Didimus Fartinwell raised his voice in the pub last night to condemn the head of Oxford University for rejecting the Prime Minister's proposals about schools and universities. The lady he berated wasn’t with us at the time. She is not from around here.
Noah Sticks defended the Oxford boss against the Prime Minister. His insistence on calling the PM, Tessie, provoked Didimus into his rant. Loud passionate words are not welcome to a group of men quietly contemplating their pints in the safe haven of male indifference to anything other than pigeon racing, riding to hounds to kill defenceless animals and slaughtering badgers.
Didimus’ deep affection for all things Conservative, now that a woman is back
in charge of the country, does not tolerate any questioning of Mrs Teresa May’s unwavering righteousness. Calling her Tessie affronts him.
Neither of the two protagonists was equipped to shout about education, which was the topic of their disagreement. But, knowing nothing about a topic has never stopped a debate in the pub.
These two were well qualified to be uneducated about education. Their exposure to schooling had been brief, irregular and infrequent. When the two turned up for the first day after each holiday the headmaster of the local secondary school would record them as members of his school and then release them back into the wilds, thankful he would not have to deal with the disruption of their daily presence.
Oxford University had just topped this year’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings, a real cause for celebration. The interview given by the Vice-Chancellor to announce being No.1 in the world was not the best context in which to rubbish Tessie’s plan to require universities to establish new schools or to sponsor “an existing underperforming school” in return for which they could charge higher university fees.
Professor Richardson, speaking as the boss lady of the Oxford place, said she was not disposed to the idea of her university setting up schools. “I think it would be a distraction. We are (…) very good at running a university. We have no experience running schools.”
You might excuse the Vice-Chancellor’s honesty and plain common sense on the grounds that she has been in the job for only nine months. Or maybe she doesn't know much about real life or how to kowtow to politicians because of being locked up in a university all the time. She needs to quickly learn on which side her bread is buttered and that Tessie, her with the kitten heels, holds the butter knife.
The Vice-Chancellor argued that her university already helped many existing schools and should not be forced to “divert academic resources” from “ensuring we are the top university in the world”. She added: “It would be a distraction from our core mission.”
Even in a pub that is not the natural home of phrases like “divert academic resources” and “core mission”, we agreed with Noah that the professor had given Tessie a right slap in the chops. The telling phrase in the professor’s argument was “we have no experience running schools”.
Scabby Haynes pointed out that not having experience, or even expertise, does not stop managers running the health service, or local councils messing up lives, or the tax office chasing innocent tax avoiders, or the county road planning department from making a mess of the parking in Astwood Bank.
Scabby has too much to say for a man who spends all the summer months living free of charge in the bus shelter at the Cooke Hill end of the village.
He went on to point out that if Tessie gets her way, local football teams will be asked to take over a school, or the scouts and girl guides associations might be given the job, or inexperienced candidates could be the found among abattoir workers, tractor drivers, the breweries, McDonald’s or crematorium staff. Tessie would hand over the running of schools even if the new owners were covered by the “no experience running schools” point made by the Vice-Chancellor.
The lady professor showed fearlessness, or naivety, or a strong death wish when she added, “There are many wonderful teachers and head teachers throughout the country and I think it’s frankly insulting to them to suggest that a university can come in and do what they are working very hard to do and in many cases doing it exceptionally well.”
Noah developed this point by suggesting that Tessie should give over the running of schools to the teachers and people who work in them. They had the proven experience, the expertise and the necessary attitudes to make them a success.
What a laugh we had at the suggestion that only those who knew what they were doing should be in charge of anything. Government and Parliament would disappear if that were the case.
We agreed afterwards that Didimus’ assault of Noah was less to do with his unusual suggestion that teachers should run schools on the grounds that they knew what they were doing and more to do with calling the PM, Tessie.
Tony threw out the brawling pair and barred them for three nights, giving us the peace and quiet we needed to discuss what will happen to the pub when the current landlord leaves, a more pressing matter than worrying about the future of education and what happens to schools.