Truth is much dafter than fiction

7th September 2001 at 01:00
I give up. I absolutely give up. No wonder August is called the silly season. What is the point of trying to write satire when real life beats you every time?

The sight of Kenneth Clarke claiming profound knowledge of education among his credentials for leading the Conservative party was too much to bear. Could this be the same Clarkie who always seemed to talk out of the wrong orifice when he was secretary of state? I thought he was a decent Chancellor of the Exchequer, after doing all his other jobs badly, but if Kenneth Clarke is an expert on education then my pet goldfish is an expert on quantum theory.

More food for satire came during the annual hand wringing about examination results. Public assessment is for high stakes nowadays, most teachers have been doing the job for 20 years or more, and candidates are awash with helplines, CD-Roms, revision guides, phone-ins, and online tutorials. Therefore it would be surprising if there were no improvement, though it is hard to be certain about standards of performance, since most of us are not able to compare scripts over many years.

Question: who joined the fray to attack standards this year?

Answer: Chris Woodhead.

Question: which national body conducted a 20-year study of A-level standards in mathematics, English and chemistry, concluding that there was no change in standards in English or chemistry and that there were only minor changes in maths?

Answer: the Office for Standards in Education.

Question: who was head of Ofsted when this was done?

Answer: Wood Chrishead.

The story that really creased me up, however, was the account of two committees being set up to look into, among other things, the problems of duplication. I can't make up satire like that; my friends would all say I had finally flipped. Apparently two different arms of government are looking at ways of cutting back bureaucracy, bravely trying to make out that it is a good thing to have more than one point of view on the matter.

Needless to say a few hundred grand will be spent on consultancy. When I was on a BBC committee a few years ago I was astonished at the vast sums spent on consultants, some of whom seemed to have dubious expertise. I think we should set up three committees charged with reporting on how to avoid triplication.

I would love to eavesdrop on the resulting telephone conversations.

"Oh hello. Is that the headteacher of Swineshire Academy, only it's Carruthers here of Ignoramus Associates. Would you say there's too much bureaucracy in education nowadays?" "Yes, there certainly is."

"And why do you think that is?" "Well, it's mainly prats like you ringing up and asking if there's too much bureaucracy. You're the third one today."

These summer events are neatly summed up in the following story.

A shepherd was tending his sheep by a country road when a brand new Range Rover screeched to a halt next to him. The driver, dressed in a sharp Italian suit, handmade shoes, expensive sunglasses, and gold wristwatch, jumped out and said: "If I guess how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?" The shepherd looked at the large sprawling herd of grazing sheep and said "OK."

So the man parked his Range Rover, connected his notebook and wireless modem, entered a NASA site, scanned the ground using satellite imagery, opened a database and 60 Excel tables filled with algorithms, printed a 150-page report on his high tech mini printer, and said,"You have exactly 1,927 sheep here."

The shepherd answered: "You are right. Pick out a sheep."

The man took one of the animals and put it in the back of his vehicle. The shepherd looked at him and asked: "If I guess your profession, will you pay me back in kind?" "Sure."

"You're a consultant."

"Exactly! How on earth did you know that?" asked the man."Simple," replied the shepherd."First you came without being invited.

"Second, you charged me for telling me something I already knew.

"Third, you know nothing about my business, and I'd really like to have my dog back."

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