Why jargon is a lose-lose

29th May 2015 at 01:00

A director of education recently wrote to parents to inform them that.well, no one is quite sure. The letter was written in such jargon that even those of us who teach and study the English language found it difficult to comprehend.

Why would someone write such an appalling letter? Was it to impress people? To appear worthy of his six-figure salary? Did he even want people to understand the message? Or did he overestimate the comprehension skills of the parents within his authority? Straightforward writing would have avoided the indignity of such questions.

Poor writing and jargon are rife in education. A major problem with the new exams is working out what actually has to be done. Not only are the guidelines overcomplicated and unclear but the procedures are long-winded, time-consuming and often totally unnecessary.

Instead of one easily understood document, the written guidance for most subjects is presented in tortuous texts amounting to more than 150 pages. One 15-page overview would have provided the same information and saved teachers many hours of unhappy and unnecessary reading.

So, again, why is there such a reluctance to be clear and straightforward? Perhaps, as some teachers have posited, it is because elaborate texts let course planners off the hook when things go wrong.

Take the verification process for the new exams, which many teachers believe is ridiculous and unsustainable. Dozens of forms and pieces of paper are required to verify that a school's programme of internal assessment is compliant with guidelines. One teacher showed me 63 different sheets of paper that he had to produce for just one of his three courses. Some of the subject guidelines were so badly written that they had to be revised as the courses were being taught.

Teachers simply don't have the time to struggle with complicated, bulky and flawed texts. Surely it is not too much to expect that guidelines will have been fully checked, revised and made free from flaws and ambiguities before they are issued to schools and colleges.

Ultimately, there is little cleverness in our exam guidelines. Those responsible should really have another look at how these crucial documents are being compiled. Do we have the best people and procedures in place for creating and developing our national courses?

George Orwell and many other talented writers have pointed out that clarity is a sign of intelligent and effective communication. Education is about communication and engagement.

People in positions of influence should exhibit effective communication skills and not, like the director of education's mysterious letter, a highly dysfunctional approach to sharing information.

John Greenlees is a secondary school teacher in Scotland

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