When the staff wag (a dude given to wearing clashing primaries which Nature has rightly deemed warning colours) loped down the corridor Quasimodo-fashion crying “The VELS! the VELS!”, we all got the joke. This was a curriculum day, pupil free; what our charges call Bludge Day.

Their parents, who regard schools as one-stop shops providing the life skills sufficient to secure their little blossoms over-remunerated lifetime employment, a successful marriage, an ethical sense, psychological adjustment, and great fashion sense – in short, eternal happiness – would no doubt agree.

Certainly it is the opinion of our employers, The Department, the job of whose insect hordes is to wave their antennae in the breeze and communicate with a loud rubbing of their exoskeletons what passes for accepted wisdom. It is possibly why the Department has put to work all those disenchanted and damaged ex-teachers whose greatest pleasure is to come up with yet another diagnostic of learning paradigms. These are the Victorian Essential Learning Standards. The VELS. More than likely they exist in hybrid form in other states. The QELS, the (N)SWELS.

An enormous amount of effort has gone into concocting the VELS. More effort, you could conclude, than inspiration. Certainly, the VELS are complex with their “domains” and “dimensions” and “strands”, all tied to an arcane mathematical progression designed to give a parent a precise picture of progress.

“Good news, Mr Benvenuto. Tarquin is sitting on 5.5 and is advancing towards 5.75.” This glad development will be accompanied with the further assurance that Tarquin has done really well and achieved a C which lies (I hope you’re following this) midway between A & B and D & E. C, then, is the designated norm. (To achieve a B or an A, a kid would have to be a brainiac in the first instance and a godlike genius in the second. An E announces that your child is a congenital idiot.)

It is all wonderfully complicated, like contract bridge or a set of Ikea assembly instructions, and frankly requires a pupil-free day to get your head around it. At the end of which enlightenment may dawn. “So the VELS is an attempt to become accountable and transparent to parents by couching their child’s progress in terms inscrutable.”

Got it. Bludge Day turns out to be productive after all.

Peter Fray

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