It isn't winning or losing, but how you pray the game

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The Independent Online
OVER the weekend I have been trying to think of something constructive to say about education. I don't know a lot about education, but I do feel in my bones that I know as much as John Patten, and since John Patten seems to be more quoted than anyone else on education, it is high time that someone made an intelligent response to what Mr Patten says about education.

Unfortunately, someone has brilliantly designed Mr Patten's statements in such a way as to make intelligent responses almost impossible.

Another difficulty thrown my way is that on Sunday I found myself listening to Malcolm Rifkind on Any Questions, talking about the role of competitive sports in school. I looked to him for enlightenment. Sadly, whenever I listen to Malcolm Rifkind talking, I become so intrigued by the sound of a man on whom an operation to remove a Scottish accent has been so tragically botched that I always fail to take in what he is saying.

Just when I thought I would have nothing to say about education at all, my mole in Whitehall came to my rescue.

I don't know who it is who keeps sending me memos from Whitehall of a confidential and highly secret nature, but whoever it is I wish they would go on doing it, as it often saves me having to write a column. All I have to do is put the memo in this space and go off into the country for the day.

Today promises to be another such day.

Yesterday morning, Threlfall, the aged messenger who has worked here at the Independent since it was founded, put his head round my door and said: 'Another leak from Whitehall, Master Kington. Shall I leave it in your in-tray?'

'A Whitehall leak for me, Threlfall?' I said, eagerly.

'Well, it's for anyone as wants it,' he said, 'but I've been round the whole building and nobody else seemed much interested. So I brought it straight to you.'

I thanked the fellow more gracefully than he deserved, dismissed him and keenly tore open the envelope. It contained a brief memo from John Patten to Iain Sproat, as follows:

'Thank you for your note about the necessity for competitive team sports in our schools. I take it on board.

'I note, however, that you have not responded to my note about the necessity for religion in our schools today.

'However, while I was musing over both subjects - sport and religion - I suddenly had what I can only call an insight. A vision, if you like. Very well, a flash of genius, if you prefer.

'Why do we not combine both of them?

'Why do we not introduce competitive team religion into our schools today?

'This would introduce all the competitiveness that you so rightly emphasise, without going to the expense of buying back all those playing fields that the schools had to sell off just to keep going.

'Thanks to our enlightened immigration policies over the past decade or two, our schools are now liberally supplied with representatives of almost every religion in the world, from Hinduism and Islam to Buddhism and Taoism.

'Why, I believe there are some schools in Britain today that even have a strong Christian element]

'Just joking.

''So why do we not strengthen this very healthy diversity of faiths by organising them into competitive leagues of some kind?

'I am not quite sure what form this would take.

'Perhaps teams from one school would go out to try to convert the pupils of another school to their own faith. Perhaps these teams would attempt to perform miracles in school hours under controlled conditions.

'Perhaps the Catholics and Protestants in our Northern Ireland schools could even be persuaded to come together and hammer out their differences on a point-scoring basis.

'Just joking again.

'Seriously though, Sproat, I think we have the germ of a great idea here. After all, the religions of the world are often in competition. Think only of Judaism and Islam, in a Middle Eastern context. Think of Bishop Desmond Tutu. Think only of the way John Gummer was lured from the Church of England into the ways of Rome, and how, if the Church of Wales had made its historic decision not to ordain women a little earlier, little Johnny Gummer might well have gone over to the Welsh Church instead of Rome, thus changing the history of the world completely.

'I look forward to receiving your thoughts on all this.

John Patten.'

It's not really for me to comment on all this, but I think that John Patten may well have a good point here, and I never thought I would say that. . . .

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