The Plastic Hippo

August 5, 2011

There is no F in progress

Filed under: Education — theplastichippo @ 12:14 pm


Should you ever desire to melt the brain of a educational psychologist, ask them why the word “phonetic” begins with the letter P. Have no truck with talk of Latin, Greek, Norman or Germanic etymology and, for good measure, ask why the word “etee-mollo-jee” contains the letter Y, not once, but twice.

This week, the government has issued some rather selective data that proves beyond all reasonable doubt that an increase in attainment in reading, writing and mathematics secured by children leaving English primary schools has been achieved. By phocusing on the “three Rs”, the massive intellects at the Department for Education have produced a monumental rise of three per cent in the number of children classified as average. A whopping 67 per cent of the little darlings have reached Level Four mediocrity according to the universally discredited Sats pharce. The mathematical experts amongst you will have already calculated that 33 per cent of our future have not met the great expectations of their elders and betters.

It is worth looking carefully at the sample statistics that the department have so kindly decided to share.

84 per cent reached Level 4 in reading, up one per cent.
75 per cent reached Level 4 in writing, up four per cent.
80 per cent reached Level 4 in maths, up one per cent.

Whoop de doo dah day, primary education is improving under Michael Gove and his determination to concentrate on the core “three R” subjects. Unfortunately, as any 11-year-old will tell you, writing begins with W, arithmetic begins with A and statistics begin with a lie. The sample figures have been very cleverly manipulated to “prove” that government “policy” is successful and that schools are failing. More importantly, they allow the press to be outraged at poor standards and bellow “one in three children unable to read and write” and other such nonsense. What has gone unreported is that the percentage of children reaching Level 5, better than expected, has gone down. Perhaps the “three Rs” should be redefined as Writing, Arithmetic and Reading, or WAR, for that is what education has now become.

Sats are a bloody disgrace and are as much use as an Aztec dictionary in Lapland. Testing a child on a particular single day does not give an indication of that child’s ability, learning or any progress that has been made. Imposing an arbitrary standard that every child in the country should reach by Year 6, regardless of circumstance or background is a supposition as breathtaking as an assumption that all politicians are capable or, indeed, honest.

Even Michael Gove has a bad day now and again. It would be churlish to go over old ground about how he got his sums wrong on BSF, his speeches littered with grammatical errors, his failure to grasp the basics of geography and history and his writing prowess in the pay of Rupert Murdoch. Setting aside his unlawful actions in cancelling BSF and his big, new idea of inviting schools to enter a talent contest for the lucky 100 winners to be re-built, this product of the finest public schools and Oxford University would probably fail a Year 6 Sats test. A three per cent increase pulled out of a hat of conflicting statistics could only be viewed as a success by a government that thinks a 0.2 per cent increase in GDP is proof of economic growth. I`m afraid Michael, that your end of term report, along with those of your chums Dave and George, will be marked with an F.

It would be quite unfair to suggest that Michael Gove, Nick Gibb, Sarah Teather, Tim Loughton, Lord Hill of Oareford, John Hayes and the rest of the clowns at the Department were being economical with the truth or are, frankly, a bit thick. It would be more accurate to describe them as incompetent, bare-faced liars.

A child, recently arrived in this country with little or no English, or a child that lives in a home without books or aspiration, or a child that suffers abuse, is expected, in Gove`s warped world, to attain the same standard those lucky enough to be born into privilege. Attainment, though, is not achievement or progress. There are children in our society that will never attain Gove`s ridiculous tick box target, but they will achieve far more than anything he can ever aspire to. Imagine what these children could have “attained” if the Secretary of State had not decided to raise his stupid target by 10 per cent just before exam season.

So, Michael Gove, here is a question for you. Consider the words “Dog bark”. Does that mean a dog and a tree share the same outer coating? And when a dog barks, does it sound like “bough” or “rough” or both? After all, those words sound the same on paper. Is the bark on the bough of a tree rough or just some dogged irritation? If you answer incorrectly, you will be classed as a failure for the rest of your life. Now sit, stay and play dead.

Just one further question. Would a phoneticist or educational psychologist compare the collapse of a school building in a small town in southern Thailand to the department that you run?

The correct answer is a Phu King disaster.

August 2, 2011

Are you watching Norman Tebbit?

Filed under: Sport — theplastichippo @ 11:18 am


Way back in 1990, Norman Tebbit caused a bit of a stir when he coined the “cricket test” as an indicator of “loyalty” or “lack of loyalty” to the British crown. One can only hope that the wizened old rotweiler, currently in his dotage, watched the fourth day of the second test between England and India at Trent Bridge.

This particular test proved to be extraordinary with England challenging India not just for the series, but also for top spot in world rankings. As test matches go, there were enough “incidents” and turning points which in less enlightened times, could have provoked civil unrest and even all-out war. On the first day, during their first innings, England slumped to 88 for six and things did not look good for the sons of Albion. They managed to muster a meagre but face-saving 221 all out.

The second day belonged to Stuart Broad, who took a rare test match hat-trick. At one point his figures were five wickets for zero runs. England were back in it. Day three involved an incident that this life-long cricket lover had never witnessed before, albeit via the BBC radio broadcast. With the final ball before tea, it seemed that Morgan had scored a four and the two batsmen wandered back to the pavilion for a well-deserved sit down and a nice cup of tea after a hard day under the merciless Nottingham sun. Ian Bell, on 137, suddenly discovered that he had been run out.

Under the arcane rules of our summer game, India were perfectly justified in lifting the bails and the umpire was correct in lifting the finger to the hapless Bell. Something remarkable, however, took place during the tea interval. The two captains and the umpires had a little chat and they decided that the dismissal, although legal, was unfair. After tea, Ian Bell resumed his innings and knocked a total of 159. The demeanour of Indian captain Mahendra Dhoni is not just a credit to his own reputation, but reflects on the honour of his team, his nation and on cricket itself. To press the advantage in such a balanced game would simply not be cricket and avoided yet more scandal and acrimony that has blighted the sport of leather on willow. His sense of fairness turned potential conflict into actual celebration.

By day four, England were ascendant. With Bresnan and Broad hitting out, the radio commentary became insufficient for an excitable hippo who refuses to fund the Murdoch empire. The work of writing copy that nobody will read and compiling reports that will be ignored would have to wait. Resorting to a hostelry known to screen the evil that is Sky Sport, and armed with a sun-not -yet-over-the-yard-arm Guinness, your humble correspondent joined the joy of cricket.

If Norman Tebbit was to be allowed out in public, he would have seen that his preposterous cricket test was nothing to do with test cricket. A section of Indian supporters stood and cheered at a magnificent catch taken 15 rows back in the stand from a huge six from Bresnan. Perhaps the middle-aged gentleman in Indian colours would have been better employed on the field of play but the crowd appreciated the hit as well as the catch. An over or two later, a dark skinned woman in a sari and sporting a small red bindi waved a flag of St George when Broad hit an elegant drive through extra cover for four. Bresnan, defeated at 90, came back after a quick cup of tea and took five for 48 in the Indian second innings.

Appropriately enough for August 1, Yorkshire Day, with the game won in plenty of time, even the last bastions of little england were urging the master Tendulkar on to his 100th test century and were cheering every run the adopted Yorkshireman made. When Tebbit spoke his nonsense, it was unthinkable that a cricketer not born in Yorkshire or of a different culture should play for that county. Former Yorkshire captain and selector Brian Close once said: “I don’t care if they were born here, we can’t have P****s taking the place of our lads in the team.” Times, thankfully, have changed and even professional Yorkshireman Geoffrey Boycott, slightly worse for wear after a good lunch, seemed to suggest that the spiritual home of the Indian master was Ilkley Moor bah`t `at. Sadly, Tendulkar fell to Anderson for 56 and England won by 319 and go two up in the series. Edgbaston awaits.

What Tebbit failed to realise, is that fairness transcends mindless affiliation. Living in London, he was not unpatriotic in supporting Southend United rather than a London team like, for example, the very English Chelsea. Unfortunately, his warped sense of loyalty continues to manifest itself in his political heirs. Lansley, Gove, Osborne, Cameron and even token Yorkshireman Eric Pickles have no sense of fairness or the beauty of the game. They are happy to tell us that it is fair to dig up the pitch, break the bats and knock down the pavilion. To do otherwise would be unpatriotic.

Next summer, after the Olympics and yet another royal jubilee, the England test side take on South Africa. After the horrific past of that nation and the subsequent reconciliation and forgiveness, how joyous it would be to witness black South African cricketers knock England for six.

Should that happen, and Englishmen and women applaud skilful cricket regardless of nationality or race, Tebbit will end up chewing the carpet.

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