Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on September 2, 2015 at 12:47 pm


Iain Duncan Smith, whose day job is Minister for Work and Pensions, has come up with a dastardly wheeze for eliminating away with child poverty.

That’s a good idea, you might think. Well, no, not exactly. He’s planning new legislation to do away with the official criteria that allows us to define where child poverty exists. So, effectively, we may know that there’s a lot of it about but we’ll no longer be able to prove it to the satisfaction of government officials.

True, he’s come up with a new scale – but it’s got nothing to do with how much income the child’s family has, despite the old saying that money makes the world go round. Instead it’s focused on factors that are more peripheral, such as the child’s level of educational achievement, unemployment in the family, and addiction (whatever that may mean). All these might be the effects of poverty but they don’t necessarily tell us that it exists in financial terms.

Talking in strange tongues?

As I was strolling around our local Co-op the other day I paused to glance at the headlines on the newspaper stand. As you do.

The somewhat xenophobic Daily Express had as its headline, “311 LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN OUR SCHOOLS”. Its subhead stated that there are “Classrooms where English is starting to die out.”

Oh dearie me, I thought. Now some folk might think that such news is a sign that our society is becoming much more multicultural. But I doubt if that’s the sort of spin that the average Express reader would put on it.

I didn’t read the actual article in full, I must admit. That would have involved buying the paper. But it does pose questions, though. Which language does the teacher use to address the class, for example? It could be anything from Aramaic to Yiddish, I suppose. But I somehow suspect it’ll be standard English – which in turn these multi-tongued children would learn too.

I also wondered whether these 311 languages might have included such indigenous tongues as Welsh, Gaelic or even (these days) Cornish?

If so, I have a tip for any Express readers who might be reading this. There was a time when determined attempts were made in Highland classrooms to teach Gaelic speaking youngsters the error of their ways. If any pupils were caught speaking Gaelic in class they were handed a piece of wood called a “torse”. He/she would then hand it on to the next pupil caught speaking their native tongue – and so on.

At the end of the school day the youngster who had the torse was brought out to the front, given a sound beating and told to pass the piece of wood back to the offender he’d got it from , and so on down the line.

Fortunately we now live in more enlightened times, and children no longer have their native language beaten out of them.

Just coasting:

As an ageing dinosaur I’ve always felt that “coasting” was a good thing to do. Just coasting along, with time to appreciate the better things in life, Catch up with a good book or think about life, the universe and everything. After all, is this life so full of care that we have no time to stand and stare?

But not when it comes to schools, it seems. Schools don’t just “fail” according to official criteria. If they’re seen to be “coasting” they’re just as bad.

Now, it seems that three out of four academy chains have been found to be “coasting”. Tut tut! What are we to do about them, I wonder.

And another thing. I know that our public schools, such as Eton, Rugby or Harrow aren’t technically “public” at all. They’re really puffed up private schools. But haven’t they been “coasting” (albeit with a certain amount of complacency) over the years? I know they bask in their traditions, offer an upper class education that’s forced to change with the times – but they’re still “coasting” in my book.


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