When pig iron floats

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Unravelling the jargon of educationspeak

There is much talk of disengagement lately. This has to do with teenagers losing interest in schoolwork, feeling detached from their academic environment and believing that learning lots of boring stuff is not for them.

Who'd have thought it, eh? As most of us know, disengagement is not a sinister new development. It's been around forever. Stone Age educational research clearly showed that 14-year-olds thought banging rocks together was a pointless activity and preferred to hang out at the monolith. True, medieval adolescents took a lively interest in lessons on lethal combat skills, but could you get them to read an illuminated manuscript?

Disengagement is an innocent word which has been press-ganged into the brutal world of education jargon to describe something that was already there. This is a shame because most of the time disengagement is appealing.

Definitions of it refer to ease, to freedom from ties. It means setting free and coming loose.

But it has gone over to the dark side. The Department for Education and Skills has seen it poisoning not just the classrooms of the nation but the staffrooms too. Leadership disengagement is a real and present danger, and the DfES says it must be redressed. (Personally, I find the idea of an undressed leadership, disengaged or otherwise, deeply disturbing.) The DfES thinks the answer lies in remotivation. This is another word, like redress, which doesn't bear close examination. It's like saying half a ton of pig iron needs refloating. Listen, people, it didn't float in the first place. The National Foundation for Educational Research on the other hand thinks the disengaged should be reclaimed. They clearly haven't got the hang of this either.

We at St Jude's are experts in disengage-ment, which normally begins in the playground on the first day of term. This involves nothing as fancy as redressing: we drag them apart. Freedom from ties follows, but we tolerate this as it means they can't use them to strangle each other.

Maurice, in particular, has what the DfES would probably call advanced disengagement skills, and we usually find that wherever he goes things come loose soon afterwards. Either that or get set free (there will be no more visits to the zoo). Still, a bit of remotivating and reclaiming and he'll be a model pupil. Hang on, I think I can see some floating pig iron.

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