One of the things to which I’m looking forward this year is Dad’s Army. Toby Jones as Cpt Mainwaring – aka Mr Bump(tious) – will, I hope, help to fill the space left by The Detectorists although his, surprisingly, is not the character to whom I’m most frequently likened. That dubious honour goes to Pvt Frazer, Walmington-on-Sea’s own memento mori, because looking on the dim side’s a hard habit to break. If you hear someone intoning “You see? YOU SEE?”, as Cassandra’s unheeded predictions of carnage are realised, it’s probably me. The template for my default facial expression was set by Munch. I have a hitherto unadmitted soft spot for The Audience’s ‘A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed’ – a title that is now the motto on my fantasy coat of arms (gules a chevron sable between three Eeyores rampant). So, with 2016 having, just about, emerged from its drunken New Year fug, now is the time to look through the bottom of a one-tenth-empty glass at what else it threatens.
First up is the possibility that more erstwhile acquaintances will receive Honours from ministers hiding in Big Lizzie’s skirt pleats. This is neither idle boast, nor daydream: only last year, a former colleague, who has spent more syllables than sense propping up the academisation programme, was ennobled for her efforts. A quick glance down the latest list of recipients reveals a disproportionate number of similar pedigree being ushered through the door marked ‘For Services To Education’, which looks not at all like the one whose plaque reads ‘For Services To Ideology/Party Coffers/ My Bank Balance’. Yes, Mr Cameron, rewarding their complicity altruism asserts – again – academies’ inherent superiority; but, when you’re considering a private education for your son, are you sure that’s wise, sir?
Next, the new Year 6 Maths tests, which will focus specifically on multiplication tables. As we know, prescriptivism is often inversely proportional to potential rigour: mark schemes, for instance, tend to be carved into stone tablets when those with little subject or teaching knowledge – and, by the by, attractively low price tags – are contracted to adjudicate on others’ exam performance. The evident assumption underlying the tests is that primary school staff do not, or cannot be trusted to, check understanding of basic concepts. And so it may be, if they have been delivered by a redeployed passer-by (“Vacancy…Milkman? Never mind.. .Aaand…Action!”), paid on the ‘unqualified’ scale, trained to follow another’s script and summarily hurled in front of a class. All those minutely detailed lesson plans, uploaded at 23.59 every Sunday by teachers “for monitoring”, were petards by which staff retention was hoist.
Retention? Ah yes…I knew the word many years ago though, if it were to walk into the DfE now, it would almost certainly find itself being eyeballed like a Hun in a seaside town. Thanks to an increasingly unsustainable work-capability balance, supported by impossible targets and predetermined judgements, educators are jumping off every rung of the ladder and running for the exit like fugitives from mustard gas. Until recently, this may not have been an especially pressing cause for concern: a reasonable supply of student teachers, treated more as the latter than the former from the off, seemed guaranteed by the proliferation of on-the-job training routes. However, with many ITT providers failing to recruit in sufficient numbers (including the highly publicised but little-bothered-with Troops to Teachers scheme) we may yet be subjected to more emetic advertising campaigns starring future Dames and Sirs.
Still, every cloud has a colourful lining, even if it does consist largely of carcinogens: just think of the savings to be made. And so, to a final enticing prospect, as Nicky Morgan urges the STRB to endorse salary scale demotion. Already a reality for job-changers, thanks to the abolition of pay portability, this development would enable head teachers to cut, unilaterally and unaccountably, the salaries of existing staff – something that will, I suspect, become not uncommon, what with one person’s misery-monger being another’s soothsayer. A number of schools have even tried to convince retired ex-staff that teaching for no remuneration at all, under the guise of volunteering, may be a viable way to spend their twilight years: “Unpaid? Goodness, no; we call it ‘funpaid’ here.” Thankfully, responses so far have tended towards the sort that they really wouldn’t like up ‘em.
As education policy is driven almost entirely by the kind of cutbacks the Grim Reaper might undertake if paid by results, I have an idea. Let’s do away with salaries altogether and remodel teaching as a form of compulsory National Service. No more expensive recruitment campaigns or worries about teacher shortages. Less of that pesky red tape and workforce arsiness. Yes, staff would be unqualified, but don’t panic about that: it’s a difference of degree rather than of kind these days. Best of all, imagine the hours that could be spent playing with martial imagery. Oh, you’ve done that already.
My only concern is that it might never happen, so let’s suggest it to Nick Gibb who, I’m sure, will love the idea. Stupid boy.