Magazine article The Spectator

Lessons in Jargon

Magazine article The Spectator

Lessons in Jargon

Article excerpt

Schools are becoming addicted to acronyms. It's not just silly, it's dangerous

'Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the VP is such a VIP, shouldn't we keep the PC on the QT? 'Cause if it leaks to the VC he could end up MIA, and then we'd all be put out in KP.'

How I cheered when Airman Adrian Cronauer mocked Lt Steven Hauk's fondness for acronyms in Good Morning, Vietnam . Using jargon is an act of unconscionable self-indulgence. It is designed to make the user feel superior while saying not much, and Adrian, played by the late Robin Williams, spoke for millions of cheesed-off employees when he attacked it.

Jargon, acronyms and corporate-speak -- all too common in offices -- should be banned from schools. But to my horror (I am a teacher in an east London state school) over the decade I've been teaching, I've seen all sorts of horrible acronyms become common in both the staffroom and the classroom.

SEN, Progress 8, value added, IEP, EBD, FSM, ADD, ADHD, flight paths, EP and EAL. Unless you've studied the weird new education language, you haven't a hope of understanding what teachers -- or other people in the education business -- are on about, and I sometimes think this is the point. It means baffled parents, who don't know an FSM from an IEP, can't hold teachers to account. It's a far cry from the government's expressed aim of empowering parents and giving them choice.

But there's another, more alarming problem with jargon in education. It means complex problems are pigeonholed and oversimplified and, in the process, misdiagnosed. Take attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 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 forever stuffing children into the box marked ADHD. We tell the parents, who call the doctor, who prescribes the drugs. But children can be inattentive for a hundred more complicated reasons. If ADHD weren't available as a catch-all diagnosis, we'd have to try harder to understand each child.

English as an additional language (EAL) is another concept that drives practice. In my experience, many so-called EAL pupils speak excellent English, but now that there's a handy label, teachers are forever applying it to pupils. …

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