Scene: the Christmas recess. Sir Humphrey Appleby sits in an armchair next to a side table with decanter and glass. Background SFX: Carols from King’s. Sir Humphrey is reading an e-mail on his smartphone. It is from the Minister. It reads: “Have you seen TES articles re NC review? Not favourable. Concerned about possible teacher supply crisis
. Primary heads fear endless assessments if KS2 split in half
.” Sir Humphrey presses delete button.
Switch to constituency home of the Minister. Minister is in kitchen scrolling through contacts on his i-phone. He highlights “Humph”. Background SFX: Slade “Merry Christmas”.
Switch back to Sir Humphrey’s study. SFX: ringtone – theme to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Sir Humphrey: Minister! I was about to ring you. There’s no need to be concerned. Only teachers read the TES. The written Ministerial Statement
will squash any disquiet. Among other things, It concentrated on the international evidence
which underpins the review. For example, many high-performing jurisdictions…
Minister: Jurisdictions? Don’t you mean countries?
Sir Humphrey: Can I remind you, Minister, that if we use “jurisdictions” instead of “countries” it allows us to cast our net wider in order to find the evidence we seek. For example, many high-performing jurisdictions will not allow a class to progress until every pupil has mastered the subject.
Minister: But won’t that mean that children who have got it will be held back until the slower ones get it, if at all?
Sir Humphrey: That is neither here nor there. The important point is that it appears to have the necessary rigour. Remember, the Secretary of State likes rigour - and tradition. That’s why I highlighted grammar. I found two jurisdictions which include a separate section on grammar in their curricula.
Minister: Let me make a note (searches worktop for pen and paper). Where are they?
Sir Humphrey: Alberta and Massachusetts, Minister.
Minister: Anything about Science and Maths?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, the statement suggests that English pupils are behind their peers in Singapore where Year 4 pupils are expected to know their times tables. In England this is not expected until the end of Year 6. That’s a difference of two years.
Minister: But I thought that Primary Year 4 pupils in Singapore are aged nine to ten. Our Year 6 pupils are aged ten to eleven. Their ages overlap, surely?
Sir Humphrey: I would beg to differ, Minister. In any case, Primary Year 6 pupils in Singapore are expected to learn about cells in Science while we leave that until secondary school.
Minister: But Primary 6 pupils in Singapore are aged 12, the same age as our first year secondary pupils. Doesn’t this mean that they are probably learning about cells at the same time?
Sir Humphrey: With respect, Minister, no-one is going to find out. It is sufficient that the media thinks that primary pupils in Singapore are doing more difficult work than English secondary pupils. And I’ve also pointed out that the reading list in Poland includes Homer and Chekhov. No-one need ever know that Polish teachers can choose from the canon – it is not compulsory
. Now, if that is all…can I take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas…
Episode ends with Minister dropping two soluble aspirins into a glass of water. Sound FX: the Pogues: “And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day!”