A Journal of the Plague Year

Enter the Nightingale University Programme, stage left.

World Class Higher Education

They really are the gift that keeps on giving. If you thought a nadir of some sort had been reached with the Dominic Cummings jolly to Barnard Castle, the Tories have shown, week by week, that they are genuinely world leaders in arse -from-elbow confusion. And that’s genuinely world leaders as opposed to Boris Johnson-type world leaders (ie embarrassingly feeble).

Each day of the Great Exam Grade Debacle, has sent the collective jaw ever further nearer the floor. It doesn’t seem possible that even vaguely sentient human beings could get things quite as badly wrong as this. And yet still their supporters plead mitigation. Katherine Birbalsingh says she feels sorry for Gavin Williamson. Her compassion does her some credit, if not her judgement. She’s joined by Toby Gobfull of Brylcreem Young, Michael Gove and his wife, Sarah Vine, who just the other day told us she too feels sorry for Johnson, saying that the stress and exhaustion of worrying day and night is bound to generate bad decisions. Nobody has ever been that worried before, judging by the tsunami of bad decisions we’ve been submerged under. And, really, Johnson’s only worry is can he get another holiday in before people start dying in their droves again in the autumn. The only person in the entire country who must be feeling rather chipper about all of this is Chris Failing Grayling, who suddenly doesn’t stand out from his peers as being a complete knob. He is surrounded by complete knobs. There is a veritable Bullingdon club of knobs whichever way he looks. He has never felt so at home. He has heard on the QT, that he has been lined up to replace Private Pike at Education, because it needs a safe pair of hands. Relatively.

Separated at birth….

But now, Gavin has other fish to fry. On the back of his frankly brilliant wheeze to save the nation’s  children, by going with CAGs (how on earth did little Gav think of that one all by himself?) he has another problem to deal with. Universities now have to accommodate thousands of extra students, and there is no chance whatsoever that having clambered out of one trench of excrement, Gavin is going to dive into another by not allowing any of the Great Northern Unwashed to go to a university of their choice. (Rumour has it that Johnson was genuinely surprised, when Dom told him, that anyone from a northern town went to university anywhere. The last time he saw an oik from the north at university, it was warming his toilet seat, for a small fee and a roasting at the common room fireplace.)

Taking back control, one gaffe at a time…

Although Johnson finds it tiresome, he has been told time and time again that he has got to make an effort to be nice to the Oiks, despite their body odour and skin disease. And so he will give his imperial assent to the Great Education Plan. To accommodate the additional working class hordes, he has given the green light to the building of a new generation of “Nightingale Universities”. Because he got a lot of praise for his “Nightingale hospitals” even though no-one was ever treated in one. He said he was going to build them and build them he did. Hurrah!  So it stands to reason that the same thing will work for University capacity. They’ll convert all of the empty shopping centres around the country – John Lewis, IKEA on out of town sites etc – and they will be staffed by (and this is the bit that Cummings is really pleased about) by all the new graduates who can’t get a job for love nor money. Graduate unemployment solved at a stroke. It’s just like Dom keeps saying, you just have to be prepared to think outside of the box and go for eccentrics, mavericks and loons.

And to make it as unsinkable as The Titanic, the new Nightingale Universities will be run by their new Chief Executive, Dido Noseintrough, fresh from her triumphs at TalkTalk and Track and Trace (motto: No infected individual knowingly informed), with fat contracts awarded, without tender, of course, to Tory chums in IT and Construction. And next year, when the dust has settled, a few discreet titles in the honours list. Taking back control to be World Leaders in corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

It’s clear to me that Johnson, Cummings, Gove et al have read my novel, “Zero Tolerance” and have taken it for an instruction manual. In that, the Education Secretary, Marcus Grovelle, solves the problem of Social Care, spending on the armed forces, school funding, graduate unemployment and teacher recruitment, with a brilliant solution. And I thought I was writing satire!

I’m going to publish the relevant chapter to whet your appetite for more. Coming soon!

Tory Education Minister thinks the unthinkable

Marcus Grovelle, the Tory Education Secretary, in an eerie foreshadowing of Gavin Williamson, solves the problems of the NHS, Social care and Teacher recruitment at a stroke.

In this extract from “Zero Tolerance”, Grovelle, speaking at a conference of POCSE, a teachers’ group designed to raise exam performance, tackles the pressing issues of the day.

Grovelle’s speech was reaching its zenith and the crowd, seduced by the charisma of power, were lapping it up, with its strange mixture of flattery, eccentricity and outright madness.

“And there are so many points of agreement between this Government’s challenging of the status quo and the Partnership’s challenging of sloppy teaching and low standards in exams. We have broken the dead hand of Local Authorities and their monopoly control of education, we’ve provided real choice with the creation of Academies that have transformed educational standards in this country and took that step further with a whole new category of Free Schools, giving parents the right to set up schools that will give greater priority to standards and old-fashioned values. We’ve finally dealt with the runaway grade inflation and cheating that flourished under the last socialist government, introducing exams that are rigorous and which don’t patronise working class children and instead expect the same high standards for students whether they come from a council estate or a country estate.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are clearly cut from the same cloth. We want the same things, we have the same passion, we refuse to accept the same old excuses. Now, I ask you to join me in our new venture, the next step in transforming Britain’s education system and moving from being the laughing stock of the free world to being the best in the world. I can announce today, that after consultation, from next September we will be introducing the following major reforms:

All students will have an entitlement to follow a five-year course, leading to GCSE, of Latin and Greek. These courses will be double weighted in the performance tables, to incentivise more timid institutions to embrace the reform. Let’s bring back the standards from historically our finest institutions and spread them to Bash Street Kids Comprehensive.

We are going to tackle the problem of teacher recruitment with a series of bold and innovative initiatives. Every University, College and Higher Education Institute will be affiliated to a network of local schools and undergraduates will be able to supplement their Maintenance Loans by taking up the places that will be on offer as affiliated teachers. This will, at a stroke, get the brightest and the best of our young people working in the Secondary School system without the need for costly and time-consuming training, most of which frankly, could have come out of Jeremy Corbyn’s Marxist handbook.”

 Here he paused and beamed at his audience, evidently delighted with his clever joke, one he had personally inserted in the text of the speech, against the wishes of his Central Office writers. The audience nervously blinked back, not sure of what their response should be to these extraordinary proposals. Grovelle steamed forward.

“We will tackle once and for all the divide between vocational education and academic. For too long we have been in thrall to the crazy notion that everyone should go to University. We have denigrated practical subjects and sneered at those who have chosen to follow their aptitude for hands-on work. Our new apprenticeships were a start in tackling the ludicrous, over-complicated schemes of the last Labour Government, but now we are going to go one step further. I am delighted to be able to announce today that, from September, from the age of fourteen all students will be able to choose to sign up to do National Service, either in any of the armed forces, or, and this idea is truly inspired and revolutionary, in our National Health Service, with particular emphasis on Social Care. The sneering naysayers in the Remoaners camp, who constantly talk this great country of ours down, have carped and moaned continually about how our great institutions would collapse without foreign workers to staff them. Why on earth should we condemn the bottom forty percent of our young people to failure in the academic exam system, just for the sake of political correctness? We anticipate that, in the first instance, there will be a traditional gender split, with boys opting for the armed forces and girls for the caring professions, but the choice will be available for anyone who to express a preference for either. The only obstacle they would have to face would be the comments of their friends.” Again, Grovelle paused to allow the audience to show their appreciation of his daring joke. He was rewarded with a few nervous titters.

“Imagine, the problems of Social care, the NHS, the Armed Forces in the face of the conventional threat posed by Russia and by terrorism and the academic standards of the bottom 40% of our young people, all solved at a stroke.”

The expressions on the sea of faces in front of him told their own story of people picturing the reality of what had just been described to them. There were expressions of bafflement, incomprehension, with a few furrowed brows of those who were turning to anger. Grovelle, oblivious to his audience, ploughed on. The unthinkable had to be thought, and he was the man to think it.

Will Williamson have more success than Grovelle? Read the rest of “Zero Tolerance” to find out.


A Journal of The Plague Year 2020

Week 14, June 19th

Spot the difference

One is articulate, community driven, and responsible and the other is hopelessly out of his depth

Amidst all of the hopeless Tory floundering over their pathetic handling of the pandemic, such that even hardened liars have started to look a little embarrassed at the nonsense Cummings has told them to spout, they have inadvertently stumbled on a get-out-jail-free card, like Bilbo in the tunnels under The Misty Mountains finding the ring of power in the darkness. (apologies – there will be no further fey Lord of the Rings type references in the remainder of this blog) And to their great relief, it’s a combination of bogeymen that they are very familiar with. Buried deep in the Tory psyche, is the fundamental conviction that The British People  (Pompous voice, serious expression) love bashing the unions and in particular, they love bashing teachers unions’ and Local Authorities (sometimes known as “Communists” and “Soviets”). So, at PM questions this week (shortly to be renamed, “Are you talkin’ to me?”) the execrable LiarMan Johnson was wetting himself with joy at his cunning wheeze for ignoring the questions by asking a load of his own. The use of the word “Asking” in this context is a little misleading. “Asking” implies complete sentences but The Great Orator will not be tied down by the restrictions imposed by Standard English Grammar. Those sort of rules are for losers and oiks. Bellowed single words, Latin phrases, and the stamping of feet takes Boris right back to the good old days at The Bullingdon club.

This was compounded by Robert Halfon at the Education select committee asking the unions (Mary Bousted, I think) why Students could go shopping in Primark but not go to school. Halfon is usually one of the more sympathetic Tories, someone who does a passable impersonation of a human being most of the time, so this intervention was particularly disappointing. It really does not take a lot of brain power to work out that easing the lockdown on shops is a question for his boss to answer, not the teaching unions. In the great new Tory spirit of nothing being their responsibility, they seem both baffled and outraged that the situation in schools is no more than the consequences arising from a responsible following through of the Government’s own safety  guidelines for Covid 19. Sorry guys, it’s not a Union plot, no matter how convenient that would have been for you.

Then came the Great Tory Plan for saving a generation of students, probably purchased on line from the same CunningPlans ‘R Us store as the one they were supposed to have in place for Social Care. Oh, and the one for a comprehensive free trade deal (both “oven-ready” plans, if memory serves me well). This involves a startled looking Gavin Williamson, announcing a scheme to give one to one tuition next year so that no student will fall behind. Apart from the ones whose names are already down for a zero hours contract opportunity, when they leave school, because they don’t really count. Until Daniel Rashford (keep up, Mr Hancock!) gets wind of it, then at the last minute they will really, really count and will all be promised scholarships to Oxbridge, instead. Until everyone has forgotten about it, after we all get back from Tuscany in October.

The defenders of the Working Classes

This is a classic Tory response to a situation they have fundamentally misunderstood and then misrepresented. It is infuriating that it appears that, emerging from the mist, oven ready, so to speak, are teachers, to take on the role of Tory scapegoat. The narrative goes something like this. Lockdown and continued school closure is a tragedy for the life chances of young people. It is doing irreparable damage to their education and therefore to their eventual outcomes and prospects. It is doing particular damage to the lives of those working – class kids. You know, the ones the Tories really care about so much. Well, when Marcus Rashford tells them to. In order to mitigate the damage inflicted on young people by Marxists and Trade unions, teachers must give up some of their holidays, or work at the weekends for the next year so that the kids can catch up what they’ve missed. So much education has been lost, they say. So much Damage has been done, they say. Decent ordinary teachers want to work themselves into the ground to make things right, but they are being held back by the Socialist teaching unions, who, rumour has it, aren’t patriotic and think Churchill was a racist. (They do tend to get a bit confused, after a while. I think this is called “Cognitive overload”)

This, as you have probably gathered, drives me mad.

Lockdown and non-attendance at school has not done “irreparable damage” to the vast majority of students.

Learning has not been “Lost”, like a piece of PE kit without a name tag. It may well have been delayed, but it’s definitely not “Lost”

The idea of lost learning comes from a confusion about the distinction between learning and covering a set curriculum. Learning is vital. Covering a set curriculum to an arbitrary timescale and set of assessment criteria is as important as we deem it to be. And in this situation, that’s not very.

Two groups of students have suffered terribly during this period: Those at risk in child protection  terms and those whose mental health has worsened because of the lack of opportunities to socialise with their peers and adults other than those in their close family. It is vital that these children get back into school as quickly as possible, not to be crammed with the knowledge they have missed learning, but to experience positive interactions, whether that be play or discussion, with others.

The Tory plan to plug the gaps of what has been missed, by first testing, supposedly to identify “Gaps” and then by “catch up” programmes before and after school, at weekends and in the holidays is a dreadful, unimaginative, useless response to this unprecedented situation. More than anything else, children need to go back to normal. The situation envisaged in September is not normal. It piles pressure on staff and students after the extraordinary challenge that the pandemic has presented. In short, it’s the worst of all possible worlds.

One to one tuition can make a contribution, but it can also mess things up even more. Unknown tutors, teaching a programme uncalibrated to the needs of the school, the class and the individual, with little accountability is potentially a huge waste of money. And, at the risk of being cynical, who exactly will trouser the vast sums of money being talked about? The Government has specified that they will control the provision of accredited tutors from approved Tuition companies. And guess who will own those little beauties? Friends and family of The Conservative Party. And donors, of course. Some people will get a tidy little wedge from this “crisis”.

And, of course, if you think about this situation in terms of lost learning, you are immediately in crisis territory, leading to a panicked response. The minute you start to think of it as simply learning delayed, the crisis evaporates (notwithstanding the two groups mentioned above) and a rational plan can emerge.

Let me suggest my alternative. If education is so important, if the learning that would have taken place needs to be achieved, if the Government is prepared to spend considerable sums of money on this, then why not just repeat the year?

That’s right – Repeat the year.

No additional pressure. Going over some of the same ground will reinforce learning. Repeating will allow time for greater depth, nay, even mastery.

In Primary you could either keep the Year 6 children and devise the most thrilling transition programme ever. Reception would be deferred for a year because International best practice from those jurisdictions we so admire, is to give children more playing time by starting formal education at least a year later than the UK. Or, to avoid their disappointment, they could transition, and do their interim programme in secondary before staring the Year 7 curriculum. The departed Year 11s means that there is physical space in the schools, as usual.

This way you would cover the curriculum, but without a panicked sense of rush that “Catch up” implies. And students going on the Higher Education would do so, but just a year later than usual. No big loss there. People have been doing gap years for decades now, so it can’t do any damage, surely.

This is not quite a back of the fag packet solution. I have actually turned over and gone on to the front as well. But I do recognise that inevitably, there will be lots of things that my brilliant solution does not account for. But I imagine, given the adversarial nature of Twitter and Social media in general, that there will shortly be a tsunami of people telling me how dim I am not to have considered X, Y and particularly Z.

I’m looking forward to it.

Silent Corridors, Still Lives

An extract from “Zero Tolerance” by The Old Grey Owl, available from https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/zero-tolerance/ and for Overseas readers, from https://t.co/DzFZBP7ElE?amp=1

Learning, Fifties style

To help little Gavin Williamson, the UK Secretary of State for Education out, I’ve reproduced an extract here from my new novel, “Zero Tolerance”. He’s clearly been badly advised on schools and behaviour policies by that nasty Mr Cummings and needs some alternative advice. Because the book is 400 pages long and has a lot of long words in it, I’ve produced this particular scene that deals with the behaviour policy of silent corridors specifically for Gavin. Gavin, if you ask him nicely, I’m sure Dominic will read it to you when he tucks you up in bed tonight

He strode out into the middle of the corridor, where it widened out to accommodate traffic from four tributaries, and checked his watch, walkie talkie in one hand and a letter in the other. The silence was broken by the shrill tones of the bell, and the doors opposite him and further down the corridor opened, spilling students of all shapes, ages and sizes into the thoroughfare. Soon, it was a raging torrent, a white water surge of kids and he stood in the middle of the corridor where he had a sight of all four corridors that led into this larger space. He was like a huge rock in the middle of spring meltwater. At six foot four, he towered above the rapids careering past him, kids on their way to their next lesson.

“Oi, don’t do that you chief….”


“Where’s English this year?”

“We’re out in the huts, I think.”

“Ah man, it’ll be freezing out there come December….”


“Kelly! Kelly! Wait up…..”


“Eh, did you see Eastenders last night?”

“It’s lame, man…”


“You done your Science homework, Deepak?”

“It’s not for today, is it?

“Yeah, man.”

“Oh, nah. I thought he said Friday.”


“Is your Mum alright then?”

“She’s gotta go hospital today, so I dunno. I’m waitin’ for a message.”


“Love those Vans, man. Seriously. Has no-one seen you wearing ’em yet?”


“It’s Messi, obviously bruv.”

“Messi? Don’t be weird. He can’t head the ball, man. Ronaldo is the king…”


“You goin’ rehearsal after school?”

“Nah, forgot my cello, innit.”

“Sir’ll let you lend his, betcha.”

“Borrow. It’s borrow.”



“I jus’ don’t get why Trump was voted in. Pussy grabber.”

“Terrible hair, as well. It’s like a flap or something.”

“I swear it’s like a wig, you know.”


“Have you read it? Its brilliant. Like Harry Potter, but cooler.”

You got it then?”

“Yeah, I’ll lend it you if you like.”

“Will ya? Brilliant. Bring it tomorrow, yeah?”


“Remember, Miss said she was gonna blow something up in the lesson today.”

“Oh, yeah. Come on then..”


“I reckon Miss is havin’ a baby y’ know.”

“Nah, she’s just got a bit fat.”

“I’m tellin’ you. She’s pregnant. I reckon it was Mr Brooks, as well..”


“Come on, Darlene, our group is goin’ first. We gotta get the scripts and everything..”

“Yeah, man, whatever.”

“Darlene, come on, it’s important.”


Far above the tide of humanity that swept past him, he bellowed his usual litany of instructions, exhortations and threats, and took his part in the regular conversations that the children attempted, always returning to the key message: Get to your lesson quickly.

And then, almost as quickly as it had sprung up, the surge died down to a trickle and then eventually the riverbed was dry, with just the odd straggler to chivvy along. At this time of year, it tended to be small, bewildered Year seven kids, bent double under their new school bags that seemed bigger than them, blinking around, desperately trying to locate room B26 without looking like a loser or in any way drawing attention to themselves. Satisfied that the changeover had been successfully managed, he turned to the letter in his hand and it read it again. He had read it so many timed he would have been able to recite it if asked. The message it contained was not improving with repetition

Dear Parent, Carer or Guardian,

I am writing to you to inform you of a change to our behaviour policy that will come into effect from next Monday, September 10th.

Building on the remarkable success of last year, when the new leadership of the school transformed the behaviour of students in lessons, we are now planning to turn our attention to behaviour in the corridors. Last year a lot of learning time was lost by students arriving late for lessons or, when they did arrive, causing disruption by their unruly, noisy and boisterous behaviour. To prevent this lost of focus during lesson changeover, we are introducing a new system where students will be required to walk in single file on the right hand side of the corridor in silence. This will ensure that they arrive at their next lesson on time and in the correct frame of mind to begin learning at once.

To make sure that this new policy works from the beginning, all staff have been instructed to be in the corridors between lessons. Any student who breaks this new rule, either by talking, running or by not being in single file, will be given a same day detention of one hour. Students committing the same offence again will be placed in the internal inclusion room for two days in the first instance. Further infringements will result in Saturday detentions and exclusions.

I am sure I can count on your support as we continue to transform Fairfield High School into the best school in the area, a school of real excellence. In parallel with this development I would also like to announce a change to lunchtime arrangements. Lunch will now be taken in the dining Hall in Form groups, supervised by Form Tutors. Form tutors will lead their form through structured discussion of topical issues taken from the day’s newspapers. This practice, common in many Private schools, will teach Fairfield students how to interact in a calm and quiet manner at mealtimes and will also train them to take part in civilized debate about current issues.

Both of these measures have been implemented in several schools across London, run by the most inspirational and impressive young Headteachers who are prepared to think out of the box and challenge the way things have always been done. These early pioneers have been very successful, and some of the most challenging schools in London have been transformed, attracting the attention of ambitious and forward- thinking educationalists across the world. In following a similar path, Fairfield High is blazing a trail and challenging the sloppy approaches to Education that have held us back for far too long. One day, all schools will be adopting these methods, and they will be trying to catch up with us, not the other way round.

Remember, the next stage of our transformation starts on Monday September 10th.

Yours sincerely

Camilla Everson


He looked around the empty echoing corridor and thought of the energy and vitality and community of just a few moments before. All human life had been there, good and bad, and now it was to be crushed. Stamped on. Excised. He shook his head and, screwing up the letter in his hand into a tight ball, set off for his office. With every step, he recalled the incandescent fury he had unleashed at the Senior Leadership meeting the day before. His policy of withdrawing from comment, of keeping his head down and just getting on with the job had disappeared the minute he had sat through the first of the assemblies that Camilla had called to introduce the new policy.

By the time Rick had walked into the Senior Leadership meeting at the end of the afternoon, he was a coiled spring of outrage. He had spent the day stoking the fires of his opposition, heaping fuel on the fire by seeking out like -minded people to chew it over with. If only Avril had still been there. There was no way she would have taken this lying down.

He took his seat and a second later Camilla arrived.

“Well, good afternoon everyone, if we can get straight down to business. I’ve got another meeting to go to after this, so we need to be quick. Item one on the agenda is..”

She wasn’t able to tell everyone what exactly item one was. Rick interrupted her. There were horrified glances around the table and the sound of hell freezing over.

“No, Camilla, we can’t get straight down to business actually.”

She stared at him, an eyebrow raised.

“What on earth do you mean Rick?” she said, a tone of menace in her voice.

“You can’t seriously expect us to just sit here and discuss paperclips when you’ve just announced an utterly monstrous change to our behaviour policy without any consultation whatsoever.”

“I can and, what’s more, I do, actually,” she replied. “What you describe as a monstrous change is seen by the silent majority as common sense. What’s wrong with being the adults in the room and imposing silence on unruly kids? What’s so marvellous about allowing pupils to run amok in the corridors, so that they burst into lessons late, loud and disruptive?”

“Run amok? My God Camilla, what’s wrong with you? Why on earth did you become teacher in the first place if you hate children so much? You can’t stand them being human beings and talking to each other, can you? Or the staff either, come to think of it. Yes, it’s messy and a bit ragged at the edges, and you are not in complete control of it, but that’s life. You can’t control everything.”

“Oh, you’re such a cliché Rick. A bleeding heart Guardian reading liberal. ‘The poor children, how can we be so mean to them?’ Get a grip, for goodness sake, it’s embarrassing listening to you. This will deliver better results for the children because they’ll learn more. That’s what they need, tough love. It’s a hard world out there, and they need to be ready for it. We have to prepare them.”

“Prepare them?! What sort of world do you think this is preparing them for, exactly? Which profession or employer wants its workers to move around the building in silence? Not the prison service. Not the Army. Are we training everyone to take Holy orders with the Trappist monks? Have you heard of the Human Rights Act? Or is that being a big wuss as well? Did you read George Orwell at school? Did you ever stop to …”

“Enough!” Camilla screamed at him, her face contorted in reddening fury, “That’s enough. How dare you question my decisions in such an offensive manner.”

She banged the table with such force that their cups rattled. All the other members of the team looked down with set faces at their paperwork, and fiddled nervously with their pens.

Camilla, liberated by her unusual loss of control, carried on.

“When I took over this school, it was a madhouse. The children were rude, ill-disciplined and scruffy. The staff weren’t much better. And now, after a lot of hard work, in the teeth of opposition from dinosaurs like yourself, someone who’s more like a union rep than a Deputy Head, the school is a place of order and calm.”

“The school is a place of fear, and repression and bullying. And all you’ve done is got rid of the kids with the most challenging needs.”

“Be quiet. Nobody has the right to disrupt the learning of others.”

“No-one except you, apparently,“ Rick snapped back

“I make absolutely no apologies for insisting on a scholastic atmosphere in this school.”

She carried on in the same vein but Rick switched off at the ‘no apologies’ line. In his experience, any authority figure , a school leader or a politician, who used the phrase, “I make no apologies for..” were inevitably going to justify some appallingly draconian change. He imagined that petty dictators throughout history had done the same. “I make no apologies for………” (insert the example of historic abuse of human rights of your choice) Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin – any of them would have appealed to common sense of their victims and the commentariat in the same way.

To read more, why not buy the book. “Zero Tolerance” is available from the links below


Overseas buyers should use the following link:


Or you could just go to the opening post on my blog: