On the warpath with Spiffy;Last word;Opinion

19th February 1999 at 00:00
WHY does education use so many military metaphors? It must be nostalgia for the 1940s. You would think that World War 3 had broken out to read some newspaper stories about education. Schools are "beleaguered". Superheads are "parachuted in" to rescue failures. Teachers are the "troops", heads "run a tight ship". It is complete tosh.

Any normal professional debate about a commonplace educational issue soon becomes a "battleground" with two opposing factions "lined up" against each other, before someone "fires the first round". Everyone tries to "capture the middle ground", while "taking no prisoners", of course, until one side emerges "victorious" and goes on to "claim the spoils". Bang bang, I'm king of the castle.

How on earth, for example, does "parachuting in" actually work? I suspect that, in reality, someone merely says, "Let's get old George in, he'll soon sort them out", whereupon old George downs his gin and tonic, removes his cardigan, puts on his least threadbare St Michael suit and swans off to ratchet Gasworks comprehensive up the league tables.

To read the military account of events, however, you would think there was some secret airbase where superheads are trained in readiness for action. Probably in a camouflaged hangar in deepest Norfolk, at this very moment, the crack Superhead Squadron is gearing up for action after basic training, just as in those 1950s' war films with Richard Attenborough and Kenneth More.

So let's go the whole hog, mix up the metaphors, clear the decks, splice the main brace, chocks away, look for the Hun in the sun, prang the beggars, give Jerry a thrashing, back to Blighty, damned good show all round, angels one-five, fancy a snifter, mine's a double, tickety-boo old bean, roger and out. Norfolk, here we come.

"Right chaps, pay attention. This is it. We're going in."

"Sir, have we got time to ring our loved ones?" "Sorry, Spiffy. Hun's on the warpath, I'm afraid. Time to scramble. Now, some of us may not come back, so let's just pause to think briefly of the folks back home, and then it's time to get airborne."

"What about kit, sir?" "It's standard issue on this mission. Make sure you've got your two key documents: Charles Atlas's You too can have a body like mine and your Bluffer's Guide to the National Curriculum. Then you should have your list of soundbites."

"The soundbites are a bit dicky, sir. Any chance of some new ones?" "No can do, you'll have to make do with the old ones. Stick to your top three soundbites, if possible, that's: 'Tough targets will be set', 'Firm action will be taken' and 'No stone will be left unturned in our quest for higher standards and expectations'. Keep using the word 'tough' in every sentence."

"What do the soundbites mean, sir?" "Mean, Simkins? We're about to parachute in and you talk about meaning? Damn it, man, we're here to rescue failing schools, not ponce about doing a bally philosophy degree. Now if you look at the map, you'll see where we're going. Jenkins, you and Taffy take out Swinesville school and community college."

"Is that both of them, sir, or just the one?" "Both. The community college bit is just a temporary hut with a half-sized snooker table and a juke-box. If your 'chute doesn't open and one of you roman-candles straight into the bike shed, the other one scrapes him off and buries him under a bush. Kipper, you take command of Scumbag primary. Have you got your spelling tests?" "Roger, sir."

"Once you land, 'chute packed tight and hidden behind the dustbins. Hush Puppies on and straight into the staffroom. As soon as you open the door, lob number one soundbite 'Tough action will be taken' and then suspend the first three pupils you meet in the corridor, for dumb insolence. Any questions?" "Just one, sir. If I don't come back, could youI I mean, supposing by tomorrow I've, well, bought it, would you mind awfully taking this parcel round to Felicity? It's got great sentimental value."

"Of course, Spiffy. What is it?" "It's my pound;70,000 a year salary cheque."

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