Classicists and language

There was a period in the 1990s when teachers came in for repeated harassment. The government had decided that they were going to submit schools to a drizzle of what they called initiatives, and spend a lot of money.

One of their documents came jointly from the Prime Minister’s Office of Public Service Reform and the Department for Education and Skills. A slogan appeared at the top of the page: CREATING OPPORTUNITY, RELEASING POTENTIAL, ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE.

The jargonauts seemed to be having a love affair with the present participle (without perhaps knowing what a present participle was). The document was headed SCHOOLS DRIVING CHANGE, with below it the further slogan INNOVATION AND IMPROVEMENT. It read as follows:

‘The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills have asked the Office of Public Services Reform (OPSR) and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) jointly to review the capacity of schools to act as the drivers of innovation, improvement and expansion to raise standards.

We are writing to ask if you would contribute to this important project by taking part in a workshop to discuss the issues outlined in the enclosed paper. There is a choice of dates and venue as detailed on the enclosed documents and RSVP form…’

The second page, with heading and slogan, contained a list of dates and places for some two-hour sessions: three at the Hotel Metropole in Leeds, three at the Marriott Hotel in Birmingham, and two at an address in Whitehall.

The issues for discussion were described:

‘The Government’s key objective is that all pupils should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential as learners, before moving on into further education and employment. There are too many schools where this objective is far from being realized at present and major change is needed. In the context of the education bill and other developments, the Prime Minister’s Secretary of State for Education and Skills has commissioned a joint project between the DfES and the Office for Public Services Reform to review the capacity of schools to act as the drivers of this change, and what this means for their relationship with LEAs and the DfES. The Prime Minister has commissioned this project as part of OPSR’s remit to analyse the capacity of devolved public services to drive through the changes that the government seeks, and to recommend further reform as appropriate…

The Terms of Reference for this review recognize a context of continuing change. In particular they recognize a framework that challenges and supports all schools to deliver continuous improvement—with greatest external intervention in those schools that are least successful. For the most successful there is the opportunity to help develop the next stage of educational reform.

One theory suggests that: within in any existing system it becomes progressively harder to maintain previous rates of incremental improvement or productivity growth; systemic innovation is needed to produce a step change in performance.’


It is good to reflect that no classicist—or perhaps no one who has done GCSE Latin—would write or think like that.

Next post: Classical Civilisation.

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