Whingers sight Upside Down Land

8th September 1995 at 01:00
Now let me get this straight. on August 17 it was announced that the A-level results had gone up by 1 per cent on last year. According to the Upside Down Law postulated by the ranting right-wing, this proves that educational standards are going down. The exam is getting easier if the numbers passing it go up. Am I right so far?

A week later, on August 24, the GCSE results were down by 1 per cent in English and maths compared with last year. So that must surely prove, according to this same Upside Down Law, er . . . let me just make sure I've got this right, that educational standards are up, because the numbers "passing" GCSE are down? Have I finally grasped the rules of this complex annual sporting event? No, wrong again. Standards are still going down.

Forgive those of us whose brains cannot immediately take in the searing logic of it all, but I can see what is happening.

Each August a load of bath-chair right-wingers, (or "right whingers"), are wheeled out to do theirspeaking-clock act. The message is always the same and the actual exam results for that particular year are irrelevant. Standards are going to the dogs.

This annual farce enrages the teaching profession and ruins the quite reasonable pleasure of thousands of hard-working and successful pupils and their families.

These critics must possess a special dictionary in which the English language assumes enormous flexibility. In this unique but handy lexicon, the words "up", "down", "higher", "lower", "more" and "fewer" all mean exactly the same as "a barrel of dung". So now you know.

Do not be surprised if a big dipper is installed in every school playground in the country, so that teachers can try and make sense of it next year while looping the loop.

To be fair, the Government did try to cope with the mayhem. In this television comedy world, if John Major and Gillian Shephard are Basil and Sybil Fawlty, then brand new junior minister Lord Henley must be Bertie Wooster.

Anyway, Bertie trundled in front of the cameras, albeit with a look of total bewilderment on his face, to say that the pupils had done well. Good for him. When in trouble bring on the toff.

Not for nothing is August known as the silly season. It is the month when the Government publishes anything it hopes nobody will notice. In keeping with this time- honoured tradition, the report which thoroughly damned one of the Government's pet schemes - initial teacher training courses that have no higher education input - came out one midnight in mid- August.

Another silly season story was John Major's Bank Holiday statement about more bribes for grant-maintained schools. According to chaos theory, if a gnat's wing flutters in Peckham, it could trigger a tropical storm in Brazil. There must be a second part to chaos theory which states that if a gnat's brain flutters in Westminster, it could set off a storm in the whole education system.

Poor old Major. His right wing was flapping so much during the summer, small wonder he flew round in circles. In order to appease the rotating- eyeballs faction of his party he had to make yet another comeback, one more even than Frank Sinatra. This time it was a front-page story in The Times which implied that schools might be compelled to opt out.

Compelled to opt out? Now hold on a minute, Basil. You must have swallowed the right whingers' dictionary. I think the word "opt" normally means "choose". By contrast, the word "compel" is usually understood to involve no choice. Up, down. High, low. Choice, no choice. In Upside Down Land these opposites mean whatever you want them to mean.

Then there was a very exciting up-down seesaw, this time from Michael Heseltine. He announced with enormous pride a triumph for Government efficiency. He would ride to the rescue of beleaguered teachers and cut back ruthlessly on the bureaucracy going into schools. There was to be a reduction of millions of sheets of A4 being sent out by - none other than the Government.

Up, down, round and round. Who needs to crawl through all the August holiday traffic to the seaside and waste money on roller-coaster rides, when this kind of thrill is available free? It was quite breathtaking.

You set up a huge mess. You scale it down. Then you claim credit for rescuing people from your own bog-ups. Brilliant. Yet another example of the arsonists calling the fire brigade and then wanting a medal for it.

At the end of the month the recruitment figures for teacher training courses showed a drop of 28 per cent, (or "a half", as Kenneth Clarke would have put it). I wrote to the Department for Education and Employment a few months ago pointing out that we wouldsoon face an almighty shortage of teachers.

More pupils were coming into schools, I said, and graduate jobs would lead to a fall in recruits, as well as a drop out of disaffected teachers in their 20s and 30s. The reply was that there was no problem. If "up" and "down" are interchangeable, then I suppose there isn't one.

But the most emotional moment, for me, in August occurred when I was sitting in the library reading a newspaper. Suddenly my eyes caught the sad news that not only Kenneth Baker, but also John Patten would be standing down as Members of Parliament in the next election. Up, down. In, out. Deeply moved by this shattering information I could not prevent a tear rolling down (or was it up?) my cheek.

A librarian, who'd seen this all before, shot a stern look at me while my fellow readers looked across at each other, shuffled, and then stared at the floor, embarrassed by this tear-stained public display of profound emotion.

So I dabbed away the tears, stopped laughing, and carried on reading the rest of the paper.

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