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'Ticking boxes is not something that springs to mind when it comes to inspirational teaching'

Somewhere in the near future, ministers Tick, Box and Miss Management are developing primary education policy based around grades, tests and standardisation

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Somewhere in the near future, ministers Tick, Box and Miss Management are developing primary education policy based around grades, tests and standardisation

Our story is set some time in the not-too-distant future. Deep in the bowels of the Ministry of Re-Education, Tick, Box and Miss Management are discussing their latest strategy for the nation’s primary school teachers. Miss Jones, herself a twenty-something former primary school teacher has been summoned to the meeting. The conversation goes something like this: 

Tick: “Where is your plan, Miss Jones?”

Box: “Surely you mean her plan of her plans?”

Tick: “Yes, your plan of your plans. Miss Jones. I have seen your plan, but now we need to see the plan of your plans.”

Miss Management, a former OFFED inspector and hardly the greatest fan of teachers at the best of times, puts on her sternest look and fixes Miss Jones with a steely eye. From Miss Management’s perspective, Miss Jones seems like a free, independent thinker – something that fills her with a sense of dread almost approaching terror.

Miss Jones, however, is thinking back to her school days and the teachers who inspired her. As far as she can remember, ticking boxes is not something that springs to mind when it comes to inspirational teaching. Actually, most of her really brilliant teachers hadn’t been that good at ticking boxes at all. To be honest, some of them were downright eccentric, but they had all been kind, honest and good. And in those days they had actually had time to care about the children in their charge rather than drowning in paperwork. Was her memory failing her or hadn’t there been something called the joy of learning based on natural curiosity? Couldn’t teaching be open and child-centred, involving a sense of meaning and purpose? 

'Creativity has been sacrificed at the altar of standardisation'

Still, she muses, that all seems an awfully long time ago now. Times have changed, particularly now that childhood has been abolished and children are to be referred to in all official communication as Junior Production Units (JPUs). Evidence is needed to fit statistical profiles and creativity has been sacrificed at the altar of grades, tests and standardisation.

Even so, all the nursery school teachers she knows still don’t seem to be able to get their heads around referring to their infant charges as IPUs – it’s hardly the snappiest of titles and doesn’t roll easily off the tongue…

Quite suddenly, Miss Jones’ reverie is rudely interrupted as Miss Management slams a book down onto the table.

“For the last time of asking! The plan of your plans, please, Miss Jones!”

Tick and Box, both suited, middle-aged men, stare intently at Miss Jones and she is reminded of the relentless scrutiny she experienced in the build-up to the final OFFED inspection before she left teaching to join the ministry.

Meanwhile, Miss Management continues to glare at her over the rims of her horn-rimmed glasses. A vein in her neck pulses ominously – so much so that the string of pearls she is wearing seem to rise and fall to the beat of her exasperation.

'A plan of a plan of a plan'

At that moment, it all comes flooding back. Miss Jones remembers her last lesson inspection well. Back then, a 40-minute period had been scrutinised for 56 different criteria. How the bespectacled OFFED inspector had loved ticking all those lovely boxes with his little red pen!

But that was then and this is now. Ministry officials have since proposed that primary school lesson plans be standardised across the country and that on top of the existing criteria, lessons should now also be differentiated on the basis of pupils’ eye colour, shoe size and hair colour.  

“I do have my plans, but I don’t think I have a plan of my plans,” says Miss Jones.

For Tick and Box, this is like a red rag to a bull. Box lunges first. He grips the table so hard that she can see the whites of his knuckles.

“What was that, Miss Jones? No plan of a plan?”

“Really, Miss Jones,” Tick chimes in, “you should be more organised. I always have a plan of a plan of a plan.”

Miss Jones recalls how she used to tell her pupils the old adage: "I didn’t plan to fail, but I failed to plan". Today, she had assumed that a plan of a plan was taking things a tad far. But really, she should have known better.

James Glasse is a tutor and education consultant

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