Dylan Jones: If you ask me

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The Independent Online

If you ask me few things are more sobering than spending time with state employees, especially those in the public sector who work in education. Sometimes the tales of triumph over adversity are quite breathtaking, while at other times you can be overwhelmed by the passionate dedication to duty (and that would include any teacher I've ever met who works at our children's very brilliant state primary).

But sometimes you just feel like drinking the entire bottle in front of you, having had every suspicion about the current government's "level playing field" (aka flat earth) social experiment confirmed before your very eyes.

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a form teacher at a north-London comprehensive, a man in his thirties "Brian" with bright blue eyes who looked like he'd just returned from a particularly gruelling tour of duty as a second-string Middle East correspondent.

"The schools in our area are completely dysfunctional. The pupils have the upper hand and know exactly how far they can push teachers before being reprimanded," said Brian, as he sipped red wine. "They have been in trouble so often they have more knowledge of legislation in this area than most journalists. And they play you to the hilt."

According to Brian, the pupils own the classroom, and there's little the "classroom" can do about it. The thing that shocked me most was his admission that class teachers are told to disguise the race of troublemakers in order to present a more "balanced" (ie misleading) view of secondary school life. The troublemakers are always the same boys, yet the school executive doesn't want to know that. Because to admit "that" would be tantamount to condoning institutional racism.

And as for exams? My heart sank when he admitted what I and every other ambitious primary-school parent had hoped was just the ramblings of a right-wing media: "Only an idiot could fail to pass some sort of exam today. And trust me, we teach a fair number of idiots."

When I asked my lunch companion what he considered to be the salient point about state education, the one thing that would help initiate long-term improvement was it discipline, syllabus, class sizes, the ability to act independently, money? he drained his glass and said, "Oh, that's simple. Two parents."

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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