The Blob

Justin Marks was quite excited as he put the finishing touches to his press release. He checked one last time for typos. He’d got the quotes by email and had had to correct the one from George Barraclough – fancy not being able to use “it’s” correctly. Academics!  – He didn’t usually have stories which might get picked up nationally, so he wanted to be extra-careful. He was going to send it to the local papers, as well as putting it in the staff newsletter. Maybe even to Times Higher Education? They usually liked quirky stories.

He was quite happy with it. Topical. Good sentence structure, plenty of alliteration, nice and pacy.

Burston academics tell the Minister what’s what!

Academics from Burston Central’s School of Education have sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Education addressing their anxieties about his proposed new curriculum. The letter draws on research carried out at Burston Central (ironically funded by the Department for Education!) which shows that children who learn poems by rote at the age of four are unlikely to be able to deconstruct the meaning or structure of the poems at the age of six.

The Burston Central letter follows hard on the heels of another, sent by 100 academics from other schools of education around England. George Barraclough from the School of Education said: “We could of course have contributed to the communal letter, but we thought it would have more impact if we followed up on the groundswell of opinion about the new school curriculum. Also, writing our own letter allows us to show the distinctive stance of Burston’s School of Education, which has a history of treading it’s own path through history. Workers unite!”

Mr Gove was unavailable for comment yesterday, but the letter was warmly welcomed by a Department for Education spokesperson, who said: “Consultation on the curriculum is open until 30 April and we welcome all responses from the public.”

Burston Central University is going places. For more information, contact Justin Marks, head of communications.

[Embargoed until Monday 25 March]

There was absolutely no need to embargo it, but he thought it might make it look more interesting to editors. He pressed send.


Every Monday morning, Bill Noakes held a short meeting with his Executive team. He was finding these more and more irritating. Idiots. Why couldn’t they get on with things without constantly seeking his approval, not that he ever gave it? And why that little twit Marks needed to sit in on it, God knew. “Need to keep ahead of the curve, Vice Chancellor” was all he said, when Bill asked him irascibly what he should do. What did that even mean? He couldn’t really be bothered to deal wth them, he just wanted to go back to his office and get on with planning his satellite strategy, as he was starting to think of it. His special college and his international franchising scheme.

However, this morning he was in a better mood than usual. He had been greatly entertained by an article in the Mail on Sunday. Not that he usually looked at it, of course. His wife took it.

He opened the meeting with a jovial “Good morning, team.” There was an awkward shuffling of papers and a few mutterings which sounded like ‘Morning, Vice-Chancellor’.

“Everyone have a good weekend?”

His Executive exchanged glances. This wasn’t the usual start to the meeting. What was he up to? Was it better to acknowledge having had a weekend, or to pretend you’d worked through it, or what? There were a few nods.

Bill wasn’t really waiting for an answer.

“Anyone see the Mail on Sunday yesterday?”

Heads were shaken. One or two of the more idealistic members of the team looked horrified at the very thought.

“Hilarious article by Michael Gove. Attacking all those leftie professors of education who signed that letter to the Independent last week. Calling them all ‘The Blob’. Brilliant. Got them off to a ‘T’.”

He laughed heartily. A few members of his Executive managed to raise small smirks. An air of anxious anticipation was still apparent. What was he up to?

“Thank goodness no Burston Central profs signed the letter.” Bill continued. “I’d certainly be having something to say if they had, academic freedom or no academic freedom. Well, this’ll show some of those Russell Group places that they should have more control over things. Gove’s really shown them up.”

Justin felt the blood draining away from his face. Shit. Barraclough’s letter. It wouldn’t have seen the light of day, if only he hadn’t decided to make something of it….he wondered if he could recall it. He shuffled in his seat. He really wanted to check his email, and Twitter. Maybe it wasn’t too late to cancel the release. But Bill wouldn’t let them use their phones in meetings. They had to give them to Phyllis on the way in, along with their laptops and iPads.

“What’s the matter, Justin? Ants in your pants?” Bill laughed still harder. Some of the others grinned, too. Bastards.

Justin saw a chance. “Just got a lot to get through today, Vice Chancellor.  I was wondering if I might be excused?”

Bill looked hard at him. “Oh, we won’t be long, Justin. And I know you like to keep ahead of the curve. You won’t want to miss this.”

Justin smiled weakly. “Of course not.”

Bill forgot about the Mail on Sunday and started giving out orders for the week ahead.


By the time Justin had finally retrieved his phone from Phyllis, he was resigned to his fate. Sure enough, there were three messages from local news services, saying they’d taken up the story and asking for quotes. His Twitter timeline showed that two others had already published the story verbatim in their online editions.

He walked back to his office, thinking hard. How did the VC usually find out when Burston Central was in the news? When Justin told him, of course. He made a point of sending Phyllis links and clippings. If he didn’t send anything, the VC would be none the wiser….Just at that moment, he couldn’t think of a better strategy.


Wading Through Treacle fictionalises the stuff in HE which you couldn’t make up. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send Wading Treacle accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email, too: wadingtreacle@gmail.com.

All characters are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, unless it says otherwise.

If you want to read the Advent Calendar 2012, see the‘About’ page.

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2 thoughts on “The Blob

  1. Pingback: Damage Limitation | Wading through Treacle

  2. Pingback: Labours of Love? | Wading through Treacle

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