Room 808

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MiniEd: the Ministry of Education, Airstrip One, Oceania

It was a warm but overcast day in late August and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Mr Winston Smith, Principal of the Victory G+MINDSET Academy (formerly the Bogstannard Comprehensive School), woke to find himself lying on something that felt like a camp bed, except that it was higher off the ground and it seemed that he was fixed down in some way so that he could not move. Light that seemed stronger than usual was falling on his face.

He gasped as he realised that the infamous MiniEd interrogator, “Grammar School” O’Greening, was standing at his side, looking down at him intently. At the other side of him stood a man in a white coat, tapping an iPad.

“Tell me, Winston,” said O’Greening gently, but with a chilling undercurrent of steel in her voice, “how many buckets am I holding up?”

Winston swallowed fearfully as he realised that he had been deposited by mysterious forces into the deepest bowels of the dreaded MiniEd. 

“Erm…two?” he quavered. The two buckets had “EBacc”and “More bloody EBacc” scrawled on them in crayon.

There were a couple of muffled metallic clangs as O’Greening did a rapid double take. “Nick!” she hissed furiously through clenched teeth. The other man ran to join her. He groaned as he strained to lift a third bucket. “Why do I always have to do the Maths and English bucket? It’s sodding well double-weighted, you know…” he muttered resentfully.

O’Greening ignored him. “How many buckets, Winston?”

“Three! I see three buckets!”

The man let the third bucket drop with an explosive gasp and rubbed his tired arms. “Thank God for that! We had that Sir Ken Robinson in here last week. Kept claiming that he could see a fourth bucket called ‘Unleashing Children’s Inner Demiurgic Muse’. I thought my arms were going to fall off…”

“Comrade Gibb!” snapped O’Greening. The man lapsed into sullen but acquiescent silence. “Now, Winston,” she said sweetly, “from whom have we taken our maths mastery pedagogy? From whom have always taken our maths mastery materials?”

Winston locked his dry lips nervously. “Eastasia…we get our maths mastery materials from Eastasia…” O’Greening nodded encouragingly‚Äč. “… but up until a couple of years ago, of course, we were encouraged — well, ordered, actually — to get them from Eurasia instead…”

Gibb had stuck his fingers in his ears and was humming “La la la! Not listening! La la la!”

O’Greening glowered at Winston. “Lies! Delusion! Comrade Gibb: take him to . . . Room 808!”

“Erm, this is Room 808, ma’am.”

“Oh. Then fetch me . . . the school’s RAISEonline report!”

Gibb placed the iPad so that it filled the trembling Winston’s entire field of vision.

“Currently, I have a ‘good pass’ set to ‘4’,” she said conversationally. Actually, thought Winston, it didn’t look too bad. The screen was mostly green with only the odd patch of blue. 

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“Now observe what happens as I now define a ‘strong pass’ as a ‘5’!” O’Greening twisted the dial from 4 to 5.

Winston screamed as the entire screen turned blue. “Arrgh! Don’t do it to us! Do it to another school! DO IT TO ANOTHER SCHOOL!”

O’Greening and Gibb patted him on the shoulder. “Oh, we will. We most certainly will.”

They left Winston Smith alone in Room 808. Tears ran down his face, but he smiled quietly to himself as he stared at the screen. Students, happiness, staff, well-being, people — none of that mattered any more. He had finally won the battle against himself. He loved Big Data.

Academisation, Academisation, Academisation

Bogstannard Comprehensive School
Bogstannard Comprehensive School: “Not everybody fails”

MAN IN GLASSES (for it is he): Good evening, viewers. Tonight, we are going to examine the impact of the government’s controversial new education policies ‘on the ground’, so to speak, at one of the first schools in the country to undergo forced academisation in the latest tranche of institutions deemed to be ‘failing’ or ‘coasting’ by Government ministers.


WOMAN: Well, of course, the first we knew about the forced academisation was when the new management team from the SKARO Academy Chain arrived in their shiny new suits.

The new senior leadership team from the SKARO Academy chain arrive…

M.I.G.: And would you say that they’ve succeeded in driving up standards?

WOMAN: A little. The kids are a lot less scruffy since the Headteacher started exterminating anyone who had their top button undone. Or who didn’t know their target grades. Or didn’t make the expected level of progress. Or looked at SLT a bit funny. Mind you, they treated the staff in exactly the same way.

M.I.G: What? You mean that they held staff to the same exceptionally high standards as the children?

WOMAN: No, they exterminated them. Some of the older staff just couldn’t adjust to pushed around on castors with a sink plunger and an egg-whisk under their armpits whilst shouting “YOU WILL MAKE PROGRESS! OR! YOU! WILL! BE! EXTERMINATED!” in a loud, grating voice. But that’s part of the academy chain’s “corporate style” and one of the “non-negotiables”, as the Headteacher likes to call them. But the younger staff seem to be adapting well to new regime, especially those who entered on the SKARO Direct and EXTERMINATE First! routes. Actually, some of them seem to enjoy it . . .


M.I.G.: Have the new leadership team exterminated many of the students?

WOMAN: A fair few. But as Mr Davros, the CEO of SKARO Academy, said in the newsletter, that we shouldn’t think of it as a form of ruthless mass murder, but rather as a “proactive measure to help ease the national pressure on school places”.

M.I.G.:  I understand there was some unpleasantness involving a surprise Ofsted inspection?

WOMAN: Not really. I mean, the lead inspector was a bit suspicious when he found that the majority of the SLT were descended from an extraterrestrial race of humanoids know as the ‘Kaleds’. He said that sounded, well, a bit ‘un-British’ if you catch my drift.

M.I.G.: And what the leadership team do?

WOMAN: Well, two little doors opened up in the dome on top of Mr Davros’ head and two little union jack flags popped out and he started chanting “BRITSH VALUES! BRITSH VALUES! YOU MUST HAVE BRITISH VALUES!” before leading everyone in a rousing rendition of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

British values
British values! British values! You must have British values!

M.I.G.: And what happened then?

WOMAN: Oh, they exterminated the Ofsted Lead Inspector.

M.I.G.: Really?

WOMAN: Yeah. He undid his top button while they were singing.

M.I.G.: And how did the staff react to this?

WOMAN:To the Lead Inspector being reduced to a small pile of smoking ashes by an extraterrestrial death ray? Stunned, I think. Followed by some quiet smiles and handshakes and someone saying “I didn’t know we could do that…” Mind you, some of the inspection team didn’t look too displeased either…

Why Mr Gradgrind, Thou Art Updated!

Why, Mr, Gradgrind, thou art updated!
Why, Mr, Gradgrind, thou art updated!

“NOW, what I want is, Skills. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Skills. Skills alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.” Mr Gradgrind paused for a moment.

“And when I say ‘teach’ what I really mean is ‘facilitate’. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Skills, sir!’ The scene was a plain vault of a school-room, decorated only with the multicoloured pyramid of Bloom’s Taxonomy on the far wall which the speaker’s square forefinger emphasized silently by pointing, in the approved “talk-less” neo-Gradgrindian manner.

“In this life, we want nothing but Higher Level Thinking, sir; nothing but Analysis, Evaluation and Creativity!” The speaker and the second grown person present both swept with their eyes the knots of little vessels then and there arranged in groupwork PowerTalk Circles (TM), ready to have imperial gallons of Conceptual Understanding facilitated into them until they were full to the brim, or at least until their personalised learning objectives could be self-actualized and triple cross-checked by peer assessment.

“Girl number twenty,” said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, “as a starter, please go to the flipchart and analyse and evaluate what the concept of ‘horse’ means in the 21st Century within the context of productive economic citizenship. Please make full use of all the colours available to delineate your thought-clusters. You have two minutes.” Sissy Jupe blushed nervously but gamely walked over to the flipchart stand. Mr Gradgrind started a countdown timer on the interactive whiteboard.

The pips sounded and Sissy stepped away from the flipchart. She had drawn a picture of a horse. It was actually quite a good picture although it was wearing a hat and smiling in a decidedly unhorselike way. She had written “Dobbin is a quadruped” in very neat handwriting at the bottom.

Mr Gradgrind refrained from commenting with some difficulty. “Suggestions?”

A hand went up. “She should use the word ‘because’ in every sentence to encourage higher level thinking skills?”

“Yes, but . . .” conceded Mr Gradgrind , walking over the flipchart and putting a big red circle around the word quadruped. “More suggestions? Yes, Bitzer?”

“The sentence containing the word quadruped is a statement of a merely factual nature, sir,” said Bitzer, pulling a sour face as the word ‘factual’ left his mouth.

“Precisely!” roared Gradgrind . He turned towards the class. “And why should we bother to remember things when–”

“–we can look it up on Google!” chorused the class. Poor Sissy Jupe looked crestfallen.

“Bitzer, show us how its done.” The whey-faced lad tapped away on his iPad.

“Sir, horses are not quadrupeds! It says here on Wikipedia that they’ve got five legs.”

“One cannot always trust Wikipedia, boy!”

“The article was updated not seven and a half minutes ago by a contributor called Professor LOLZ, sir!”

Gradgrind gave Sissy Jupe a significant look. “Analysis, Evaluation and Creativity — that’s how its done! Consider: (1) the article is recent and up-to-date; (2) it’s written by an academic; and (3) Lolz sounds a bit German and they are a jolly efficient nation with an education system that is higher in the PISA rankings than ours! QED. Well done there, Bitzer!”

Sissy Jupe looked puzzled.”But . . . horsies have four legs, don’t they?”

Gradgrind warmed to one of his favourite themes: “In the fuddy-duddy old twentieth century, perhaps horsies did have four legs. But in the twenty-first century, are you going to rely on what your brain tells you or what the internet says? Shift happens. There’s going to be a lot of Chinese and Indian people about, some of them quite clever. Big numbers. Lots of new words and job titles with the word digital in them. Twenty-first century skills, sort of thing. Shift happens..”

Gradgrind became uncomfortably aware that his precis wasn’t having the same impact as the ‘Shift happens’ Youtube video itself usually did. “Consider, young Sissy,” he said, changing tack, “the skills of 21st century equestrianism are likely to be vastly different from the skills of 20th century equestrianism. If you had learned to ride a twentieth century horse, would you still be able to ride a twenty-first century horse?”

“Erm . . . yes?” offered Sissy, hesitantly.

“Of course not! You see, that’s why we’re not teaching you any stuff that might change in the near- to medium-term future, because that would be silly, wouldn’t it? Instead, we’re teaching you skills that will last a lifetime, like using internet browsers and how to use keyboard shortcuts on proprietary software to cut-and-paste. Because those skills will NEVER become obsolete, you mark my words!”

The second adult in the room, the normal class teacher, stepped forward, shaking his head in admiration. Speechlessly, he removed his mortar board and handed it over to Mr Gradgrind . Mr Gradgrind acknowledged the gesture with a grave and courteous inclination of the head, before throwing that tired old symbol of traditional teaching into the nearest wastebasket.

He drew two baseball caps from his pocket — they both had the words ‘Lead Learner’ embroidered upon them — and both of them reverently donned them. From somewhere, the opening bars of Mr Boombastic blared as they got on with chillin’ wid da kidz.

Sissy Jupe sighed and opened her book and started reading quietly: it had been a close run thing, but just for a minute there it had seemed as if someone was actually going to teach her something…