An Open Letter to Chris Evans: Score yourself out of 10: 1 billion? Well done you!

The British DJ, Chris Evans, has a slot on his primetime radio show in the morming where he invites children to tell the audience what they are going to do for the first time ever that day. The next day he phones them back and asks them how the experience was, and for them to “score yourself out of 10” as a way of self-evaluating the experience.

A few children self deprecatingly give themselves a modest 6 or 7 out of 10 but many more jump into the self evaluation task with glee and award themselves anything from 11 to 3000 to a billion out of 10.

And well done them! If only every self evaluation process was so generous in its spirit, so forthcoming with the marks and the ticked-up boxes. Wouldn’t it be great if, on completing our driving test and being asked by the instructor how well we thought we had done after running over that cyclist, we could return with the answer ‘masterly’?

Wouldn’t it just take the biscuit if when being asked how much tax we had paid last year we could say, like all the big grown up companies out there, that we had paid a zillion pounds in corporation tax rather than the sixpence ha’penny our accountants had racked up on our behalf?

No more will OfSTED be able to rank a school as satisfactory when the children will say it is supercalfragilisticexpialidocious and award everyone working in it pay rises of over a squillion per cent.

Chris Evans is doing wonders for our future generations of children by encouraging them to inflate their self-worth beyond measure from a very early age. We’ll appreciate it in our dotage when when we visit those children who’ve turned into bank managers themselves. They’ll reassure us that our pensions have increased in value by the very fantastic sum of 33 gazillion per cent interest and they’re loving evey minute of it. Well done Chris!

Driving down standards? Why it might be better than driving them up!

Who on earth would want to drive down standards in schools these days? In our target ridden output obsessed culture, the mantra of driving up standards is never far from the pursed lips of school bursars and head teachers. Increasingly from the bursars in fact as they are only too well aware that if standards are seen to fall – or worse, be driven down – then their school’s future health and well being is not the bright sunny road that’s painted in the school prospectus and which resembles that Start Rite shoe graphic of many years ago.

So we’re all on message when it comes to standards. They are to be driven up, not ratcheted down. They are to be maintained, not devalued. They are to be hoist up high, and their benefits proclaimed to the hills. So far so ok.

But your standards may not necessarily be my standards. You may want your kids to reach level 5 in their literacy by the time they are 10; I would prefer it if they could actually read a sentence; or even better a string of sentences that take the form of what used to be called a book. You may want your kids to take home 10 A* GCSEs this June; I would prefer it if rather than have a clutch of certificates they could demonstrate amongst other things – they had read the whole of Hamlet – including the difficult bits – and could write some semblance of an argument about it.

The standards you hoist high on your academic mountainsides may be nothing more than flags which flutter in the wind but are then swept away in an avalanche of real life challenges which the Level 5 literacy and A* in English have done nothing to prepare you for. By all means drive up your standards – but know too when its time to take them down and replace them with snow shelters, bivouacs and tins of corned beef.

Hunter turns hunted: inspector turns inspectee?

In the Greek myth, the renowned hunter, Actaeon comes across, allegedly by mistake, Artemis bathing in a pool, naked – or, if you work in a school, without her hunting tunic on. In a moment of fury, she curses him, leaving him without the power of speech and more unluckily for him, turning him into a stag. His own hounds set upon him and tear him apart until there is nothing left of him, apart from his own hunting tunic, laying mournfully on the ground, dripping in blood, wondering where its once proud wearer had got to.

Actaeon is the mythic story of hunter turned hunted, of poacher turned gamekeeper, of your metamorphosis into something you once sought to control and even destroy. In schools these days, it is the story of dread of every inspector – turning into an inspectee, or even worse, a teacher.

The school inspector will be pleased that they are unlikely to find themselves in similar circumstances. In just doing their job, and by just dropping into a schools for a friendly bit of school improvement, they will be relieved that one day they will not find themselves at the end of a vicious cursing onslaught from a head teacher, not turned into a teacher and not  then face the demanding ears eyes and mouths of the children who will torment them to an early ignominious messy ending.

The school inspector will be relieved that in the absence of any Greek mythic influences in schools – or Ted Hughes at the very least – they are unlikely to be turned from inspector to inspectee next to the school’s water cooler.

That will be good news for school inspectors, but perhaps disappointing news for those schools who will be facing their next inspection in the coming weeks. They would do well to swot up on their Ted Hughes as well as their School Improvement Plan.

Failing that, they could always take a leaf out of the Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show, which would help them immensely to make the inspector feel at home:

The OfSTED inspection: how to be in your very own Truman Show

The Truman Show is a film is set in a hypothetical town called Seahaven built in an enormous dome, and is dedicated to a continually running television show, The Truman Show. Only the central character, Truman Burbank, is unaware that he lives in an almost solipsistic constructed reality for the entertainment of those outside. The film follows his discovery of his situation and his attempts to escape. Central characters fake friendship to Truman, and in the case of his “wife”, bury their real feelings of disgust.

The OfSTED inspection is an example of a solipsistic epistemological position in that one’s own perceptions are the only things that can be known with certainty. The nature of the external world – schools — , the source of one’s perceptions — can not be conclusively known; they may not even exist at all. Truman himself can be viewed as an equivalent fictional school ofsted inspector who when visiting schools, tends to witness flowers decorating school corridors and toilet paper in the school toilets.

Inspection day can be presented as a lovely sunny day with bright blue skies; there’s not a care in the world, the children are well behaved and courteous, teachers well dressed and courteous, and its like this every day with pupils dutifully drinking water to enhance their learning and no-one objects to the Jamie Oliver inspired New School Dinner which has caused much wringing of hands and emptying of budgets.

But as in the Truman Show, the inspector is surrounded by central characters in the school who have to fake friendship and find methods to bury their real feelings of disgust in order to maintain the solipsistic constructed reality of the Government Inspector.

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