From the sublime to the ridiculous

3rd January 1997 at 00:00
The TES editorial on New Year's Day 1944 opens:"A Happy New Year. . . Everyone hopes and believes that 1944 will see the end of the war in Europe and the beginning of a new era in Western Civilisation. . . there could be no better New Year resolution than to do one's utmost to lay solid foundations for social reconstruction at home and to relieve distress abroad."

I love this piece of writing: the hope - sadly to be disappointed - that the war would end that year; the resolution that we could all adopt regardless of time and place; and perhaps above all the capital letters in Western Civilisation. In one way they are so dated: in another so obviously significant in the middle of a war about precisely that.

Not all New Year resolutions, of course, are as sublime as this one. Most are ridiculous and, by the time this is being read - three days into the New Year - will in any case have fallen by the wayside.

One year, for example, I made a resolution to get fit by jogging daily. On the evening of January 1, I managed to stick to it, but only by jogging to the off-licence. The next day, I went to the off-licence again, but this time by car and on the way back decided that I had brought my resolution into such disrepute that I should drop it altogether.

Of course, unknown to many people, as a result of the Education Bill currently passing through Parliament, New Year resolutions aren't called that any more. They have a new name: targets, and every school should have one. It sets one wondering what New Year's targets education's leading lights have set themselves this year.

According to an unconfirmed report, many of the education service's leading lights were at the same party on New Year's eve and - after a few bottles of Government-issue plonk - were persuaded to write down two New Year's resolutions, one personal and one professional. What they hadn't expected was that the list would be leaked to the press. The TES is now able to reveal it exclusively.

Gillian Shephard, Education Secretary: * to stay in office; * to make sure my mobile phone is off next time I mention caning.

Chris Woodhead, HM chief inspector: lto inspect everything that moves; lto inspect everything that doesn't move as well.

Nick Tate, School Curriculum and assessment Authority chief executive: lto stem, singlehandedly, the decline of Western Civilisation; lto prevent the QNCA - which will replace SCAA and NCVQ - being called in common parlance what I think it is likely to be called.

Anthea Millett, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency: lto find an endless supply of talented, well motivated teachers; lto persuade them to stay in teaching Sir Ron Dearing, former SCAA chairman: lto avoid being asked to chair any more inquiries into issues politicians find too hot to handle; lto prepare to be asked to chair another inquiry into an issue that politicians find too hot to handle.

David Blunkett, Labour party education spokesman: lto win the election; lto persuade Gordon Brown that spending a little more on education each year would make all the difference.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat education spokesman: lto win the election; lall right then, to come a good third.

Meanwhile, around the country, no doubt teachers are looking back on 1996 in the same terms as the Abbe Si yes looked back on the French revolution. He , it was, who on being asked what he did during the great cataclysm, said: "I survived."

They will be resolving to do the same again next year.

And more. For one of the things I noticed repeatedly on school visits during 1996 was the immense energy and imagination that is being applied all over the country. There will be more still in 1997.

There are remarkable innovations and developments wherever you look as schools strive to improve themselves.

In terms of the public debate, they have so far made little impact but in terms of pupils' life chances, they are already making a difference.

My hope for 1997 is that all this inspirational school-level activity will gain greater prominence: that as the snow melts - as in an Alpine spring - a thousand flowers might bloom.

My advice to those responsible for education policy - whoever wins the election - would be to make 1997 the year in which the pent-up energies and talents of teachers everywhere are unlocked. Western Civilisation depends on them.

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