This Thursday’s Thought from Word of the Day asks if Swarming in the Statusphere, a ‘guide to the top 50 new trends’, is a sign of the end of civilisation as we know it. As John Crace notes in The Guardian this morning, ‘Fancy a tweetup with some b&bs’ seems to indicate that we’ve reached a pretty low point. (If you really ‘want to see the future’, as Shine claim they have, you can read Swarming in the Statusphere online.)
Worse is to come: elsewhere in the same paper, Hugh Muir points out, under the strapline ‘Educashun, edukation, educayshun. The strange ‘practices’ of Michael Gove’: ‘”We will review the operation of the current ‘basic skills’ tests of literacy and numeracy which teachers are required to pass before they can practice,” says the official transcript of the speech made by the education secretary. And once teachers have had enough practice, who knows, he may even allow them to practise.’
The one Hugh Muir calls ‘Professor Gove’, holder of a degree in English from one of our prestigious universities and the beneficiary of a luxury education in one of Scotland’s noble colleges, must have intended this to be a lesson in irony. Surely?
Hyperactive Michael Gove is at it again. It’s the old trick of picturing the situation as worse than it is in order to be seen to be bravely pushing through radical reform – when all he was doing was describing what has been in the National Curriculum since the Tories were last in power.
Having quoted Emma Thompson’s criticism of the casual use of English by students at her old school (see below), he told the Tory Conference on 5 October, in the Guardian’s words:
English teaching will be reformed to ensure that the poetry of Pope and Shelley, the satire of Swift and the novels of Dickens and Hardy are at the heart of classroom teaching…. Our literature is the best in the world – it is every child’s birthright, and we should be proud to teach it in every school.
These authors have been in the National Curriculum since the Tories were last in power – I’ve just checked and they are still there, so even those awful Labour types didn’t ban them. Perhaps Michael Gove, described by his former English teacher in the TES as a ‘precociously talented youngster’, hasn’t been doing his homework for once? Mike Duncan, who taught him at Robert Gordon’s College, told the TES: ‘I remember we had a game that we would play. He would come up with the first line of a novel and I would have to guess the title of the novel. I would do the same and he would always guess the title correctly.’ This suggests a new game: the opening sentences of books our leader ought to read next. Here’s a sentence from yesterday’s Guardian to get him started:
While Michael Gove and the Tories are occupied solving problems that don’t exist for the benefit of lunatics who don’t know anything about schools (Gove promises to end ’no touch’ rules for teachers, 2 October), the rest of us will carry on secure in the knowledge that there is no no-touch rule and that children mistakenly saying that they know their rights can be told to shush.
Answer: Carolyn Roberts, Head of ‘an orderly and happy’ Durham Johnston School. No wonder she signed off Struth; The Queen’s English Society may wince at the vernacular, but can you blame her?
What did Emma Thompson actually say?
I went to give a talk at my old school and the girls were all doing ‘likes’ and ‘innits?’ and ‘it aint’s, which drives me insane. I told them, ‘Don’t do it because it makes you sound stupid and you’re not stupid.’ There is the necessity to have two languages – one you use with your mates and the other that you need in any official capacity. Or you’re going to sound like a knob.
Her final comment rather undermines this, don’t you think?
This post features as part of my latest column in NATE’s English Drama Media: I’m afraid I couldn’t resist the temptation to plagiarise myself in the interests of topicality.
Postscript, 7 October: In today’s Guardian, Michael White writes:
Mid-Atlantic telly don Simon Schama wrote a very obliging article about David Cameron for Saturday’s FT without revealing he was poised to join the coalition as its back-to-history-basics curriculum adviser. Confronted with the country’s ignorance of past glories, he could start with the education secretary, Michael Gove, who muddled Isaiah Berlin and Immanuel Kant….
I think it’s categorically imperative that Michael Gove gets this right, don’t you?
And is our Mr Gove right that ‘our literature is the best in the world’? For that matter, whose literature is he talking about? Consider the authors he names….
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….
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!