You can't paint a target on everything

10th March 2006 at 00:00
I've walked out of two conferences in two days. The first was "Extended Schools -the Core Offer". I went along eagerly, believing I was being offered something, maybe some money to help run our play scheme. No, it was the schools themselves that had to offer themselves up as sacrifices to the Government's agenda of "getting people back to work". They want us to open our schools from 8am to 6pm throughout the year. "Er... won't this impact on the headteacher's time?" ventured one poor soul who looked like she'd sacrificed enough. "Oh no," came the reply. "You can use local childminders, for example."

"And will there be enough money?" asked one patched-sleeved professional who had probably dipped his hands into his own pockets more than once to support his school. "A little to begin with," came the reply, "but basically you'll be self-supporting." So, will it be the childminder who fundraises and puts in bids for money? Or the headteacher? "Won't it dilute the core business of schools?" asked one weary head who looked as if he were diluted to homeopathic proportions himself. The presenter looked vague, as if he hadn't understood that the core business of schools was education and not childcare.

I wonder if anyone has asked the children if they'd like to spend 10 hours a day at school. Or the headteachers, because there's no doubt they'll be the ones who will have to sort things out if the childminder goes sick, a child gets hurt, or parking becomes a problem with the neighbours. I'd had enough and went back to spend some time with children (the missing word at the "core offer" symposium).

Next, I went to a healthy schools conference. I'm a fan of healthy schools.

Or was; it seems to have been hijacked to support another government agenda. We were asked to focus on a few pet projects. I can't quite remember what they were, something like: No narcotics day! Breast feeding in geography! Stop teenagers having sex! (I'm surprised they have the energy after 10 hours of wraparound care.) And in order to meet targets, we were asked for a list of overweight pupils so they could be invited to an Obese Fun Day. I'm not kidding. Did they think we would make medical judgments about our pupils? I know targets have to be met, but imagine the humiliation of being sent to the local park with lots of other tubby teens and their families for a public PE session.

The conference continued. The word "children" was mentioned once, as in "obese children", and I lost count of how many times the word "target" was used. I left when the school nurse manager reassured us by saying she and her colleagues would be spending more time in schools. That's nice, I thought, collaborative working, helping us deliver PSHE, getting to know the children... "We have our own targets to meet," she explained. I don't know what was said after that. I'd gone.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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