Another tale from Planet Academia


It all went wrong when they introduced league tables. Prior to that Planet Academia was a delightful place.  It was a world where learning was an expression of the love of knowledge, and academic attainment was a badge of honour. Teachers were guides, mentors, coaches and climbing companions on the chalk face of the cliffs of wisdom.  Pupils were what pupils always are: eager and lazy, conscientious and careless, fascinated and disinterested, present and absent. They were the not architects of their own destiny but they were the apprentice masons of personal edifices, and if they hammered with motivation and chiselled careful grooves along the lines where they were guided, they could carve out impressive monuments.  Their masters might be acknowledged, but the pupil would be lauded and applauded.

Gothsted 2 (2)This was not good enough for Gothsted, the demonic global taskmasters that oversaw the educational establishments of Planet Academia with a rod of irony. They selected the name ‘Gothsted’ as a reflection of their mission statement which was to inspire all to aspire to the pinnacle of classical esteem.  This, they thought, was exemplified by Gothic architecture. (Cynics would argue that they actually advocated the architecture of the Gothic Revival Movement – which produces structures that appear to be something that, in reality, they are not.) The problem with the personnel of Gothsted was that they didn’t know how effectively they were doing their job.

Established by the people of the planet to report to the people of the planet, they were charged to perpetually raise standards.  The trouble was they couldn’t agree on how to standardise their standards. Surely it must all come down to what counts?  The answer was obvious they decided: more pupils must do more exams and get more grades.  That would be easy to count.

Then came measurement. Then came comparison. Then came competition. Then came post-code lotteries and catchment areas to keep people out. Then came pumped-up property prices.

Then came agnostic parents who became church-goers, not to gain redemption but admission. Then came pesterers – parents who regarded children as investments, and hence Form Teachers had become fund managers who had to be held accountable.

Out of that mire came sharp-suited, snake-tongued technocrats with souls cast from the molten ore of ambition and an insatiable hunger for the envy of other sharp-suited, snake-tongued, technocrats.

There’s nothing like self-improvement for spawning the supposed service of others, and nothing like personal gain to guarantee faux generosity.  Wily minds soon worked out how to alchemise the solid lead ingots of academic appreciation into genuine fools’ gold.  The solution was simple: turn teachers into smiths and apprentice them at forgery.

Then came mental strain, sleepless nights, endless days, appraisals, targets, performance-related pay, best practice, worst self-esteem, doubt, depression, exhaustion and condemnation.  Tables were no longer learned, they were turned.  If progress wasn’t being made, the teacher was to blame. If inspiration didn’t work, then intimidation would.  If intimidation didn’t work, resignation would.

Standards in some Planet Academia schools rose rapidly.  These were not the most academic institutions, but they were the cleverest.  They were the schools where whips were cracked the soonest and, most importantly, where the true wizardry had been fathomed.  The way to win over Gothsted was to legitimately cheat.

If more pupils had to pass more exams, then the best thing to do was find an exam which everyone could pass. It wasn’t hard to convince the examination boards to create some – after all they needed to sell exam entries, and the most popular courses were the ones that guaranteed a pass. Everyone agreed that one way to do that was to get rid of failure.  This idea caught on and soon no one failed.  Everyone passed everything.

Gothsted 4Gothsted grew unsettled.  All schools were improving, which meant that relatively speaking, none of them were.  Still, they were all satisfactory.  That wasn’t good enough. Never mind the examined courses, they decided, let’s include all subjects – even those that don’t have exams – and count every grade.

They also thought about their own grades.  Gothsted re-wrote the official dictionary to be adopted all over Planet Academia.  Satisfactory was now to mean ‘unsatisfactory’, good would mean ‘not good enough’ and outstanding was to mean ‘commonplace’.  That should sort things out.

The schools led by ladder-loving snakes were not worried by this. They found even more subjects that everyone could do and made all their teachers make sure that all their pupils had done them, even if they hadn’t.  That worked.

‘Get tough on spelling!’ yelled Gothsted. So the most competitive schools adopted Slade Studies, the academic appreciation of the Earth glam-rock band Slade whose hits included Cum on Feel the Noize and Mama Weer all Crazee Now, and in which candidates were allowed to write their answers using the deliberate misspelling lexicon favoured by the group.  Tactics such as this rocketed Machiavellian-managed schools right up the league tables.

IMAG0772 (2)

Still some pupils struggled.  The Government of Planet Academia stepped in.  They discovered that other planets had better pass-rates and something must be done, so they ordered a review.  The review uncovered the astonishing fact that not everyone had a good day every day, not everyone had a brilliant term every term, and not everyone had an excellent year every year.  The solution to this was to recommended re-sits.  Everyone should be allowed to re-sit an exam, unit of study, or course as many times as they wished, until sooner or later they had a very good day/term/year.

Eventually there came the time when every school on the planet was outstanding.  Only then did Gothsted realise what they had done.  If everyone was outstanding no-one was, except they all were, even though they weren’t.  Planet Academia became the best planet for academia in the galaxy.  This clearly meant that standards had slipped.  If everyone did well then what they were required to do was too easy.

The Government stepped in and ordered a review.  The review recommended that too many people were outstanding and studying must be made harder so that only the outstanding students were outstanding.  Subjects that enabled different kinds of pupils to be brilliant had to be eliminated.  Everyone must be brilliant at counting and writing – just like the Gothsted inspectors were.  Slade Studies was canzelled.

They also thought again about their own grades.  Gothsted once more re-published the official dictionary to be adopted all over Planet Academia.  Satisfactory was now to mean ‘requires improvement’, good would mean ‘not outstanding’ and outstanding was to mean ‘outstanding’.  That should sort things out.

Nothing changed.

Parents protested that their children were being used as Guinea Pigs. To placate the protesters Gothsted ensured that grade boundaries should be adjusted so that no one was disadvantaged.  Everyone was still outstanding, and furthermore young people had learned the vital life-lesson that to be less than outstanding was to be subnormal, and they really needed to do something about it. Meanwhile, in pet shops across the planet, Guinea Pig parents complained that their pups were being used as children.

The ‘everything must be exceptional’ ethos soon permeated to all aspects of Planet Academia.  Unborn babies experienced outstanding scans, had outstanding deliveries, were swaddled in outstanding nappies into which they shat outstanding turds.  Toddlers were all read outstanding bedtime stories that all ended with and they all lived outstandingly ever after. And at the other end of life, old people no longer ‘passed away’ but departed outstandingly.

Every aspect of Planet Academia became regulated to the agreed top standard. As time went on life become more and more homogenised.  Subsequent generations became better at standardising in more outstanding ways.  After all, you can only teach what you have learned.

The problem was – something was missing.  In fact, quite a lot of things were missing, but no one knew how to determine just what those things were.





Gothsted 1.5 (2)The Ofsted experience, and the strategies that it spawned, inspired a college musical comedy about an academy for angels entitled Angelus, for which the imaginary inspectorate Gothsted was created, and from which some of the pictures in this post were taken.  The show went down a storm.  I followed like a fallen angel.

The script is not generally available, but if you’d like to have a go at giving it fresh wings – get in touch.

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