Verbally-challenged applications

12th January 1996 at 00:00
I had the entertaining job last summer term of reading 67 applications for an NQT primary post. "Differentiation" was a word that was new to me as a simple layperson, but apparently it is the big thing in teacher training now. Most applicants used it several times. Some could even spell it.

I had a little trouble with differentiation myself. The machine seemed to have produced a string of identical sausages, and one searched, largely in vain, for an original idea, or even a stale one freshly expressed. I was the only one of four of us reading the applications to notice that two of them were actually identical. One poor fuddled final year student had applied twice, but this had gone unremarked in the general uniformity.

All right, I'll admit it, I was feeling a little peevish. One of the new ideas that does not seem to have filtered through to the teacher trainers is that we governors now play a significant part in running schools and appointing staff. None of the applicants mentioned us at all, except occasionally in the composite phrase "relationships-with-parents-governors-and-the-wider-community". A little differentiation would not come amiss here, Sunshine. Remember who is going to be interviewing you.

So what did they mean by differentiation? My daughter, an A-level maths student, tells me she can do it, but only with the aid of a highly sophisticated and wildly expensive calculator, but that cannot be what they had in mind. No, I think it is one of those words which has had to be invented in the interests of political correctness as its predecessors become unacceptable.

As backward becomes handicapped and handicapped gives way to challenged, so we must give up words like setting, streaming and even, dare I say it, discrimination, which can now only be used with the word "positive". Surely one person's positive discrimination must be another's negative discrimination - but I digress.

Differentiation, as used by my job applicants, seems to mean noticing that children are different from one another and treating them accordingly. Well, who would have thought it? Perhaps they start in the first year of training with the basic stuff. Like distinguishing boys from girls - boys have Power Rangers, girls go for Princess Pocahontas. Later the concept of giving bright kids harder work is introduced. Sorry, I mean offering the differently- abled children enrichment. I can't think what came over me.

Recently, I was shown the log book of a primary school about to celebrate its centenary. The entry for the very first day reads: "Most of the children are very backward. Some attending school for the first time. Very difficult to keep all employed on account of the differences in the attainments of the scholars. "

Of course, some of the difficulty may have been due to the fact there were 89 "scholars" and only two teachers. Plus ca change . . .

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