Friday, 18 January 2008

Could Do Better

I very rarely venture into the world of politics but having a wife who is a primary schoolteacher has sensitised me to goings on in the education world. The current UK government has mooted the idea that on top of the mountains of bureaucracy heaped on the education system, teachers should now produce a weekly on-line report for every pupil in their care. Just in case you haven’t grasped the magnitude of the task, let me say that again, ‘a weekly on-line report for every pupil’. I trust that Prime Minister Gordon Brown will personally be producing a similar weekly on-line report on what he is doing for the country? Don’t count on it.

Perversely, I still have all my school reports and very entertaining they are too. They reflect an age when public servants were not crippled by the dead hand of political correctness and a spade was, funnily enough, a spade. My favourite is from my old Geography master, who when assessing my achievement as top of the class in his subject provided a succinct appraisal in the single word, ‘Good’.

But he is not alone. A newspaper recently published extracts from school reports of various well-known public figures and what a hoot they all are. There is a fair splattering of the usual ‘He/She will never amount to anything’ but many had a deliriously off-kilter flavour typical of a less straitjacketed world. The one that caught my eye was a headmaster’s report on the young Richard Briers. I’m sure Mr & Mrs Briers would have been bemused to read, ‘It would seem that Briers thinks he is running the school and not me. If this attitude persists, one of us will have to leave’. Brilliant!

You wouldn’t get anything anywhere near that degree of surrealistic humour these days – it’s all too homogenised, grey and frankly tedious. In a way, this seems counter-productive as many of the best teachers have an innate madness about them that makes them irresistible and to remove this part of their personality through political machiavellism is plain daft.

There was one such individual at my school and shamefully, I can’t remember his name. Whenever it was his turn to take morning assembly, the place was packed to the rafters with standing room only at the back. It was the sense of danger he seemed to invoke when you (or even a nervous Headmaster) really didn’t know what was coming next that was so spellbinding and there is no doubt that he succeeded in getting his message across whether you believed it or not. I doubt he would get a look in these days and more’s the pity.

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