Why do so many of us finish our Mondays shrieking “Beethoven!”, “Byron!”, “Renoir!” or “They’re all characters in Pride and Prejudice!”
Correct. You got it in one. After a busy day of teaching and marking, we like to wind things down (sort of) by settling in front of University Challenge, perhaps extending this to also watching its close friend and neighbour on the schedule Only Connect.
Seasoned viewers have learned to view these two programmes not when they go out live but an hour or so later. This not only gives us more time to finish the marking but – much more importantly – enables us to keep pressing the crucial pause button on our remote control. Only by freezing the contestants to the spot can we have any chance at all of beating those bright young things (I think that’s what I call them) to the answer. Sometimes we keep the screen on hold for several minutes at a time as we scramble around our head for the answer we thought we knew. An hour’s television can easily turn into two or more.
It may seem odd that we put ourselves through this. Surely all it does is remind us of how relatively slow and ignorant we are, thereby adding to the self-doubt we might already have over our credentials as teachers? Maybe. But I can live with that. The immense joy comes from those very occasional moments of triumph. It is all about that time when our repeated “Beethoven!” does indeed turn out to be the right answer, after which we can punch the air, dab like a teenager and retire to bed with some degree of pride still in place.
Sadly, the latest series of Only Connect ends soon and the most recent University Challenge ended this week. A big hole has appeared. Surely the most appropriate way of filling that gap is for an equivalent inter-schools contest, though one suitably adapted and updated for the present age?
Putting teachers to the test
There used to be a prime-time contest called Top of the Form, but it died about 30 years ago because it made the mistake of featuring the children at a school rather than the staff. No one cares about the kids any more. It is all about staff performance, league ranking and Ofsted ratings, and the new format needs to reflect that. Here’s how it might look.
The competition would be open to any primary or secondary school in the land. Each school team would consist of its headteacher, two ordinary teachers and one teaching assistant, assuming a school still has any left.
In line with current procedure, each team would already have a certain number of positive or negative points on their scoreboard before each match begins. This would be a formula-based figure, derived from a school’s most recent progress-indicator score. For example, a secondary school with a Progress 8 indicator score of -0.15 would begin with minus 115 points, while one with +0.2 will begin with plus 200 points. Primary schools would get a similar pre-match score, based on how much they are above or below the so-called “floor”. Suitable graphics would be placed alongside a team to depict their pre-match status.
A suited Ofsted inspector would then appear in front of the two teams and chat for five minutes to them. Using the new inspection guidelines, up to 200 more points would then awarded or taken from a team, based on whatever has taken his or her fancy. Teams would find it very difficult to prepare any rehearsed answers for this round and no one would ever be clear on how the scoring system works, though scoring there must be. Those familiar with the random Radio 4 game Mornington Crescent will get the idea.
Later rounds would be more in the form of a traditional TV quiz. The vast majority of the questions would relate to the more crucial EBacc subject categories, including Latin and Greek. There will be few or no questions on peripheral matters such as business, technology, vocational skills, music, art or theatre.
And the rules may change again at any time.
All of this is bound to get us all shrieking at the television once again – though this time for a rather different reason.
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire