Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Of wallies and ding-bats

Yesterday the media found time and space to froth about the Howard School in Rainham, Kent:
A secondary school has apologised after a confidential report book which called pupils names like "ding bat" and "wally" was found lying in a street.

The booklet, produced by The Howard School for boys, in Rainham, Kent, carried a specific message on its front page - "Do not leave lying around".

Well, you wouldn't want that "lying around", would you? Mega-embarrassment. Some aggrieved parents looking for (financial) retribution, one expects. Several young souls with instant added playground kudos, one does not doubt.


Every school, probably every place of employment and many places of leisure would use similar shorthands. So it's more a case of "bloody loony, as we professionals say". Which, in his decades of teaching, Malcolm frequently did. As did the GP whose annotation "NFN" against his patients indicated "normal for Norfolk", and spawned an industry, a book, a comedy routine, and a film.

At bottom, the use of such devices amounts on one level to professional code, and on another to a mechanism for coping with the pressures of an up-close-and-personal job. It is efficient communication: there are precise distinctions between "drongo" and "dingbat", "dim" and "dozy". A similar, more verbose, code appears in Ofsted's definition of the Howard School:
The Howard has a combined (bilateral) entry: the vast majority of the pupils do not qualify for a grammar school place; about four per cent do. On entry pupils' attainment is about average... About a quarter of its pupils have special educational needs, more than in most schools. Pupils come from areas with lower levels of financial difficulty than most, but with fewer families who have benefited from higher education. Slightly more pupils than usual have a home language that is not English. The school supports a small number of pupils at an early stage of English fluency and also a small number of vulnerable pupils.
Ofsted's clincher, enough to frighten any in-two-minds applicant for a post, is:
The school no longer has serious weaknesses.
Those very journos who ridicule or traduce the Howard School will then happily turn and use similar derogatives for their colleagues, bosses and readers (doubters should try the urbandictionary).

Then there's the Paul Flynn version of the well-known story:
One Tory MP had a dangerous surgery habit.

As an aide memoir he appended brief personal descriptions of the constituents who attended his surgery. The notes were useful in tying in the person to the complaint when replies came weeks later. He could remember ‘tall man with beard’, or ‘slim women with red hair.’

In his absence his secretary drafted an urgent reply that had arrived. She had difficulty deciphering the MPs notes and deciding what the women’s name was.

She was concerned that the note was unclear and the name unusual. But the matter was important urgent and a reply was sent clearly addressed : Dear Mrs Horseface,
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