Wolf loves sheep's language

28th February 2003 at 00:00
What's in a word? Education is full of honeyed terms nowadays, euphemisms that dress up mouldy old apple cores as luscious, freshly-plucked fruit.

Every new initiative is given some glorious title that makes it sound successful before it has even been launched, but merely serves to conceal the paucity of thinking beneath it, like "advanced" schools that hadn't even started.

A few years ago, the Conservative government produced a parents' pamphlet that was so riddled with errors it had to be pulped. The resultant six-figure haemorrhage was recorded as a "constructive loss". Try telling that to your bank manager.

Universities were promised that the present Government would not cut its grant to them when tuition fees were first introduced. It was another terminological inexactitude, as Churchill used to call blatant lies, and the money has since declined by nearly 10 per cent. In our insincere world, such year-on-year cuts are normally referred to as "efficiency gains". Chop off your leg and you learn to hop.

I have never been able to let the phrase "deliver the curriculum" cross my lips. I will teach it, I might even "instruct" children, but delivery is strictly for Postman Pat. Yet some people absorb fresh terms like a sponge, partly because it is thought to sound smart and up-to-date, and partly from willingness to conform.

Take the use of the term "k" as in "We need to raise 50K to become a specialist school". I like the word "thousand". It is a good old Germanic term.There is nothing wrong with "kilo" as a prefix meaning the same thing, it is just that I wonder why the would-be smart people talk of 50K.

Are they so busy that the minute fraction of breath saved will prevent them from expiring at the end of the day? Do they hope that some ignorant colleague will ask "Fifty what?" and they can feel superior explaining it? Or is it just another change of language over time, such as I normally love to see, so I should welcome it?

It is the pretentious or dishonest terms that I dislike most. Nowadays you do not "investigate" a problem or a potential field of growth, you have to "scope" it if you are to be in the swim and earn the respect of the peasantry. Excuse me while I just scope my toenails. No, I haven't quite got the hang of it.

Then there is the phrase "leading edge", used to describe any idea that hides a vacuum under a web of candy floss. With some such initiatives you are left thinking "If that is the leading edge, what the hell must the rubbish behind it look like?"

One recently announced programme involves giving pound;60,000 a year (or 60K as we cognoscenti like to call it) to private schools so they too can become specialist colleges. The faint hope is that their facilities will be shared with state schools, ie from 2 to 3am on alternate Tuesdays. This is a magnificent example of euphemism at its best, for it is to be called the Leading Edge programme.

It is nothing of the sort. It is a perverse and retrograde step, not a leading one. Public schools have charitable status and already get millions from the Government through tax relief on donations from the wealthy. Eton is in the top 100 charities, earning some pound;30,000,000 a year (known as "a bloody enormous amount of K").

The name of the programme should be what it actually is. It should be known as the We've Got The Barefaced Cheek To Give Lots Of Public Money To The Fee-paying Schools That Rich People Go To And We Hope Nobody Notices programme.

Where will the deception of nomenclature end? The requirement that schools in poverty stricken areas have to raise pound;50,000 (better known as "far too much K") to achieve specialist status should be rebranded the Come Off It programme.

The proposal to charge students vast top-up fees should be called the You'll All Leave University Owing 30K project. The Government should rename its Early Years Profile, for children aged three to five, the Believe It Or Not We're Going To Stick 117 Different Labels On Little Children's Foreheads Because We're Completely Barmy initiative.

As Wordsworth might put it, were he around today:

"I wandered lonely as a cloud Through education's wondrous way, When all at once I scoped a crowd Of programmes costing lots of K."

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