According to The Guardian on Thursday, the government – in the shape of Ed Balls, the schools secretary – is looking to give itself the power ‘to decide which books children must study at GCSE or A level’. This is all part of a complex bill designed to turn QCA (the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) into two bodies called QCDA (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority) and a ‘watchdog’ called Ofqual.
Before we go on, perhaps the bill ought to include a clause preventing ministers from increasing the number of syllables in the name – there are eighteen in Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority – of public bodies. And there should be another one stopping regulatory (five syllables) bodies being given the prefix ‘Of-‘. It is now almost as prevalent as the suffix ‘-gate’ so liberally added to any scandal of any sort, since Watergate, which was, after all, only a hotel name. ‘Of-‘ is actually the first part of a series of part-acronyms. So, for instance, OfSTED, a name widely detested, and generally thought of as being synonymous with the thought police, or even the STASI, or SMERSH, just means ‘Office for Standards in Education’. ‘Of-‘ means ‘Office’, no more, no less. Except that it doesn’t any more: it’s just a meaningless pair of letters, as in Ofwat, which is described on its website as Ofwat (The Water Services Regulation Authority) – i.e. its name is so silly it has to have a name in brackets to explain what it actually is.
Or why not try it round your house? OfTeen, the watchdog which regulates the behaviour of your teenagers (the Myersons could have done with that, if you’ve been following their crazy shenanigans – expelling their son, and then writing articles about it for profit indeed!); OfNosh, which looks at the sell-by dates of stuff in your kitchen cupboards; or even OfWork, which regulates your employr’s habit of wishing you to put in a decent shift.
I don’t blame Mr. Balls. Some civil servant is probably behind it (why am I so naive?). But the ministerial defence (again, quoting from The Guardian) is ‘the power would be exercised only as a last resort, to preserve the teaching of Shakespeare, if there was a suggestion it should be scrapped from the curriculum’.
Are they mad? Do they know anything about the ‘curriculum’? In my seminal work ‘Alternatives At English A-level’ (NATE, 1988), which, amazingly, you can buy second-hand for a weird sum of cash (see below), I pointed out that, when the regulators first moved in on A-levels, they found that there was only one effective rule in the teaching of English at that level. It was ‘Do Shakespeare’. The bald bard (or maybe just receding, after the discovery of a contyemporary portrait of him, allegedly) is more of a fixture in this country than the monarchy, the BBC, the NHS, and the common house-fly. He is an industry. Britain would collapse if the Stratford obsession was not perpetuated. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a teenager in possession of a place at a school will be force-fed Shakespeare from the age of 5. There is more chance of our being annexed by an army from the Maldives than there is of a school-child being denied the chance to read Romeo and Juliet.
|Alternatives at English Advanced Level
by Bill Greenwell
Description: Paperback, ex-library, with usual stamps and markings, in fair to good all round condition. Ships within 24 hours. 96pp., 1000grams, ISBN: 0901291048. read more
Are they kidding? £14.40!
Still, perhaps it is a weapon in waiting for the Scots. They might sensibly ban Macbeth, whose hero was quite a genial king, it would seem, and did not embark on a career of paranoid murder, but died in his bed, after a generally benevolent reign. Yes, that’s it, it’s a Get Scotland clause. They don’t pay tuition fees, they have free prescriptions, who do they think they are?
Maybe I’ll move to Edinburgh instead.