Tag Archives: George Orwell

Education And The English Language

Or: Tristram Hunt: Must Try Harder

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“When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”
— George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946

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“Ladies and Gentleman, my argument today is very simple: we must transform. And we must trust. Because a powerful convergence of social, economic and technological forces are creating huge challenges for our future prosperity that education can no longer ignore. We find ourselves at a unique and incredibly fragile moment in our economic history. With technology and globalisation combining to ferment a ‘third’ industrial revolution. Creating a digitally enhanced brave new world filled both with enormous challenges and opportunities.”
— Tristram Hunt, Speech to ASCL Conference 20/3/15

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“This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”
— Orwell 1946
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“[This] means education must also serve as a strategy for national economic renewal; that our country’s future prosperity depends on unlocking our education system’s hidden potential. It is that force which I would suggest drives our system’s ‘high stakes’ nature. And it is not an inconsiderable concern.”
— Hunt 2015
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“Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation . . .  [and], like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.”
— Orwell 1946
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“[Y]ou have the democratic promise of Sir Timothy Berners-Lee’s “this is for everyone” vision. Where enterprise, creativity and idea becomes the true currency of opportunity. As opposed to class, identity, power, wealth or status . . . For this truly is the wonderful thing about the digital revolution. It democratises power. It stimulates innovation. Weakens bureaucratic control. And provides new platform for articulating an alternative.”
— Hunt 2015
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“The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details . . . Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase – some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno or other lump of verbal refuse – into the dustbin where it belongs.”
— Orwell 1946

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Meet The New Ofsted, Same As The Old Ofsted

During CPD training in school, the team was handed a bulging A4 booklet. So bulging, in fact, that the staples looked to be experiencing the same kind of tectonic stresses as the waistband of my work trousers during one of my ‘heavy’ phases.

I am sure that all teachers have a been handed such a booklet at some point. It was a collection of Powerpoint slides — printed on that setting that produces a set of lines next to a shrunken facsimile of each slide. The lines are generously provided for the lucky attendee of external CPD to write “Notes”. (Somewhere in that corner of a higher dimension known as Tree Heaven, one tree turns to another tree and says “Bastards! They cut us down for that?”)

Handing us a copy of the Powerpoint, of course, serves a double purpose: (a) the external-CPDer can tick the “info. shared with dept.” box on the yellow CPD Impact Assessment Form; and (b) it keeps the team occupied for twenty minutes as we digest the slides. The document itself was no worse than many I’ve seen, but, sadly, no better either: Ofsted…Ten things to remember…Ofsted..five strategies to…more Ofsted…six sodding hats…yet more Ofsted…bloody Bloom’s bloody taxonomy…[epithets mine].

But I digress. The potted biography of the trainer was included: she was headteacher there and there and is an experienced Ofsted inspector. Now I’m sure she is a nice lady who means well and gets on with her colleagues and family and doesn’t kick her cat and takes good care of the hamster, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this sort of thing is beyond a cottage industry now. Now it’s an industry — the school improvement industry.

Down with this sort of thing

It’s like we went to bed in the green, bucolic splendour of the 18th Century and woke up amidst the hideous, belching smokestacks of the Industrial Revolution.

And, for the life of me, I could not shake the feeling that some paragraphs written by George Orwell in the 1940s were particularily relevant:

The corruption that happens in England is seldom of that [conscious] kind. Nearly always it is more in the nature of self-deception, of the right hand not knowing what the left hand doeth. And being unconscious, it is limited . . . I do not suppose there is one paper in England that can be straightforwardly bribed with hard cash. In the France of the Third Republic all but a very few of the newspapers could notoriously be bought over the counter like so many pounds of cheese. Public life in England has never been openly scandalous. It has not reached the pitch of disintegration at which humbug can be dropped.

— George Orwell, England, Your England

I am sure that there is not a single Ofsted inspector in the country who can be bought across the counter for cold, hard cash like so many pounds of cheese. I even accept that a recent Ofsted rule change means that serving inspectors cannot run “what Ofsted want”-style courses anymore. (And about time too.)

But is it enough? Will there simply be a time-delayed revolving door between a stint as an inspector and joining the school improvement gravy train? I suspect that the niceties will continue to be observed, and that the fine old traditional British value of humbug will stop the development of situations that are openly scandalous.

As a colleague observed cynically: “The people writing this kind of thing are the exactly same kind of people who will be judging us, and can make or break our careers. Don’t do as they do, do as they say.”

I am and I will continue to do so. But, openly scandalous or not, I still think it stinks.

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Filed under Education, Ofsted