Go-go Gove springs into action: set up a school, never mind the curriculum!
It was a good job I took a screenshot of the Department for Education site a couple of days ago: Go-go Gove has now sprung into action and got YouTubed for the home page. He’s also found time to abolish another quango: the second this week (I think he must enjoy it). It looks as though he’s offering the charming children in front of him the chance to set up their very own academy. I’m sure they’re all very interested: there must be nothing they’d like better than to run a school. After all, they’ve been there for at least a couple of years so they must have got the hang of it by now (and they’d only cause trouble on the streets otherwise).
The energetic Mr Gove (doesn’t he seem bouncy, Tiggerish even?) was so pleased by his school visit that he dashed off a letter to QCDA to tell them to pack their bags – again. Poor things, QCDA have only just got used the D in their name and been sent to Coventry, now they’re being sent from Coventry to oblivion. Now that anyone, even children, can run their own schools, who needs boring things like a curriculum or qualifications? As the Guardian points out closure of the QCDA and of Becta, also announced this week, will mean 730 job losses in Coventry. Being sent to Coventry never did sound much like fun….
Not much happening on the new Department for Education website; they must all be too busy setting up free schools, abolishing quangos and the like. Their home page (which still, nearly two weeks into the new government, has the temporary feel that I commented on earlier) prompted my next article for NATE’s English Drama Media magazine. Not published yet – and members only: another reason to join NATE! There is a Twitter feed, to show they’re modern, though (bearing in mind the Prime Minister’s comments on ‘too many twits’, there aren’t many tweets so far and those are anodyne).
The photograph on this page becomes increasingly unsettling the more I look at it. Children are reading books – to resort to the demotic: what’s not to like? Look closer, though, and you see Tory streaming policy in action: right wing girl reads one book, commandeers another (it’s the Matthew Effect). Move left and the girls begin to close their books (closed minds). Left-wing boy can’t read, just suck his thumb – must be destined to be a hewer of wood or drawer of water – no doubt there’s some vocational training that an outsourcing company can devise to keep him busy.
One quango that they have abolished is Becta, the education technology agency. Whilst many classroom teachers might not know much about it, some of us will regret its passing. A keen young teacher wrote to NATE: ‘I’m disgusted by this frankly. If there’s one thing a country of this size and waning political influence needs, it’s surely the wider dimension of learning possibilities that ICT offers the common classroom teacher and pupil. What use is the structural investment without sharing the good practice?’ Another commentator with many years experience as a key player in the application of ICT to English added: ‘The worry is that this actually reveals a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of ICT in schools in general.’ Let us hope not. As the Guardian leader commented: ‘Even if the staff now facing the chop at the Becta agency, which promotes technology in schools, are not deployed as effectively as they might be, they are more useful than they will be if they end up in the dole queue.’
It’s goodbye to the Department for Curtains and Soft Furnishings – or: Education (and spelling) rules
It may be a rainbow coalition but it’s curtains for the DCSF and with it the jolly rainbow logos. Yes, the the Department for Children, Schools and Families, fondly known as ‘the Department for Curtains and Soft Furnishings’ by those (like me) who struggled to remember the correct order of the letters, is no more.
Those of us with long memories (well, we oldies with fading memories) will recall various abbreviations for our masters in Whitehall. This might be a good time for Keith Davidson to revisit the astute article he wrote for NATE’s English Drama Media magazine back in October 2008 on the ugliness of the DCFS acronym. As he said:
There are linguistic reasons for any confusion, phonetic and pragmatic…. But there is also something wrong with the sequence of items in the full title. It’s a problem of collocation, the linguistic term for the company lexical items habitually keep, predictive in both coding and de-coding…. The new Department is styled as a market place for products not processes, the title naming the delivery outlets and the customers.
Meanwhile, you can still enjoy for a while the disjointed appearance of the new/old website and realise that all those sweet children on the old site are now hurriedly packing up all the bits of their rainbows and putting them away for the long hard winter ahead. Worse, this could well be, as in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, a winter without Christmas. Do also enjoy the appearance of a Twitter feed on the new DfE front page. When I began writing this it had a message to ‘boomnoise’ – a hip name at odds with the decidedly uncool message they’ve sent him: ‘We’re reviewing all web content now. Meanwhile all statutory guidance and legislation still reflects current legal position.’ Man, get with the Web 2.0 thing, even if David Cameron did say some very uncomplimentary (and rude) things about Twitter during the election. This no doubt explains why the unofficial David Cameron Twitter site was taken down in January ‘at the reasonable & very polite request of Tory HQ’. Of course it was very polite – but just imagine if there had been any argument….
Is it also ominous that the current home page refers to ‘Children’s workforce’ and ‘Schools workforce’? Does this mean the new guys can’t actually bring themselves to utter words such as ‘social workers’ or ‘teachers’? Or that they really are just workers now and not professionals? And I see that the ‘Schools workforce’ link goes to Teachernet not to anything on the DfE site. So: ‘Here are a few ideas and lesson plans other teachers have come up with, and some links and things. Sort yourselves out, we’ll be back in a bit with the new order and new orders.’ We can imagine they might be on these lines:
Ties to be worn at all times 1 [Postscript, 18 May: Ros Asquith’s cartoon shows one reason why: ‘We introduce the old school tie to give them a head start in politics.’]
Spelling: i does come before e. 2
Sums: ‘If a banker’s bonus is £5 million and the new boss of M&S gets £15 million, how fair is that?’ (Answer on back page: it’s the market, stupid.)
Drill: 8 am sharp in the playground for half an hour with the Sergeant-Major; any latecomers to be subject to Field Punishment No. 1 for 30 minutes, rain or shine (that’ll soon sort out the scrimshankers and oiks). 3
Music: Eton Boating Song [Daily Telegraph, 17 May: ‘Eton is ready to push the boaters out for David Cameron.’ Yes, the chaps get a party because a chap’s in the right party!]
Teachers Schools workforce to be sorted by degrees: all those with less than a 2:ii marched off by Sergeant-Major to be shot dismissed. Yes, novelist and former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo – that means you.
More sums: lovely Carol Vorderman to make the jolly lower fourth as calculating as she is!
It doesn’t add up: take 6 away from 7 to find that lovely Carol Vorderman has a third-class degree too, so where does that leave one?
(No, I give up, I can’t take any more.)
1 Michael Gove, this week appointed Secretary of State for Education, says it’s good for discipline. But does this rule apply to boys and girls – and staff? 2 Yes, Michael says this too. In 2009, the Telegraph reported that the National Primary Strategy’s Support for Spelling said ‘that the rule memorised by generations of children is no longer worth teaching’. Michael Gove, then Shadow education secretary, declared at the time:
Having systematically dumbed our schools down for a decade, it is no surprise the Government is actively telling teachers not to bother with proper spelling. I would reverse this nonsense at a stroke.
Well, now’s your chance, Michael!
3 You’ve guessed: Michael thinks this will be fun too!
This Friday’s Phrase from Word of the Day is topical, as always. I had thought to offer you hung parliament, but that is so last week – and anyway, it’s already been covered on the excellent World Wide Words site.
So instead I bring you the winner’s curse, inspired by Aditya Chakrabortty’s Guardian article in which his application of the term to the current political situation is of less literary interest to us than this comment:
If you want to see the winner’s curse close-up, saunter down to the discount section of your local bookshop. You’ll probably see a pile of celebrity memoirs, for which the publishers paid hundreds of thousands, only to see them flop.
Verbal redundancy, alliteration – and demonstrations.
‘Once the audible sound is heard,’ the Train Manager announced on the way down to London yesterday, the train will have come to ‘a complete and final stop’. I suppose this verbal redundancy (what kind of sound isn’t audible when it can be heard?) is justified in the interests of making absolutely, unequivocally and utterly clear to passengers the need to wait till the train was safely stationary. In the station. And not moving.
A speaker on a Radio 4 programme at the weekend resorted to a different linguistic trick. It actually felt more like a trap when a wine merchant said he wanted to ‘remove the mystery and keep in magical’. Fancy alliteration and fine aspirations are common in marketing – but it didn’t make much sense to me. Can something be magical without mystery?
And speaking of alliteration, the picture here shows that the Socialist Worker is happy to use tabloid tricks in a worthy cause. It was spotted at the Take Back Parliament Flash Mob outside the Lib-Dem Federal Executive Committee Meeting in Westminster yesterday (Monday). You can sample this good-humoured demonstration on YouTube here. It included the usual quota of bored policemen, noisy activists, rowdy drumming – and a purple cow.
As promised yesterday, there’s more drama – and poetry – to be wrung from this week’s election results. The Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy reflects on democracy in action (and on the current inaction) in her new poem Democracy in The Guardian today. As she implies by her reference to ‘a moat’, the expenses scandal seems to have led voters cast their votes in numbers that don’t add up to anything other than uncertainty at present (even if hers rhyme sweetly). As David Hare puts it in an article elsewhere in today’s paper, the basic message is: ‘not so much “a plague on all your houses” as “a warning to all your houses”.’ Notice how Shakespeare creeps in here?
Floating voters or not, who, in Duffy’s words, will be the ‘sacrificial goat’? Will he burst into tears when his fate becomes clear, as a recent post mentioned, Lord Curzon did?
Waking up today to an inconclusive election result, it seems that after all the voters have chosen Keats after all
Waking up today to an inconclusive election result, it seems that after all the voters have been doing some wider reading than the leaders’ choices of Blake (three votes) and Owen (one). A surprise declaration, then, for John Keats of the Negative Capability Party. As his manifesto says:
Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.
And to think he wrote that in 1817, long before even the 1832 Reform Act! Still, to quote a more demotic voice, ‘it ain’t over till it’s over’, so keep your poetry books ready for more turns, conceits and tragi-comic outcomes.
Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg declares his admiration for Beckett
Not content with claiming Blake as his favourite poet, today Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg declares in the Guardian that his ‘hero’ is Samuel Beckett. Scarily, he writes: ‘I must have read Waiting for Godot – of course – a hundred times.’ ‘Of course’ it’s good to read Godot – but a hundred times, Nick? I think you must be preparing for a Lib-Lab pact: waiting for Gordo to come along and rescue you from a life on the sidelines. Or will it be David Cameron who gets to be Lucky?
Literary Connections cannot but give credit to a public figure who shows unabashed admiration for a great writers. Furthermore, as Charlotte Higgins pointed out earlier in the week he also ‘adores Schubert and Chopin… Fabulous choices: this man is obviously a big German song fan, with the wonderful Schubert Erlkönig, sung by Fischer-Dieskau, in the line-up, as well as Strauss’s Four Last Songs.’ Cue inevitable joke: ‘As someone said on Twitter: Clegg’s obviously making a Liedership bid.’ Just let’s hope it’s not like Schubert’s last song-cycle – his Schwanengesang (Swan Song).