Willy Wonka and the random secondary places

16th March 2007 at 00:00
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's school in Oxfordshire

First you had to find the golden ticket in the special Wonka bar to win a trip to the chocolate factory. Then it was the lucky Kit Kat to get into the Big Brother house. So it's only natural that places at popular schools should start to be awarded in a similarly random fashion.

Where would education policy be without the mind of Roald Dahl? Charlie Bucket Junior (the son of the lucky visitor to the chocolate factory) was thrilled when his name was one of the five pulled out of the symbolic waste-bin in a tense, highly charged assembly at his primary school last week. No more mixing with the rubbish for him. He was off to the magical Academy next year. Not only did it have by far the tastiest pass-rate in town but it was also alluringly short on hoodies and intellectual Oompa-Loompas. He skipped all the way home to tell his folks, imagining them to be equally excited at the news.

His parents did seem fairly pleased, but a touch confused. They had thought the whole point of "choice" in secondaries nowadays was that Charlie would be able to opt to go to his favoured school anyway. You know, market forces and all that.

And something else was perturbing his parents. Might this lottery mean that too many "undesirables" now get into the Academy? In which case, the lottery would surely prove a self-defeating exercise.

Such fears were confirmed on a visit to the new school. They soon discovered that the lottery had pulled out several highly dubious elements from the region, including the children of those notorious old chocolate-factory chavs Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee and German bratwurst boy Augustus Gloop. There was an even bigger shock when the assembled visitors met the head, Mr Bonkers.

No sane person wishes to run such a factory these days and it was plainly beginning to show here. After keeping them waiting at the school gate Mr Bonkers danced across the playground to meet them. One or two parents essayed some questions as the tour of this mystical site began, but each question was answered with flippancy, evasiveness and madness.

When Mr Bonkers revealed to them the famous brown river of new education initiatives, most of the visiting pupils could resist temptation no longer.

"Don't go in - you may drown!" he warned mildly. But it was too late. Once inside the system, Gloop et al were trapped indefinitely. Years later they would pop out of a funnel at the top of the exam factory, clutching their certificates but looking dazed by the experience. "Tell you what," mused Charlie's dad to the head. "Why don't the factory planners forget about league tables, market forces and choice? It doesn't seem to be working. Why not employ all the plant inspectors as school advisers and resource-sharers instead? Let's make it their job to help turn the nearest school into a good one." "Well, that would be a start," said Mr Bonkers, for once feeling a sense of sanity.

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