What do they mean?

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Beacon schools are examples to all of us. They are so good at what they do that we lesser mortals are encouraged to touch the hems of their robes, probably while sitting at their feet, and thus to bring back to our own stygian portals a little of their shining light.

Didn't anybody ever tell them that nobody likes a smartarse? Come to that, didn't anybody ever tell them what a beacon is? As every self-respecting Elizabethan yeoman knows, beacons are what you set fire to when there's trouble afoot (or indeed sailing up the Thames). For those of us teaching classloads of enthusiastic young arsonists, the last thing we need is a nearby beacon.

Once again, the Department for Education and Skills has shown itself badly in need of a dictionary. Any decent one, from Samuel Johnson's onwards, would have directed them to Shakespeare's "Modest doubt is call'd the beacon of the wise, the tent that searches to th' bottom of the worst".

Clearly the DfES has picked all the wrong schools. It isn't those smug, holier-than-thou establishments with their fancy ways who should be beacons; it's the likes of us at St Jude's. Here, modest doubt is the order of the day. All our pupils know this. Indeed all our pupils know the quotation.

Having seen Troy, and decided they all want to be Brad Pitt, they naturally turned to Troilus and Cressida, as you do, and are now very keen on slaying people and then dragging them round the playground surrounded by Myrmidons.

(They also enjoy sulking in their tents, but that's teenagers for you.) As for the bottom of the worst, that's easy to find as well: it's on Maurice. However, since they have banned corporal punishment it isn't much use to us. Maurice of course, as a boy who would look on a thousand ships as merely an opportunity to try out his new penknife, is the sort of chap we would rather have in our tent than theirs. Maurice is, in many ways, a beacon all by himself. Certainly, he's hard to miss. And as Johnson also says, a beacon is there to alarm the country. Yup, that's Maurice.


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