secretary of State, but clearly written by his "letters to teachers (congratulations) sub-committee". It reminded me that mine was an important job which made "a real difference to the lives of individuals and to the well-being of our society". It also wished me a long and happy retirement.

And what did it say at the bottom of the page after the valediction which declared that the sentiments were "sincerely" meant?

"Balls!"

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