Tag Archives: headteachers

Clegger’s Belief

Poor Nick Clegg. No, really. I used to work for a deputy head who was a bit like him. Rising through the ranks in the usual way, Jonathan was, fundamentally, a good sort: thought it wise to consult with teachers; considered fabricating bizarre target grades for students a bad idea; advocated the importance of a work-life balance. And then, he came to work at Our Place.

Pillory Towers, as I shall call it, was allegedly an outstanding school. It was run by an outstandingly mad head whose favourite sandwich filling was BLT: Bloody Lazy Teacher. (By ‘lazy’ I mean ‘giving in to that circadian dip that occurs between 2.00 am and 4.00 am’.) At first, our hero proclaimed to love his job as Deputy Head. Then he tried to straddle the gap between his beliefs and the head’s expectation that he’d stop being so…vegetarian.

The incompatibility was, however, too great and piece by piece he underwent the necessary transformation. His skin began to look dry, almost scaly – steroidal unguents would back away, waving white flags. From certain angles, his pupils (the ocular variety) would lengthen into vertical slits. Eventually, the end of his tongue began to split, as did the toes of his shoes.

Actually, it was upsetting to witness a well-intentioned person’s sanity being bent out of shape. Like a distressed version of a 1970s catalogue model, he’d gaze off towards a view pitted not with the holes on a golf course but, rather, with abject fear. Abrupt exits from rooms were followed by panic in the corridors, as he found it increasingly hard to look his audience squarely in its collective face.

Jonathan’s departure was sudden, announced the day before he left and dressed up as an entirely voluntary undertaking. A stint as a supply teacher was followed by a return to the plebeian ranks, and no more hankering after the Shardian heights he’d once hoped to ascend. Most importantly, he reclaimed the self that he was urged to toss onto the bonfire of someone else’s vanity.

And so, back to Nick. His Tourette’s-lite outbursts, every couple of months, sound like the desperate yelps of a man trying to hold on to whatever once made him whatever. I’ll confess to having been thoroughly uncharitable (if somewhat accurate) in earlier posts about his professed admiration for academies. But when the poor sod was despatched to look around a couple of the darned things as potential destinations for Cleggs junior, even I recognised the panicked stare of someone whose arm had been twisted so far up his back he could measure his own cranial bumps. No-one, it appeared he’d been instructed, could fail to be charmed by atrium architecture and corporate name-badges (Mr Fidler/ Director of Statistical Realignment/ Happy to Help!).

So now he’s really gone and done it, speaking up and splitting open the Lib Dem consensus like a cloven hoof. What matters it if schools employ unqualified teachers? Pshaw, Mr Clegg. You’ll be saying next that giving academies carte blanche on the curriculum might not be the wisest idea. Oh sorry, you’ve already done that. Opinions such as these do not necessarily represent a man who is “instinctively statist” and “instinctively in favour of the status quo”, as Clegg’s sacked Home Office minister, Jeremy Browne, instinctively suggests. They may just be the words of a man who, unlike some others in his party, is trying to hold on to a few basic principles while feeling obliged to notionally embrace the necessity of reform.

Who knows? We may, with luck, spot Clegg’s head above the parapet again, when he twigs that curricular freedom is the academy-flavoured carrot now being dangled before local authority schools, where once there hung a swag-bag stuffed with notes. He may realise that curricular micro-management is the decoy – the matter on which Mr Gove will capitulate a bit, while insisting on the non-negotiability of pay and pension restructuring. Clegg may even, if we’re patient enough, suggest that teachers should be rewarded in coins rather than flaked almonds or whatever it is that the DfE claims will ‘drive up standards’ – a turn of phrase so redolent of exhausted sheep being herded through the shambles.

Poor Nick Clegg. No really.


On Your Head Be It

It all went black – and a bit red, maybe – within seconds.

The staffroom phone rang at 3.45pm on a Monday and, being a) in its vicinity and b) already too knackered to exercise a little forethought, I picked it up. At the other end of the line was a polite woman conducting a survey: you know, the kind that requires responses like ‘Agree’, ‘Neither agree nor disagree’, ‘Disagree more than a bit, but not enough to to have issues” and so on. I agreed to participate.

Usually, I’m a polite respondent. Back then I was a full-time teacher. The two, I’m ashamed to say, did not always go together in my case. Having cold sweats and palpitations at the sight of post on the doormat (“Envelopes? I haven’t got time to open f*****g envelopes!!”) is a pretty good signpost that You Are Entering The State Of Idiocy-by-Sleep-Deprivation.

So, as I said, I was a full-timer caught on a Monday afternoon. A rather bad Monday afternoon, as it happened, because my then-headteacher had introduced a(nother) clutch of pointless initiatives that would do nothing to improve the quality of teaching or learning. Ones that would make me not just more than most people’s idea of full-time, but even more full-time than before, but not so full-time that I couldn’t allow myself a ten-minute nap. Twice a week. An afternoon made worse, because I was trying (honestly) to answer questions using a scale fundamentally unsuited to those of us left with the retentive powers of a guppy after one day at work.

And if that wasn’t burden enough, because the survey was about… attitudes towards headship. As I recall, my responses went from ‘Four asterisks’ to ‘Five or more asterisks and an ampersand’ up to ‘Several words in succession consisting entirely of symbols’. Like I said, black. Some red, perhaps. Why the ire? Why the infliction of crazed ranting on an innocent Mori employee by one who knew, but wasn’t being, better? It’s all (well, much of it – I have to bear some of the culpa) up there; in the Head, son.

If you’ve read other posts, you may well have a cumulative picture of me as a tad unimpressed by headteachers. I’ve referred to them in the contexts of bullying and of cheating. (I’ve yet to tackle out-and-out fraud, but it’s only a matter of time: I have the examples.) When I entered teaching, I had no strong feelings either way about putative headship. The longer I stayed, the more negative my opinions became. Come the Monday afternoon survey, I’d long decided that I’d rather have my eyeballs removed by five asterisks and an ampersand than risk becoming the type of person exemplified by my boss.

My experience of working for headteachers has followed a similar trajectory. In my probationary year I landed a job at what turned out to be an extremely supportive school – one that, to no small extent, was as it was because of its wonderful headteacher. This fantastic woman retained a substantial teaching timetable and, as a result, took account of the realities of the classroom when making decisions. Staff meetings were weekly affairs, with the agendae decided by – brace yourselves – the staff. Discussions were frank and fearlessly so. And no-one, but no-one, had to run around with three colours of Post-It-Note stuck to their forehead, because the leader was showcasing their way with kinaesthetic and visual learning styles in a sixty-seven-part lesson. In short, I was working under a head who understood that every teacher also mattered, and that staff deserved be treated as sentient, intelligent adults – not toddlers or lab mice.

Those were the days, my friend; I thought they’d never end. Silly me.

Since then, I have worked in schools led by one variety or other of maniac. The type, for instance, whose identity has become so fused with that of the institution, that it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. Or the type who, having alienated all of his or her own friends, thinks their success is measurable by how many of their staff end up friendless too. Or the type who gauges ‘productivity’ by how little time employees spend with their own children; by the in/frequency of their bowel movements (could go either way, that one, depending on how you feel about shitting bricks); by whether they cross the quad at that slightly accelerated speed seen in Pathe newsreels etc. etc. Or the type who, I suspect, has blackout blinds on their windows and sleeps in a box of unconsecrated polystyrene beads in the office. More than once, I’ve encountered the ‘variety-pack’ head, who contains all of the above.

Most of these individuals assumed that their staff aspired to be like them. Or them. They conducted business on this basis, solipsistically threatening dissenters with the removal of promotional opportunities as if they were vital organs. One told me that, if I continued refusing to carry out a very stupid instruction, I’d “never be trusted with something important again”. The fact that “Result!” wasn’t the correct answer became apparent when the conversation lurched to an emergency stop, followed by the hiss of something either inflating or deflating.

Several of these headteachers were graduates of the NPQH course and, from what my erstwhile colleagues tell me, they are the ones who now routinely threaten dissenters of any degree with capability procedures. To be offered a place on the NPQH, candidates have to undergo considerable psychometric testing. If anyone out there has experience of these tests – particularly if you helped to devise them or know what kind of pervert person is being sought – do leave a comment. This is not a cunning ploy to further covert aspirations to headship; I hope I’ve convinced you of my unfitness for, and aversion to, the role. Plus, by and large, I don’t regard Zanu PF as a model of good governance. It’s just that I suspect the emphasis of these tests is on the ‘psycho’ element, and not in a healthy way. If I’ve got that wrong, I’d like to be told, so that I can shift the blame from the course onto other shoulders: the pressures placed on heads by successive governments, and the individuals who choose to respond to said pressures in the most rotten of ways.

The NPQH hadn’t been invented when I worked for my first headteacher. I doubt she’d have been accepted onto the course, had she ever applied. But she was a huge part of the reason why, unlike so many fledging teachers these days, I wasn’t carried out of the profession on a stretcher, with a terminal case of the screaming abdabs.

Capability Blown

Martha is a supply teacher. She used to be a faculty head at a successful London school. Attempting to reverse an increasing budget deficit, caused by funding cuts and straightforward mismanagement, the school’s headteacher hit upon a plan: to ‘remove’ some of the school’s more experienced teachers, whose years in their profession meant that they were near the top of the pay scale. Teachers like Martha.

A letter of complaint soon arrived at the school, from a father whose child’s education had, allegedly, been jeopardised by Martha’s incompetence. Martha, who had never been the subject of a professional complaint before – indeed, she was regarded, and graded, as a highly competent practitioner – was never shown the letter whose claims the headteacher had decided not to interrogate. Instead, she was placed on capability procedures, with the option of resigning before their outcome was known. The head emphasised that, if Martha didn’t exercise that ‘choice’, he could ensure – if he were so inclined – that she never worked in schools again. Sticking to her guns and refusing to resign, Martha was forbidden from discussing her case with third parties – including the other staff from whom, she became aware, the headteacher was seeking comments that could be folded, origami-style, into incriminating ‘evidence’. Before her monitoring period was over, Martha had resigned.

Capability procedures were introduced under New Labour, to help teachers tackle (perceived) weaknesses in their practice. Areas for development were to be identified and monitored through observations, scrutiny of relevant paperwork and records of student achievement. A date for review was to be agreed at the outset and appropriate training provided. Implementation guidelines made it clear that the process should be undertaken in a supportive manner, with the teacher being given the opportunity to improve before any further stages were invoked.

However, the way in which capability procedures are used in many schools is anything but supportive. Instead, numerous headteachers treat them as a means by which competent staff who have, for whatever reason, become undesirable may be hounded out of their posts. Experienced teachers are among the most frequent targets, almost invariably being replaced by cheaper staff. So, too, are those deemed members of ‘the awkward squad’ – a title it takes surprisingly little awkwardness to earn. With the power to initiate proceedings – and to decide whether teachers  have passed them – in the hands of principals alone, capability procedures are ripe for misuse.

For these reasons, there is concern within the profession at Michael Gove’s introduction, this September, of a new, fast-track procedure – one that will allow allegedly incompetent staff to be removed from schools within a term. The idea is not completely without merits: there are teachers whose performance leaves much to be desired but who manage to cling on to their posts, to the detriment of their students and of the other staff who have to compensate for their inadequacies. It would be in their interests, as well as everyone else’s, to remove them as swiftly as possible.

However, it is one of the ironies of education that, while almost every school has an anti-bullying policy to protect pupils, teaching repeatedly ranks among the top three professions for workplace bullying. The perpetrators are often the very heads that politicians and much of the wider public assume to be models of probity. A teacher, who witnessed colleagues being placed on capability procedures, described the process as one of “leperisation”: other staff, fearing that they would be next, distanced themselves from the victims or did nothing in their defence. Many will recognise these dynamics from the playground bully’s repertoire. Yet, it is into such hands that the government is delivering increasing managerial autonomy in schools. Congruently, a current employee at the Department for Education claims that its own culture is characterised by “a lot of fear…Staff feel that if they put their heads above the parapet, they will be seen as an awkward character who could be got rid of”. A rare example of a minister willing to do as he implicitly says?

The insidiousness of such practices lies in the ease with which headteachers, so inclined, can preserve – even, enhance – their altruistic credentials (they are, after all, only doing it for the kids) while knowingly distorting the reputations of competent teachers to such degrees that they are, effectively, unemployable in other schools. Union representatives have often failed to make any headway on such cases, being unwittingly lied to themselves, or because the principal concerned has been careful to avoid leaving a trail of culpability. Rather than spend time pursuing the matter through the courts, unions are generally more likely to steer members towards accepting ‘compromise agreements’ that often impose gagging orders on those forced out of their posts. With the compression of capability procedures, the chances of successful union intervention are reduced even further.

Assuming he is not aware of them already – or, even, tacitly approving of them – the Education Secretary must contemplate the misuses to which headteachers’ disciplinary powers can be put. The introduction of a fast-track dismissal system should not enable principals alone to act as accusers, judges and executioners. Rather, a rigorous procedure is needed that allows for the removal of genuinely incompetent staff, but that also holds heads to stringent account for their decisions. As long as so much power continues to be entrusted to what can be dubious hands, Martha’s case will be, as it is, far from exceptional.

A League Of Their Own

I don’t believe I’ve ever registered on the Richter scale, but I’ve come close. It was a first-aid course, and my mandible had hit the floor with such force that I looked like a real medical emergency to Jim, my resuscitation partner. Being teachers (secondary in my case, primary in his) we’d been discussing reading recovery: you know, that doohickey schools are supposed to provide when they find that students’ reading abilities are markedly lower than most in their age group. A recent career-changer into education, Jim had done a lot of research on reading recovery programmes and enthused about one in particular, before telling me that his school would not be investing in it. Prohibitively expensive, I assumed.

No and yes. Financially, the scheme was affordable. However, Jim’s headteacher had decided not to buy the programme because of one, overriding fact: eleven year olds need not be entered for the SATs exams that mark the end of their primary education, if they are working below National Curriculum Level 2. A primary school’s position in the league tables rests, to a considerable extent, on how its Year 6 students fare in these tests, and the government’s expectation is that they will have reached Level 4 when they take them.

Children working above Level 2, but unlikely to reach Level 4 by the time the SATs come round – those who have fallen behind in reading, for instance – are, therefore, potential blots on their schools’ statistics. Safer, then, to ensure that they do not reach that crucial Level 2 threshold, and can be excluded from the number-crunching altogether. To put it more succinctly, league tabling led Jim’s headteacher to actively deny the most needy students additional support. This was the point at which half of my teeth declared independence from the rest of my face. In his first year, Jim is already regretting his career switch.

Looking across the Atlantic, we should have seen this coming. In 1996, the Chicago Public School system introduced its ‘high-stakes’ testing regime, under which schools with low reading scores would face probation or closure – naming and shaming with the added oomph of imminent unemployment. Data gathered from Chicago schools showed a marked surge in cheating around 1996, particularly by teachers with low-scoring classes. With the passage of 2002’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ laws, the pressure on American schools to produce results increased. And so too did the frequency and variety of staff malpractice.

In response to a comparably punitive regime of floor targets, league tables and politicised Ofsted inspections, many British schools now boast huge and rapid leaps in pass rates, and confidently commit themselves to “year-on-year improvement”. A cursory glance may suggest that accountability measures are achieving the intended results; a closer look, and a few awkward questions on how some schools manage these extraordinary turnarounds, may not. Are these apparent successes really due to the saintly ministrations of ‘superheads’ and the efforts of inexhaustibly boingy teachers, happily working ever-longer days, weeks and terms? And what do the methods employed in pursuit of improved results bequeath to other parts of the education system, and beyond?

Imagine a staffroom populated by cadavers one year, and live teachers with discernible pulses and functioning respiratory systems the next. In such a case, an astounding reversal of fortunes might not stretch credulity so thin. But, having worked in several secondary schools known for their fantastic exam results, I’ve developed a nose for the scent of rat. Following the first-aid course and Jim’s revelations, I switched to working in the primary sector – driven to do so by curiosity about the gap between the gleaming SATs levels with which increasing numbers of Year 7 pupils arrive at secondary school, and their demonstrably more modest abilities. Suffice it to say that I detected a familiar odour.

As with secondary schools, senior managers and local authority figures are most willing to play the targets game – largely to enhance their career prospects and the likelihood of being noticed by those who stride down the corridors of power. Where members of the headship team invigilate Year 6 exams, they often do so in order to tell the students the answers, with unsurprisingly spectacular results. This practice, witnessed in a London school, is not an anomaly: in spirit, it’s no different from that in a West Country primary school, where Year 6 ‘lessons’ start an hour earlier than usual on the days of the tests, so that the headteacher can spend this time going through the exam papers with the class and telling pupils the correct answers in advance of the official start times. It’s also just a step away from establishments not unlike Jim’s school, where less able students are given the day off when the SATs circus comes to town. Whichever form of ‘statistical management’ is employed, its impressive outcomes are reported as the fruits of honest toil and visionary leadership.

The conjoined twin of cheating is buck-passing. Inflated grades at the end of Key Stage 2 become a weighty burden to secondary schools, whose competence is judged by the progress made from these fabricated benchmarks. Even secondary heads who know these figures to be little more than misleading toot will cite them as gospel truths when expedient. Because it really doesn’t matter whether league tables record simple grades or ‘value-added’ ones that take account of contextual factors and their potential effect on academic performance: the incentive remains for schools to reach for the highest outcomes available, so that they can appear to be more successful at meeting – or, preferably, exceeding – targets than the rest.

Leaving nothing to chance, the head of a school in which I worked for several years routinely created his own target grades. Sure enough, the pupils sat independent predictive tests, against whose judgements progress was supposedly measured. However, those judgements were then secretly adjusted by senior managers using a special formula: “Think of a number, treble it, add a zero to the end, then divide it by one”, I believe it was. Toned and buffed, the revised target grades would be delivered to those charged with their achievement – students, teachers and parents – as if they were the real thing. Progress was rigorously monitored against these criteria, as was the competence of the teachers for whom these fictitious grades became the standards against which they would be appraised.

Students trying their damnedest to meet these expectations (which, at this school, they were required to do a year before taking their GCSEs ) were told that they were lazy underachievers if they fell short of the mark. Capable teachers were labelled as incompetent, as they tried to lead befuddled mites through the syllabus by both hands and, possibly, a leg or two, in pursuit of grades far beyond their abilities. Should the fictional grade still prove elusive, the teacher would face considerable pressure to do the work for the student. Literally. As in “Write the essay, but submit it as if it’s the student’s work”.

Pupils suffering chronic inertia in the face of schoolwork had, therefore, little to fear. Their carefully structured support programme consisted of telling them – correctly, this time – that they were lazy underachievers, and then forcing teachers to write the essays for them. Step two, involving hands and feet, was removed to ensure that the support programme was personalised in accordance with the students’ needs. The stagnating waters of staff morale were rendered even more odorous by the threat of the sack, if the teacher failed to reach those attainment targets.

I cannot emphasise strongly enough that what I am describing is not fiction. It is common, if covert, practice in a number of schools, including some that have been garlanded with the highest plaudits – occasionally, by no less a figure than an education secretary. In such institutions, ‘revision sessions’ and ‘booster classes’ are code for various forms of malpractice – most often, intervening in the production of work to an extent that most would recognise as cheating. Nor is the introduction of controlled assessments, written under supervision in school, a guarantee of honest practice as they only exclude the possibility of assistance from parents and private tutors. As is the case at an outstanding high school in London, they don’t prevent headteachers from instructing staff to ignore any – in some cases, every – control within which assessments should be produced.

At best, cheating is that to which the principal turns a blind eye, relieved that staff are demonstrating the “whatever it takes” specified in so many job adverts to help the school appear to meet its targets. At worst, it is an institutional norm or, indeed, expectation. None of the teachers I know agrees with such practices, although many feel forced to collude by silence, fearing dismissal from their posts. Little wonder, then, that employers and tertiary teachers, like their secondary counterparts, find significant gaps between the knowledge and competence promised by impressive grades, and the actual capabilities of those bearing them.

A system based on insufficiently demanding work, that teachers are pressurised into all but typing for the students, bodes and does ill: significant numbers are leaving school with fistfuls of good grades and some appalling life-lessons under their belts. If the workshy believe that someone else will (be forced to) fill the effort gap they have left, it’s a lesson that many will have learned at school. ‘A’ level students and undergraduates passing off the work of others as their own have been encouraged to do exactly this with their teachers’ ‘interventions’. Are they really to blame if they see plagiarism as an offence of degree, not of kind? Others have never been permitted an accurate picture of their abilities because of the ‘support’ they’ve received, only discovering that higher education is not for them several thousand pounds later, when expected to produce work entirely by themselves.

So, bad news for those inheriting students who aren’t what they were led to believe. And, most of all, bad news for the students themselves. But what about the genuinely able? Surely their chances can’t be scuppered by their schools’ complicity with league table tyranny? I could blather on about the use of ‘equivalent’ qualifications to boost GCSE points, but you probably know about this already. Instead, let’s put a face to the practice: a student of well above-average ability, at a school run by an academy chain that Michael Gove idolises. With forgivable pride, the student’s mother believed that her child had achieved fourteen GCSEs, because that’s what the school told her.

Closer inspection revealed that the student did not have a single bona fide GCSE: all of the passes were in equivalent qualifications. As many of these count as multiple GCSEs, they can inflate the numbers of students deemed to have cleared the high-jump of five passes – hence the school’s policy of entering pupils for them wherever possible. The student concerned is now at a college, taking real GCSEs at the time when A levels should have been on the cards. Meanwhile the problem of equivalents persists. A recent report showed that, in many schools, learners are still being shooed towards poorly-regarded and inappropriate courses, if they are conducive to the appearance that more GCSEs have been passed.

As knowing as the electorate can be about the motives of politicians, the fact that the combined effects of targets, league tabling and Ofsted inspections are so rarely the objects of cogent debate testifies to the power of political platitude and the collusion of the press. Rather, all three accountability measures are represented as guarantees of institutional probity and educational quality. For those on the inside, bearing daily witness to how they distort schools’ priorities and erode their integrity, matters are somewhat different. Replace claims of transparency with the fact of opacity and we may be able to talk.

Like many of my colleagues, I’d hoped that some truth would trickle out when The Daily Telegraph devoted page after page, day after day, to the ‘help’ exam boards give their client schools. No such luck. A few scattered observations about the pernicious effects of targets were outnumbered by miss-the-point analyses that blamed examiners for desperately courting customers. Certainly, the laws of the marketplace have something to do with what The Telegraph uncovered: those pesky varmint exam boards are in fierce competition with each other to secure and retain the custom of schools.

As a result, they are, arguably, the third element in our unholy trinity, alongside governments and headteachers. Examiners’ reports often lament the uniformity of coursework produced by highly prescriptive and narrow teaching-to-the-essay-title. However, they do so in general terms, with little active challenge to such practices at local level.  When a headteacher of an outstanding school in London instructed staff to engage in malpractice, she was reported to the relevant exam boards. Their response? Leaflets on correct procedure, sent to the whistle-blowing teachers. Nothing else. If neglect is tantamount to complicity, it’s unsurprising that Mick Waters, a former director at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, described the exam system in 2010 as “diseased” and “almost corrupt”.

Enticing the buyer with promises of undemanding syllabi, tip-offs about upcoming exam questions and blind-eye policies towards malpractice are not habits that emerged unbidden. They are direct responses to customer demand; and customer demand has been shaped by a knowing fidelity, in political circles, to league tables and targets. It’s a loyalty that seems to be as tenacious as ever. Even Katherine Birbalsingh, poster girl for Tory education policies (when she remembers to be), characterised targets and tables as obstacles to education in her rapturously-received 2010 conference speech.  Cheating may have been an unintended consequence when league tables were introduced but, two decades on, I doubt we can still be so disingenuous. What are we to make of those who still profess faith in this flawed measure?

Without tables and targets, teachers will kick off their shoes and leave the kids to watch Cbeebies or Celebrity Big Brother until the bell goes. Or so we are led to believe. I entered teaching before the introduction of league tabling, and I didn’t notice staffrooms heaving with lazy curmudgeons, concerned only with bumming fags and knitting elbow patches for each other’s jackets (and, contrary to what some would have you believe, nor was the wallpaper designed by Socialist Worker). I recall being mentored by teachers who made sure I cared that my students were intellectually stretched, that they acquired knowledge, skills, responsible attitudes and – crucially – the ability to think for themselves. Surely the sine qua non of any education system?

So, let’s be wildly fanciful for a moment and imagine a Britain in which there are no education league tables. A robust and supportive inspection system, certainly, but no league tables. How might that look? A richer curriculum? Topics included because they stimulate and challenge? No more “You don’t need to know that, it’s not tested in the exam”? Vocationally-minded students with a choice of proper vocational courses, rather than bowdlerised equivalents? Fewer teachers leaving the profession demoralised, patronised, bored out their skulls (and skills), and half-dead from a seventy-plus-hour working week? It’s a frightening prospect, I know.

League tables serve no student’s best interests. They do, however, serve Whitehall, furnishing it with the figures it needs to dupe us into believing that all is well under the watch of the (insert name) party. They also serve ambitious headteachers, for whom impressive numbers equal fat salaries, more executive power and ministerial gratitude. Our children, in short, have ceased to be people; they’re now simply pound signs and statistics waiting to happen.

“You don’t have to be morally elastic to work here, but it helps.” Has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?