The wizards of Swineshire

7th July 2000 at 01:00
AS Harry Potter mania swept the land and people speculated about the contents of the latest book in the series, I realised that these are not pieces of fiction at all, but rather a series of real life reports on Hogwarts city technology college in Lower Swineshire.

In case you do not know the stories, here is the background, gleaned partly from the books and partly from the school's OFSTED reports. Like other specialist schools they had to raise a few grand to match the Government offer of cash for specialising in wizardry and magic. The head, Professor Albus Dumbledore (Order of Merlin, First Class, BEd in woodwork and PE, Swineshire Academy), was recruited from industry where he had established an enviable reputation for discovering the 12 uses of dragon's blood.

The chairman of governors (Alf Ramsbotton, Ladybird Book 4b) was convinced Dumbledore would help the school move up the league table and that if all else failed he could turn OFSTED inspectors back into human beings. He fervently hoped that the application of dragon's blood would ensure that the school met its target of pupils getting five Wizarding levels A* to C at GCSE.

Hogwarts CTC has an interesting admissions policy. The best wizard families put it down as their first choice, but it is also allowed to recruit non-wizards (Muggles) if they are of high ability ( "No selection, read my . . . .aaaaargh!").

The more you inspect the Harry Potter series, the more you realise that Hogwarts CTC is actually an experimental school run by the standards and effectiveness unit of the Department for Education and Employment. For example, it has a house system (bring back traditional values) and fierce inter-house matches of Quidditch, a game played on broomsticks.

This is clearly a Government policy to improve our national football team after its disastrous defeats in Euro 2000.

Since some of the players could not pass a football accurately to a rhinoceros standing three feet away, and others are as skilful on the ball as an elephant in tights, a bit of magic is called for.

Harry Potter is half wizard and half Muggle (Mudblood).

Poor old Dumbledore the head has trouble with pushy parents of old wizarding families who want to keep Mudbloods out.

Is this not every school you have ever been in?

Unconvinced? Well what about the "Dementors", creatures who stare at you, drain away your self-esteem, get inside your head, paralyse you, and the unmentionable adversary simply known as "he-who-shall-not-be-named"? Does this not remind you of the Office for Spells in Education? If you put a foot wrong your wand is broken in half (that is, you are put into special measures). No ambiguity there, I would have thought.

Then there are the messages sent by owls. The rude ones, which the owls scream, are called Howlers. Think about the morning mail and official correspondence haranguing heads about staff illness, not meeting targets, neglecting pupils' writing, wasting time after national tests in July, not having counted up how many perforations there are in each toilet roll? Look out of the window and you will see a large bird fluttering down the drive. To-whit to-whoo.

Still doubtful? What about the ghost who teaches the history of magic? Don't you remember him before the introduction of the national curriculum, and before he filled in his threshold application, when he was a fine figure of a man, skipping up the drive with a smile on his face? Now there is such a teacher shortage he has died on the job and been allowed to stay on posthumously.

What about the Mirror of Erised ("desire" spelled backwards), in which you see whatever you want? Be honest, that must remind you of every mission statement and school development plan ever written and every speech to parents ever delivered: "All pupils developed to their full potential . . . children learn to tolerate and respect one another . . .".

There is one consolation. If you transgress in Hogwarts and your wand is broken, you are still allowed to use the bits. Could be handy for turning someone into a toad if you don't get through the pay threshold.

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