What ails me are other people's prescriptions

6th February 2009 at 00:00

"When I hear the word culture," Hermann Goering is reported to have said, "I reach for my gun." For culture, substitute teaching. Or better still, insert the phrase, "Oh, so you're a teacher are you?" Because whenever I hear those particular words, I know I'm in for it - although I'm more likely to choose my running shoes as a remedy than a gun.

I suppose it's because everyone has had an education that they everyone feels they have something to say on the subject. In this, it turns out that my doctor is no exception. "Oh, so you teach in a college, do you?" were the first words I heard on entering the surgery. Actually they were the second. His welcoming words were, "You look like you could lose some weight, Mr Jones." No matter that he looks like Billy Bunter's fat uncle himself - no, I'm the one for the diet.

"Do you want to know what I think about our schools and colleges?" he asked next. "Not particularly, fat boy," would have been the honest answer. But, of course, I didn't say that. It was already clear that my trifling complaint would have to wait.

Straight away, he waded in with all the usual stuff. Young people have no idea how to study any more. They just want everything handed to them on a plate. Standards have dropped. A-levels are given away in cornflake packets. In his day, an A-grade really was an A .

The thing you can't help noticing about people with views like this is that they are always so utterly convinced that they are right, that their remedy will cure all ills. Do this, this and this, and that'll solve it. Yet despite having practised as a teacher for 30 years, I sometimes feel I've only just about worked out the questions. Coming up with the answers will take another 30.

"And what happens when they get to university?" he asked. Presciently, I took this to be a rhetorical question. "I'll tell you. They drop out. In their thousands. Particularly in medicine."

Ah, medicine. That sounded promising. "You see, I've been having these symptoms ."

"And another thing. All this testing they do with children these days. It hasn't actually improved anything, has it? All it's any good for is to help the Government look better than they deserve."

What he said next did make me feel a bit better. But I don't think it could be put down to his medical skills. "That Ofsted's a bunch of crap, isn't it? All those failed teachers running around and passing judgment on those still in the job. How's that going to help anything? Would it make me diagnose your condition any better if some broken-down old GP was sitting in the corner scribbling notes on me?"

At last. My condition. "Well, as we're on the subject ."

"But do you know what I really think about education?" Actually, I thought I'd spent the past 10 minutes finding out. But that, it seemed, was only the prelude. "The real problem with education today is all those teenagers running around who don't want to learn. But I've got the answer to that. What we should do is round them all up and stick them in special units. If they don't like it, we'll fence them in with barbed wire and post guards on the gates. You'd have to pay the teachers a king's ransom to go in, of course, but it'd be worth it in the end."

I looked across to see if he was smiling, that it was all in jest. But no, he was in deadly earnest. He paused briefly to draw breath, giving me my chance. "Perhaps now you'd like to hear what I think about the health service?"

"Much as I'd like to, Mr Jones, I don't get paid to sit round here chatting all day."

"Ah, yes, of course."

"And remember, lose some weight. By the way, what was it you came in for?"

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