‘Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn’t we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? ‘Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we’d all be put out in K.P.’ How I cheered when Adrian Cronauer hilariously mocked Lt Steven Hauk’s propensity to use acronyms and military parlance when addressing his long-suffering subordinates in Good Morning Vietnam.
He was brilliantly articulating what many of us think when some smug, conceited, self-important manager stands up and bamboozles us – the audience – with arcane jargon. It is an act of unconscionable self-indulgence, specifically designed to make the user feel superior and Adrian, played by the late Robin Williams, in a witty riposte, told him so, speaking for millions of cheesed-off employees and consumers around the world, in the process.
Although by no means alone, schools are particularly susceptible to such bunkum. They are indeed replete with incomprehensible acronyms and mind-boggling corporate-speak. Okay, one could legitimately argue that this is a genuine attempt to understand and conceptualise some complex problems, without which, we’d be lost in a fog of ignorance and confusion. But to say they’re overused is an understatement. As a consequence, they’ve become the source of confusion rather than its remedy.
Furthermore, educational jargon has inadvertently become a way of disempowering parents and maintaining producer control. SEN, Progress 8, Value Added, IEP, EBD, FSM, ADD, ADHD, Flight Paths, EP and EAL: this is just some of the terminology that contrives to enhance the power of educationalists and reduces the ability of parents to question and hold teachers to account. The consumer simply cannot cope with what has become, for all intents and purposes, impossible to fully understand.
Comprehensible English has indeed become a rare luxury in our schools; so an industry that we all have a vested interest in, an industry that we should be able to analyse and evaluate for the good of our children and grandchildren, has become largely inaccessible – unless, of course, you happen to work in it. This cannot be right or good for the Government’s expressed aim of empowering parents and giving them choice.
Perhaps more important, though, and more worrying, is the realisation that schools’ conceptual frameworks drive their responses to complex problems. In short, educational jargon stimulates a tendency to pigeon-hole, over-simplify and, in the process, misdiagnose. As a result, problems often remain unattended and unresolved.
Let’s take Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) as an example. If this isn’t a case of the concept leading the response, I don’t know what is. Teachers, Teaching Assistants (TAs) and pastoral staff are metaphorically wandering around schools in a desperate effort to lock naughty children inside an overflowing box labelled ADHD. This isn’t because we’re evil; we’re just desperate to understand why a child is misbehaving – so desperate, in fact, that we’re willing to kid ourselves that they’ve got a condition that, in reality, they don’t have. The result: thousands of misdiagnoses and thousands of kids not getting the help they need.
English as an Additional Language (EAL) is another concept that drives practice. In my experience, many so-called EAL pupils speak excellent English. So why use an acronym that is, one would think, there to illustrate a child’s linguistic travails and galvanize a suitable response? Children are given Individual Education Plans (IEPs) when they don’t need them, labelled SEN when they’re slightly below their designated Flight Path – which assumes, ridiculously, that everyone progresses in a linear fashion.
My personal favourite, though, is the word ‘innovation’. Schools and, in particular, senior leaders have become obsessed with this term, so much so that they demand ‘innovations’ for the sake of ‘innovating’. They are literally desperate to be seen ‘thinking outside the box’. As a bizarre consequence, they whimsically alter anything and everything, even if there’s no evidential basis for their changes. In my last school, the length of the school day, lesson times, the length of time we had to eat our lunch, even the school’s state of the art, open plan, new building: these were all changes made in the name of ‘innovation’. It didn’t matter that many were counterproductive, even harmful; they were ‘innovative’: that was all that mattered.
We were again responding to a fashion, a concept, rather than the needs of the children. This must change. We must learn to speak English again.