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What do they mean?

Action plans are very important. So are the instructions on the sides of fire extinguishers. Nobody reads either of them, but it's comforting to know they're there, and if they aren't, the authorities get very cross.

Indeed, all the relevant government departments have large signs telling them what to do if a school doesn't have an action plan, or explanations on the sides of fire extinguishers. Or, indeed, any extinguishers at all. You think they're not the same? Think again. In school, the inspectors come in, tell you you're crap, and give you 40 days to produce an action plan on how under-achievement can be addressed. If you have any time left over, you can work out how world poverty can be addressed. After that, you can decide how the inspectors should be addressed. What you have to do in those 40 days is set clear and realistic targets for pupils and teachers. Now, you can have either of those, but not both. It's like Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: in the quantum mechanics of school life it is a given that if it's clear it can't be realistic, and if it's realistic it can't be clear.

You produce an action plan so that everybody can see it and feel reassured.

Then you put the plan in the drawer full of all the stuff you couldn't find anywhere else to put. And there it remains, as unread as the instructions on the extinguisher.

After that you get on with being seriously realistic. First, you work out whose fault it is that you needed an action plan in the first place. These will divide into your colleagues, who are bigger than you are, and your pupils, who aren't. We at St Jude's quickly realised that it was the pupils who were ruining it for everybody by not learning enough. Either we had to teach them better, or they had to work harder. We decided to make an example of one pupil in each class pour encourager les autres. The victim would have to run round the playground all day long carrying a fire extinguisher, while the others empathised with him, described him in a foreign language, and analysed the transference of energy involved.

That was when we found out they'd nicked all the extinguishers.

Tim Homfray timhomfray@aol.com

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