Welcome to the twilight zone

20th February 1998 at 00:00
Adrian Williams worries about the effects of Labour's latest proposal on LEA involvement with schools

Many years ago, when I was but a lad and home from school with flu, I remember reading an article in the Reader's Digest about the different attitudes in the United States and Britain to a well-known vermin control firm.

British restaurant owners, the article said, did anything they could to hide the fact that they had had a visit from the company, as customers would think that they must have a problem and go elsewhere. But in the US, people would not visit a restaurant unless they saw the firm's sticker on the door - it meant that the place was regularly checked and had a clean bill of health.

All this must have lodged deep in my subconscious as I did not think about it again for 25 years - until I read the Government's proposal that local education authority involvement with schools should be in inverse proportion to the school's success.

I work with about 134 schools - and while I cannot claim to be bosom buddies with them all, I feel moderately welcome when I visit, and invariably get a cup of coffee, plus the latest scandal and gossip. I have even seen my visits mentioned in a few school log books and headteacher's termly reports (though not, usually, the scandal and gossip).

Governors seem genuinely pleased to attend the courses I run, and one or two have even bought me a pint afterwards. But what of the future? Who now will want to be caught in my company? After all, to be seen talking to me or, worse still, to invite me into the school will be a public declaration of failure. Better to admit to having an embarrassing social disease than to have my car on view in the car park, lest parents snatch their children away to the school down the road.

From now on, mine will be a twilight world of clandestine meetings, possibly in a neighbouring county, and probably in full disguise. Heads and governors will be telling their spouses that they're having affairs, that they've become masons or joined some obscure religious sect. But they won't dare let on that they're meeting me to chat through next year's budget plan or a staffing problem.

From now on, I stand more chance of being invited into a school if I have a vermin control firm's logo painted on the side of my car, which, given the way things are going, at least has the benefit of being an honest description.

Adrian Williams is a senior education officer with Suffolk LEA

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