Thursday, 30 June 2011

Wot, no skool?

Despite some predictably lurid headlines today's teachers strike hasn't really made much impact on me: I haven't got any school-age children, and didn't see hordes of them marauding around the neighbourhood today either. Hardly much of the "Dunkirk Spirit" in evidence anywhere, though!

I can't help feeling that the teachers have jumped the gun a bit - egged on by other unions who are quite obviously spoiling for a fight over this. Although at the moment they're still enjoying a reasonable modicum of public support, what I would suspect is eventually going to happen is that some sort of compromise will be reached whereby existing accrued benefits will be safeguarded, but increases will be phased in over the next x number of years.

At the same time, it has to be said that successive governments have made a fair-sized rod for their own back here. It's not as if someone suddenly looked at a set of figures last week and thought "OMG - look: people are living ten years longer - we haven't got any money to pay their pensions!" When I was still at work six years ago there was a growing shortfall identified in the Local Government Pension Scheme which looked likely to result in us paying more into it, and working longer before reaping the benefits - and it was consequently already causing industrial unrest back then.

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Some like it hot. Others, tragically, get no choice

The weekend was an absolute scorcher: hotter, I read somewhere, than Athens, North Africa or the Caribbean! I'm not complaining, far from it - although I will say that yesterday had a rather unpleasant heavy humid feel to it. I got the distinct impression a thunderstorm was in the offing, and I was surprised one didn't materialize. I felt sorry for Raggs: she mooched around listlessly looking very hot and bothered with it all. Her fur is still nowhere near as long as it normally is but she's growing it back quite fast since we had her trimmed for the summer - a lot too fast to cope comfortably with temperatures approaching the nineties.

So I was very saddened to read
today's story of the two police dogs left to die in a hot car on Sunday morning. Every summer, despite the warnings put out by animal welfare organizations, dogs are left by irresponsible owners to suffer in cars which become like ovens in a matter of minutes, and the fact that a trained, experienced police dog handler could have made the same "mistake" is almost beyond belief. I have only what's been reported in the news to go on, so I've no idea what mitigating circumstances might be put forward to account for it, but the fact that apparently the officer had been censured once before for allowing the same thing to happen doesn't sit at all well with me. I'm not against the idea of giving people second chances - but surely it's part of the deal that you learn from your mistake and you don't screw up a second time? Despite the best efforts of the poor vet to save them, the two dogs got no second chance.

Monday, 20 June 2011

End of Part One

My Italian classes came to an end on Friday - at least for this year. Having studied it before, I'd enrolled for the 'Post-Beginners' course, and after a moment of panic the first week when the other students recited from what I now realize was their (prepared) homework and I felt totally out of my depth, I in fact picked it up again really quickly and the tutor and my fellow-students seemed well impressed.

Looking back over the last year - well, nine months actually - one of the things that's really struck me was how much of my French surfaced again from my schooldays: sentence structures, grammar and vocabulary, long forgotten as I'd thought, suddenly reappearing as if it had been only yesterday. Probably a good thing, as the two languages are very similar and I must say I found it a useful clue on many occasions remembering back to how I was taught to say something in French and working from that to find the Italian equivalent instead of trying to "translate" direct from English.

Although I haven't *yet* got a qualification from it, the standard we've reached now from what I can make out is roughly equivalent to a basic GCSE. There's a series of higher-level courses, the first of which will be a 'Lower Intermediate' starting next year, and we're hoping to keep the same day/time slot which will be ideal for me, and nice too as the class has tended "gel" as a group. I've just got to keep practising over the long summer holiday so that I don't go and forget it all again!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Alive and kicking... at a school near you

A surprising revelation came today in the form of a survey report suggesting that streaming, far from having "pretty much died out", is still practised in schools - to the extent of one in six UK pupils aged 7. I must admit I'd been under the impression it had fallen into disfavour along with the 11+ and grammar schools, and so, it seems, was the report's author.

I remember so little of my infants' classes at Corsham County Primary School that I've no idea whether I was streamed or not by the age of 7. Being a small-ish village school, I would suspect not as there probably wouldn't have been enough of us to make more than one class. Minden Row Junior School was a different story, where my school reports show that from the 'Reception' class, I was put up a year, to Class 2A and then 3A and finally 4A - bearing out the report's finding that autumn-born children are 'over-represented' in the top stream. That isn't altogether rocket science, though, as because of the way school years and initial start dates are set, autumn-born children will normally - unlike me - be the oldest in the class.

Going on to Leamington College for Boys, I was in a non-streamed First Form, but thereafter once again in the top stream - although in the 4th and 5th Forms (the modern Years 10 & 11) for most of our O level subjects we were taught in 'sets', made up according to the number of pupils wanting to take that particular subject. Only for English, Maths and French I think were we taught as a Form.

Without reading too much into the report's conclusion that pupils with "behavioural problems" are more likely to be in the bottom set, it has to be said I think that an awful lot of difficulties arise if you try and teach a mixed-ability class with a wide differential between the most able pupils and the least able - because straightaway you start with a mismatch between teaching level and ability, the frustration and boredom from which is liable to make the problem worse. And everything gets dumbed down to the average - or in the worst cases, to the lowest common denominator.

It's been suggested that 'setting' for areas like literacy and numeracy (aka English and Maths) is a good idea. Possibly. I started off, according to my Junior school reports, having a reading ability in advance of my age group, but at one stage was getting only D or E+ for Maths. Whereas by the time I took my O levels, I got a Grade 2 for Maths, but only a 6 for English Language.

It'll be interesting to see how the pupils who were studied in the survey have fared in ten years' time.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Spy in the shopping basket?

One of the more bizarre stories in the paper today contains the revelation that checkout cashiers at Sainsburys are to be trained to spot (from their shopping patterns) customers who might be entitled to carers' support without realizing it, and to make "discrete"(sic) enquiries - following a pilot scheme in Torbay. I daresay the idea is well-intentioned, as was probably the one that backfired rather spectacularly a couple of years ago when a pregnant customer was refused a piece of cheddar cheese because the deli assistant thought (wrongly, as it turned out) that it would be bad for her health.

But just where does this sort of thing stop? Am I to be identified for referral to an alcohol advisory service if I happen to buy more than one bottle of wine? Or maybe some counselling for obesity on the strength of the regular bag of jam doughnuts? Fortunately, I should find it relatively easy to avoid the "Colleague engagement director's" next whizzo idea as I only ever use self-service checkouts now (and I make sure I turn the 'voice' off before I start!)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Learning life's lessons

This story was originally broken in the local rag on the day it happened, but has since I see been taken up nationally. Whatever you may think of school uniform requirements, refusing to remove incorrect footwear and thus missing an important exam is a remarkably counter-productive move to make, especially as 13 of the other pupils evidently swallowed their pride and sat the exam in their socks - which we incidentally wouldn't have been given the option of doing when I was taking my GCEs. I think I possibly detect some slight embellishment by young Patrick and his mum of what actually happened, as he's probably now feeling just a little crestfallen. My mother would've given me very short shrift if I'd pulled a stunt like that - and no way would she have countenanced making excuses for me or defending my behaviour!

As is usually the case with these stories, some of the comments people have made are quite interesting. I think it's fairly common for pupils to have to wear correct school uniform when sitting exams - we certainly had to, and after all, the school is normally paying the fees. 'A' level candidates generally don't any more, but then few if any state schools nowadays require the wearing of school uniform by sixth-formers.

In all fairness, it does seem as if the school may be a little guilty of enforcing its uniform policy inconsistently. To get into the situation where upwards of a hundred pupils had to be sent home to change shoes, as reportedly happened back in February this year, seems to denote a fairly widespread disregard for the rules which went unchecked for a term or more. While the exam season may perhaps not be the best time to pick to have a clamp-down, pour encourager les autres is nevertheless a valid enough message to send out.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

You said a naughty word.... Go and wash your mouth out!

I don't tend to sprinkle my blog with expletives. It's not that I don't know any, merely that in the majority of instances, writing F*** this and F*** that isn't what I want to say or how I want to say it. I let rip without inhibition as the occasion demands in the privacy of my own home, but in public - and a blog is, after all, designed for public consumption - I try to exercise a modicum of restraint.

So I was interested to read
this article in today's papers. Apparently, in the course of a radio programme, someone made the (scripted) jocular remark "It's the Tories who have put the 'n' into cuts." I didn't listen to the programme in question, so I can't comment on whether it was in keeping with the general tone and theme of the programme, but as the newspaper article correctly points out, on a "Richter scale" of offensive four-letter words, the one which was alluded to still comes fairly near the top in most peoples' estimation.

But... she didn't actually say it. It's arguably just following on in the great tradition of programmes such as "Round the Horne", where the innuendo invariably ensured that any smuttiness was purely in the ear of the beholder. There's less justification in my mind for the argument that people don't pay their TV licence money to listen to obscenities. The "He who pays the piper calls the tune" line of reasoning carries weight up to a point, but if - say - an advertising sponsor is paying for it, does that make it any more palatable?

Language, and peoples' use of it, is constantly evolving. Over the weekend, I also spotted this
news item suggesting that the word "chav" is becoming a no-no (you'll notice I didn't use asterisks to partially blank it). Whether, in years to come, it will warrant being blanked, asterisked or banned from exposure on TV, remains to be seen. I am not "demonising" anyone, I simply use it to describe "a young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of (real or imitation) designer clothes." (Oxford English Dictionary definition). Innit.