We need the Terminator

30th April 2004 at 01:00
I seem to have mislaid something. If you find it please let me know. Ah, I forgot to tell you what it is. It's "creative teaching". I saw it a while ago, but it seems to have disappeared.

Over Easter I went on the Universal Studios tour in Los Angeles. One highlight is a 3D performance of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator.

The narrator opens with a chilling scenario: "Imagine a world where every child does the same lessons . . ."

Imagine a world? You don't have to. Just come to England where teachers have been cowed into sticking to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority schemes of work. Many think they are compulsory, when they are optional, and believe that the Office for Standards in Education will sever their vitals if they don't implement them. Bring your biggest blaster gun, Arnie.

My major research field is classroom teaching and learning, so I intend to investigate what teachers of different subjects and age groups regard as "creative" nowadays. Maybe the word means 14 minutes of shared text, at the beginning of a literacy hour, instead of 15. The Government has just put pound;100 million into an assessment agency. A nine-figure sum for testing, but virtually zilch for imaginative teaching. It is accountability and control gone mad, from the prescription of 117 wretched competencies for reception-class children onwards.

In official eyes, teachers' imagination now lies deeply buried under infinite layers of testing, league tables, inspections, compliance, testing, bureaucracy, forms, tickboxes, testing, policies, plans, targets and, er, testing.

If you think this is a harsh judgment, visit the Department for Education and Skills website (dfes.gov.uk, but should be utterbollox.co.uk) about what you need to do if you want to innovate. The extracts below are genuine.

First you must fill in a long-winded form: "the Education Act 2002 provides for a 'Power to Innovate' - which allows schools or local education authorities to apply to the Secretary of State to lift regulatory requirements for a time-limited period, in order for a school or LEA to trial a specific innovative project . . . It is the view of the Government that the accountability framework including Ofsted inspection and the publication of performance data is at the heart of achieving higher standards for all children." In other words, don't bother.

Instead of the "power to innovate" being a God-given right, you must apply for it in writing. To the minister! Moreover, the rule states "Applicants should consult all persons who are likely to be affected by a proposal", while section 10 of the form says "outline exactly who was consulted and how this consultation took place - how many individuals".

Imagine the parallel in other fields.

Dear Chazza

Current orthodoxy decrees that paintings of people should have one eye on either side, but I fancy putting both eyes on the same side of the face, if that's OK with you.

Pablo Picasso

PS I tried to consult the six billion people who might be affected, according to section 10, but without success. However, my mate Salvador thought the idea was fine, and he himself wants to paint a watch that has, sort of, melted. Any problems with Ofsted here?

Dear Pablo

I am afraid I couldn't turn a blind eye to this, so to speak, even if both eyes were on the same side of my face, which they are not, in fact, thus making my point.


The official DfES document on the "power" (don't make me laugh again, it hurts too much) to innovate, is a mortician's delight. It continues in the same vein: "Applicants will be expected to show they have considered an 'exit strategy' which allows them to revert back to current practice when the pilot project comes to an end."

Dear Chazza

I think it would be a good idea to give a new heart to patients terminally ill with cardiac disease. As this would be an innovation, can you approve? When the pilot project comes to an end we can always, in keeping with your guidelines on an "exit strategy", take the new heart out, shove the old one back in again and then stick a couple of leeches on their bums according to time-honoured practice.

Dr Christian Barnard

What is the point of the Department for Education and Skills having an innovation unit when the Government's accountability agenda forms such a ludicrous barrier to creativity? Thank goodness that some teachers and heads still have the courage to ignore these massive pressures and back their own judgement. Professional people have a right to invent and create.

They should not have to beg for it.

So can we have our profession back, please? Otherwise we shall send for the Terminator, with his own kind of "exit strategy". As he himself so famously put it: "I'll be back."

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