The token point of parental choice

26th January 1996 at 00:00
Come in, sit down, do make yourself comfortable. My name is Arthur Tittle and I'm chairman of governors. It's Mrs Watson, isn't it?" "No, I'm Mrs Wilkins. Mrs Watson was the lady before me."

"Ah yes. I'm sorry about the mix-up, but we're interviewing so many prospective parents, it's terribly confusing. Still, we're down to our last vacant place. As you know, Mrs Wilkins, since the Government introduced more selection for secondary schools we now have to interview parents to see if they meet the high standards we, the governors, have set ourselves here at King Ethelred's Elite Academy, and . . ."

"I'm sorry, Mr Tittle, I must be in the wrong place. I thought this was Gasworks Comprehensive. That's why I've come for interview, you know, about our Shane, to see if he can come here next September. Only he goes to Scumbag Primary at the moment, and I'd like him to come to Gasworks because it's our local school."

"No, you're quite right, Mrs Wilkins, this used to be Gasworks Comprehensive until yesterday. But when the Government introduced more selection, we decided to change the school's name to something more 'up market' at our governors' meeting, to help us get the best recruits. The school is now known as King Ethelred's Elite Academy and we've set a fairly stiff selection test for parents."

"Well, I didn't do that well at school myself, Mr Tittle, so I . . ."

"Don't worry, Mrs Wilkins. I'm sure you'll do your best. Now the first question is, what do you and your husband do for a living?"

"I haven't got a job, but Mr Wilkins is a spoon finisher at Arkwright's. In fact, he's on late shift tonight, that's why he hasn't come with me."

"A spoon finisher. Let me see. Forgive me a moment, I'm just looking it up on our chart to see how many points that gives you."

"Points? I don't understand."

"It's quite simple, Mrs Wilkins, we give parents a number of points for each item on our selection criteria. Being unemployed gets you no points, 'nul points' as they say in the Eurovision song contest, but your husband gets one point for being in a semi-skilled manual job. Now our next selection criterion is 'verbal reasoning'. Tell me, Mrs Wilkins, 'cat' is to 'kitten' as 'dog' is to . . . what?"

"I don't understand, Mr Tittle, we haven't got a cat, and the dog's a bit deaf. But what's this got to do with our Shane coming to Gasworks, I mean King Ethelred's?"

"Look, let me repeat the question, Mrs Wilkins, it's a verbal reasoning intelligence test we're setting prospective parents. 'Cat' is to 'kitten' as 'dog' is to . . . what?"

"Is it 'Spike'? That's what our dog's called."

"I'm sorry, it's 'nul points' again, I'm afraid. The correct answer was 'puppy'. Now the last question is worth up to l00 points, so listen carefully. If your Shane came to King Ethelred's, how much would you be willing to contribute to school funds each year?"

"Oh dear, that's a bit hard to say. You see, his dad's been on short time at Arkwright's, but I spend Pounds 1 a week on a lottery scratch card, so if that came up . . ."

"Fine, Mrs Wilkins. Don't worry about it. Give us a ring if you win the big one. Thank you for coming for interview, and we'll be in touch."

"Oh, is that it, then? Only I hope you'll take our Shane. He's a nice lad, and I don't know where he'll go if he can't get in here."

"We'll do what we can, Mrs Wilkins. You're the last person we're seeing, so please close the door as you leave.

"Right, ladies and gentlemen. That completes all the interviews, so let's just score Mrs Wilkins on each of our three criteria, and then we can make the final selection. I made it one point for social standing. All agreed? Good. Now what category do we put her in for the 'genetic endowment' criterion?"

"Can you just remind us of the categories, Mr Chairman?"

"I can indeed, Mrs Farnes-Barnes. The five categories are 'bloody clever', which scores 10 points, then 'clever' which gets five, 'only think they're smart' scores three, 'thick' gets one, and 'monumentally stupid' gets zero. Shall we be generous and give her one point? Good, that's agreed. And clearly no points on our third criterion, 'filthy rich and suggestible', unless her scratch card comes up. So a grand total of two points for Mrs Wilkins, I'm afraid. Yes, Mrs Farnes-Barnes?"

"Can we just go back to the previous parents, Mr and Mrs Watson, because we gave them some bonus points which I didn't note down."

"Yes, of course. Mr Watson came in a business suit, so that got 10 bonus points. Then we awarded Mrs Watson 15 extra points for her rather fetching black twin set and pearls, plus 10 for wearing Miss Dior perfume. They got 50 points for coming in a Volvo estate, but we docked five as it didn't have air conditioning. Finally, there was Mr Watson's additional 10 for being captain of the golf club, and Mrs Watson's 50 points for her fine elocution."

"So the Watsons get our last place."

"Correct, Mrs Farnes-Barnes. However, we still have one more duty. You remember that we decided it was important to be able to say to the press and public that King Ethelred took pupils from all social backgrounds and abilities. Well, we did hold back one place for this very purpose. I propose that Shane Wilkins is exactly what we are looking for, the perfect 'token prole'. I am sure, fellow governors, that the Government will be delighted with our brilliant implementation of their parental choice policy."

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