28th November 1997 at 00:00
"You snivelling wretch. You curmudgeonly nincompoop. You creepy, useless, + bankrupt little toad. You moaning, skiving, loafing, idling parasite. You + cringing, whinging piece of yak dung. You . . ."Oops! Sorry about that. I was + so taken with the proposal that headteachers of failing schools would be called+ in to see ministers if they failed to improve, I got carried away trying to + envisage the scene, as hapless head met angry minister.It raised the whole + question of retribution and what should be done with people who fail to meet + their obligations. There is a certain irony in those normally expected to + administer reprimands, actually being sent away to receive some themselves. The+ rules on the punishment of pupils are fairly clear. It must be what is called + "reasonable and moderate", administered in good faith, such as is usual in the + school, and what a reasonable parent might expect to be given. So extra work is+ permissible, but thumbscrews and boiling in oil are not.One major function of + school sanctions is to terminate the behaviour that is disapproved of, and to + prevent reoffending. Some forms of punishment may not always achieve this.When+ I started teaching we had a rota of teachers, each taking it in turn for a + week to supervise pupils kept in at lunchtime or after school. One of the old + lags told me that he made detainees copy out chunks of Milton, on the grounds, + mistaken I thought, that this would improve both their handwriting and + knowledge of English literature.During my week of duty, I decided on a + different approach. On Monday, I asked all the junior criminals to devise an + advertising campaign to sell fridges to Eskimos. On Tuesday, I got them to plan+ a society where there would be no crime. By Wednesday, the room was packed. + Detention had become the most popular after-school club.Teachers began to + complain that pupils were misbehaving on purpose so they could be kept in after+ school. The old lag took me on one side, explaining that I must have got the + wrong end of the stick, and offering to lend me a class set of Paradise + Lost.Sending failing heads to see the minister might have a similar effect. + After all, the present crowd of ministers are a more interesting lot than some + of their predecessors. It would have been a pleasure to be told off by Sir + Keith Joseph, but being oiled to death by Kenneth Baker, bemused by John + Patten, or to meet Kenneth Clarke, only to discover he did not know why you + were there, would probably have had the most recalcitrant head begging to be + let out.In the absence of a rack nowadays, one minister could hold the head's + legs and another grasp the head's arms. If the two of them then walked + vigorously away from each other, the head would be stretched. People seeing an + excessively tall head could then say, "Hello. Been to see the ministers, + then?", which would be tough on some poor head who just happened to be 6 ft + 6ins anyway. So will a day out in London and a ministerial wigging actually + work? Only if it is related to other events. I can understand the frustration + of people in charge, if every approach has failed. The desire to do something + personally becomes overwhelming.Schools will only improve, however, if the + quality of teaching and learning within them gets better, and this needs action+ in the classroom. Local intervention will be necessary, with the emphasis on + improving teachers' skills.I would make the improvement of teaching and + learning the top priority for all heads, and shred the useless bureaucracy + under which so many have become buried.A second step would be to close down all+ local authority business units which require advisers to meet annual financial+ targets by travelling to schools, sometimes hundreds of miles away, to do + inspections for the Office for Standards in Education.This is a huge waste of + local taxpayers' money. What kind of business or educational sense does it make+ to earn about #163;200 per day for sending a skilled adviser to inspect some + distant outpost, well outside the region,when it probably costs the LEA + #163;400 per day in wages and overheads? Meanwhile the LEA's own failing + schools are crying out for on-the-spot help. Madness.If retribution is still + necessary, then there must be a sliding scale of punitive sanctions that would + concentrate the mind of any unsuccessful head. In one Monty Python sketch you + could actually pay someone to shout insults at you, so perhaps that sort of + service could become a reality.If the professional shouter fails, then the + equivalent of Orwell's Room 101 could be a library packed with national + curriculum and vocational qualification literature. Heads would be forced to + read about performance criteria, range statements and flangified breezlebums + until they hammered on the window and promised to reform.Like those computer + games, where you eventually have to do battle with the monsters to be found in + the higher tiers of the Kingdom of Thargon, there could be a final stage. The + sanctions would be ranked in order of awesomeness, culminating in the + ultimate.The top four punishments, guaranteed to rescue even the greatest lost + cause, would start with, in fourth place, being put in charge of someone + else's failing school. This might not be too bad, as you could always tell + morning assembly the story about Robert the Bruce, without everyone groaning, + "Not that one again".In third place would be a week trying to teach national + curriculum design and technology to a non-examination Year 10 class, followed + by, in second place, having to explain "competitive tendering" to some + hand-picked dim governors.The ultimate sanction would be a conducted tour of + the OFSTED headquarters, followed by tea and scones with Chris Woodhead. + Paradise regained, as Milton put it. They'd soon come off special measures.