Saturday, 19 February 2005

Latest 'Orwellian nightmare' shocker

by Dom Corrigan

The Leader in today's Daily Telegraph details the latest "Orwellian nightmare" from which good old John Bull probably won't awake.

There is something creepy about asking schoolchildren to write anonymous reports on their teachers. One thinks of the Spies, the youth organisation in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, whose members were encouraged to denounce their elders; or of the revolting Pavlik Morozov, who became a hero of the Soviet Union in 1930 when he shopped his parents for hoarding grain.

Two things.

Firstly, is this really such a nightmare? I don't think so. The results of these questionnaires aren't going to be used for anything. The responses of students are going to be so varied as to cancel each other out - no teacher is uniformly hated; there are always enough lazy students for good ones who don't think enough homework is given. In practice, no teacher, however poor, will be rated less than average. Even if by some amazing statistical fluke one of the thousands of awful teachers was weaseled out and exposed by their students, it wouldn't make any difference. We've always been able to identify the dead wood in the teaching game by looking at the results of the major public examinations - the Victorians had the right idea, paying teachers on the basis of these results. But even with this comparatively "hard evidence" it seems to be impossible to sack a bad teacher. Teachers, having several relatively powerful unions are more or less protected from dismissal for being bad at their jobs. I hardly think redundancy is any more likely given an unfavourable set of questionnaire responses. The Leader says that

teachers will understandably feel that they are under arbitrary attack from their charges. They may be tempted to suck up to the pupils whom they regard as their likeliest critics.

Teachers are simply not going to care because the results of the questionnaires will have no effect. The Leader gets it half right - this scheme is about creating

more bureaucracy and central control

but Brian Mickelthwait gets full marks for his prescient analysis. All that this scheme means is more costs to us, and another opportunity for teachers to spend more of our children's valuable time administrating and even less time actually doing their jobs, for no benefit to anyone.

Secondly, I wonder what editors of quality dailys are doing using words like "shopped". Now for my favourite column (of the non-blog variant, obviously) of the entire week - the Charles Moore - he'd never use such Newspeak.

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