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.