By Ray Fleming

LANGUAGE is a living thing and it changes with the times. Familiar words drop from use and new ones take their place. But the great majority of words keep their meaning and can be used with confidence when one is arguing a case or unravelling a complex new subject. They are like old friends on whom one can rely in almost any situation. “Satisfactory” is just such a word -- or so I thought until I discovered that it has lost its long-established meaning at the hands of the exciting new educational establishment that Britain's education secretary Michael Gove is creating. “Satisfactory: fulfilling expectations or needs” says my trusty Oxford Concise Dictionary. But Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted's newly appointed chief inspector, is having none of that. There are currently some six thousand schools classified as “satisfactory” but under Sir Michael's regime they will be described as “requiring improvement” and, if standards do not improve, will undergo “special measures”, a process often leading to head and senior masters and even governors being sacked.

The higher targets of “good quality” or “outstanding” will be there to aim for. Is it not remarkable that a leading educational figure can downgrade the meaning of a good old-fashioned, reliable word in this way?

Has he told the editor of the Oxford Dictionary, I wonder.


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