Real life

The law of acronyms

13 October 2018

9:00 AM

13 October 2018

9:00 AM

Teacher training is terrific fun. Oh yes, I am thoroughly enjoying myself on my evening course at Guildford College. Don’t worry, I’m not actually becoming a teacher. The Snowflakes of Britain are safe.

No, I hit upon the idea of running a writers’ group. But of course you can’t just run anything in this country any more.

Once you look into the Kafkaesque nightmare of having strangers in your house or of hiring a venue in which you will interact with other human beings, you start to fall into a dark and terrifying pit of equality and health and safety legislation.

Naturally, the first thing anyone wants to know if you are offering to come within 50 paces of a ‘student’ or ‘learner’ is that you have a DBS. This could stand for Don’t Be Silly. But in fact it stands for Disclosure and Barring Service and this, according to the government’s own website on the matter, ‘helps employers make safer recruitment decisions on more than four million people every year’.

Yes, of course it does. In any case, once you’ve been checked out by the secret police for dangerous tendencies you can market yourself better, because at the time of checking you had not committed any criminal activity. How many bodies you’ve buried under your patio since you had your DBS check is another matter. But let’s not split hairs.

The next thing you have to do is enrol on a course that gives you an entry level understanding of all those rules, regulations and codes of practice that come down on you like a ton of bricks once you innocently decide to try to tell a small, random selection of people how to do something you know how to do.


You can’t just explain something to a group of people; you have to make sure you are doing so in an inclusive manner. You can’t just impart knowledge; you have to make sure you are imparting it in a way that gives everyone a positive experience that affirms they are all as good as each other and yet caters to their very distinct, individual needs.

We are all equal, but completely different, seems to be the message of teacher training.

The course is chiefly fascinating because of the mix of people, all with specialist skills they want to teach. One lady is a dog groomer who wants to do poodle parlour demonstrations. Another quiet young girl described her specialism as animal behaviour, then went on to reveal she has 15 pet cockroaches. She hasn’t said anything since then, but maybe that one piece of information is all she needs to say, ever.

Mostly everything we need to know about coming into contact with ‘learners’ is titled by an acronym. I don’t know what any of these mean and no one ever explains them. The rest of the people in the class seem to natter on happily to each other about SENCO, LOLER and VARK, while I sit there gazing vacantly into space.

Actually, I do know that VARK refers to the four different types of learners. Four, not three or five. Four. Visual, auditory, something beginning with R, and something beginning with K. I don’t know who decided this and why no one ever came up with another type of learner but I think it has to do with the fact that once you’ve got enough letters for an acronym that catches on, you just stop researching. This is also true of numbers of things.

There are seven types of discrimination, not six, not eight. I am asked to believe that it is pure coincidence there are also seven signs of ageing in those TV skincare ads. But I suspect the same person has been designing all of this.

One of the seven signs of discrimination worries me more than the others. (I’m also more worried about bags than wrinkles.)

It’s called discrimination by perception: direct discrimination against someone because others think they have a protected characteristic. I would say ‘boy oh boy!’ but I fear that would be construed as gender bias.

Identifying needs is a big buzz phrase. There is a long list of problems that require you to give a learner extra help. Interestingly, I have most of them, especially fear of technology, childcare concerns (as they pertain to my dogs and horses) and financial issues, but to my knowledge no one has ever helped me.

In truth, all I want to do is swan about in a swirly skirt, black turtleneck sweater and horn-rimmed specs like Drew Barrymore in Donnie Darko, saying inspiring things like ‘Of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, cellar door is the most beautiful.’

But I have a horrible feeling that particular acronym-free ship has sailed.

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