Hic, Haec, Hoc!

Gavin isn’t wearing any trousers……….

Hapless Gavin Williamson’s latest demonstration of his incompetence and the Government’s wholly inadequate grasp of the important issues in education is the brilliant plan to make everyone do Latin because that’s what they do in Private schools, which as any fule kno, are much better than bog standard Bash Street Comprehensive schools. Even those Academies that are meant to be like Private schools, but for the deserving poor. If only they did Latin, even the thick proles would be civilized and could hold a Kulturally Kapitalist rich conversation at the dinner table. Hic, Haec, Hoc!

Gavin has clearly misunderstood “Zero Tolerance” and rather than reading it as a biting satire on the evils of Tory Government policy and the New Brutalism in Education, thinks of it as a guide book to levelling up. A Duffer’s guide to Government. Oven ready, all of their policies were predicted here first, as this extract will show.

In this extract from “ZeroTolerance”, Marcus Grovelle, the Education Secretary is delivering the key note speech at another bloody awful education conference which in reality is simply an excuse to funnel millions of pounds of tax payers’ money into the deep pockets of his ex-Oxbridge pals. This is disguised as him outlining his visionary plans for the future of schools in England. His cunning wheeze to solve 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”, is an example of “thinking outside the box”, something that only the Free Market can do.

Meanwhile, Headteacher Jane Garner and Deputies Avril and Rick, are preparing for their OFSTED inspection at Fairfield High School the next 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 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.

*

“You know this is going to be touch and go, don’t you?”

Avril and Rick looked at each other quizzically.

“What do you mean, Jane?” asked Avril.

“They’ll focus on our data, which is not really good enough. I absolutely need you, Rick, to nail that, otherwise we’re dead in the water. I need that paper putting a positive spin on the results by tomorrow so we can brief the whole staff. You know, value added, no underperforming groups, the usual malarkey.”

“Yeah, that’s no problem, I’ve just about got that finished already. I don’t think it’s briefing staff you need to worry about, though,” replied Rick.

“Go on then, tell me.”

“It’s the rest of the Senior Team and the Governors. Honestly, Jane, they are bloody embarrassing. Did you hear Gordon tonight?”

Avril agreed. “It’s going to take more than a briefing to bring Gordon up to speed. And Julia and Deepak are just as bad. We need to make sure that they are not interviewed by any of the Ofsted team on their own, otherwise we’re snookered.”

Jane sighed. “See what I mean? We’re doomed, doomed I tell you. No, I’ve already doubled up on the likely interviews. A lot is resting on our shoulders, you do realise that, don’t you? I’m depending on you to do the business.”

Rick smiled. “Don’t worry, Jane, we know what we’re doing. We’ll be fine if the lessons and behaviour are good and because it’s early, we’ve got a fighting chance with the kids.”

“Are you on top of Safeguarding, Avril? I don’t want to fail seconds after they’ve walked in the door and they discover our procedures and registers are not up to scratch.”

“They’re all good, Jane, trust me.” She paused and then tentatively began again. “You seem a little negative though, Jane. It’s not like you. Is everything all right?”

She hesitated, got up out of her seat and walked over to her window, watching the students stream down the main path to the gate. There was chatting and screaming and laughing and balls being kicked and arguments being settled. “Look at them. Off they go. They have no idea how much all the staff put in to their wellbeing. All the hours, all the worry, all the discussion, all the care. Some of them will never be cared for as much as this again in the whole of their lives.”

Avril and Rick exchanged a quick glance, eyebrows raised.

“Jane, now you’re worrying me.” Rick said this half as a joke, but he had his fingers crossed that her reply would put his mind at rest.

She turned back to them.

“Why do you think we’re having this inspection now?”

“What do you mean? I know it’s earlier than we anticipated, but that often happens, doesn’t it?”

“Not as often as you might think. And not a whole year early.”

Avril interjected, “What have you heard, Jane? Come on, this must have come from somewhere.”

“You know the authority are expecting us to fail, don’t you?”

“What? What do you mean, ‘expecting us to fail’? How do you make that out?” Rick was indignant at the suggestion.

“They think we’re shit. They think we don’t know what we’re doing because Avril and I are women of a certain age and we don’t talk the talk and we don’t do some of the dafter, trendier things that BetMore777 academies do. They think we’re old school, more like social workers than senior leaders.”

“What?” exploded Rick. “That’s outrageous.”

“Oh, they like you, Rick. They like the fact that you’re young and you know the latest trends. You’ve made a great impression at the Managed Admissions Forum you go to. And they love the fact that you’re so involved with the Partnership. They think you’re the only reason we haven’t sunk already.”

Rick was amazed. He had no idea that this was what was being said within the local authority. He was flustered and tried to splutter a demurral. Jane waved away his attempted objections.

“You’re very good, Rick, you’ll go far. But so are we. And we’ve already gone far.”

“And we’re not ready to bloody stop going far just yet,” rumbled Avril, outraged at being written off as a dinosaur.

“No,” agreed Jane. “Not quite yet anyway. So, the point of all this is that the odds are well and truly stacked against us. We will have to be even better than usual to survive this because they are gunning for us. And there’s no better weapon when you’re trying to get rid of a leadership team than a shit Ofsted outcome, no matter how rigged it is. Especially with our results.”

“Hold on a minute,” said Rick, comprehension dawning on his face. “Do you mean that you think there’s been some kind of collusion between the authority and Ofsted?”

“Well,” said Jane enigmatically, “you might say that but I—”

“Couldn’t possibly comment,” chorused the other two. “Yes, we know.”

“But surely, Ofsted are supposed to be independent. There can’t be that kind of set-up, can there?”

He looked from one to the other of them.

The two women of a certain age looked at each other.

“Bless,” said Avril, “they’re so sweet when they’re young, aren’t they?”

Rick’s face hardened. “Well, sod that for a game of old soldiers. I’m buggered if I’m going to be stitched up like that. We’ve worked too hard to be written off before they even start the bloody inspection. If it’s a fight they want, well let’s give it to ’em.”

Jane collected together her papers from the desk. “Good. I was hoping you’d say something like that. And now, let’s go and rouse the troops. Oh, and I hope I don’t need to say that this last conversation was strictly between ourselves. From the second we walk out of this door, it’s our job to project supreme confidence.” She swung open the door of her office and marched down the corridor towards the Hall, head held high, a spring in her step. Avril and Rick trailed in her wake, scurrying to keep up.

*

Grovelle seemed frozen in the spotlight, still gripping the sides of his lectern. The stunned silence that had flooded the arena after his speech, settled on the venue like a softly billowing sheet. Delegates looked nervously at each other, uncertain. The silence grew and spread and Grovelle’s easy smile had begun to ossify into a rictus grin. He saw his whole project, including a smooth flight path to Number 10, teetering on the edge of the abyss. And then, just as the silence was beginning to be painful, Alastair sprang to his feet and clapped. His applause grew in strength and he smiled appreciatively at Grovelle and took it in turns to half face the audience and whip them up into joining in. Barry Pugh cast down his clipboard, which clattered to the ground as he, desperate to be the third person to join in a standing ovation, jumped up and belaboured his palms in a frenzied show of approval. Those that were instinctively against the proposals in the speech, hunkered down in their seats, uncomfortable and unsure. In the great tradition of brutal dictatorships down the ages, the fever spread like wildfire as everyone scrambled to be on their feet applauding, to avoid being that person who was taken out and shot for lacking revolutionary fervour. The doubters, their objections diluted by the great tide of enthusiasm that had surged up from the floor, began to question their instincts. Maybe they should be bold enough to think the unthinkable.

Sometimes, the unthinkable was unthinkable for a very good reason.

For more of the same, click on the links below, and a copy of the future education section of the Tory manifesto can be yours.

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/zero-tolerance/

Zero Tolerance at Amazon

Readers’ reactions to “Zero Tolerance”

My new novel, “Zero Tolerance”, was published on February 28th and so far the response has been fantastic. The book is a satirical look at the state of secondary schools in the UK in 2020, and casts a critical eye on trends in management, leadership and teaching. Here are a few of the early reactions from readers:

“Loved, loved, loved this book by The Old Grey Owl”

“Barry Pugh is a creation of comic genius”

“I couldn’t put it down”

“Funny, sad and maddening. Satirical, but very close to the bone.”

If you care about schools, children and teaching, please spread the word about the book by passing on the links and retweeting. All feedback welcome! You can buy the book at the links below:

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/zero-tolerance/

e-book and overseas readers