Friday, 1 January 2010

Absent without hope.

Persistent absence from school is five times higher in the poorest areas of Britain than in the leafy suburbs. An estimated 50,000 youngsters in deprived areas miss at least one day of school each week according to a survey carried out by the Conservative Party.

The government recognises the link between regular school attendance and good exam results and has spent £1.4 billion on measures designed to combat truancy. Despite this 6.1% of children in 10% of the country’s poorest areas are persistently absent from school compared to 1.2% in better off areas.

The statistical soup in which it has been expressed highlights some of the problems afflicting the education system in this country, namely that gathering and measuring data about students has to a large extent replaced turning out well rounded young people as the core mission of our schools, even so the problem of truancy amongst children from the poorest backgrounds should be cause for concern.

As shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove said earlier this week ‘Children that are missing a fifth of their schooling inevitably struggle to keep up, which leads to problems with low achievement and poor behaviour.’ David Cameron’s new model Tories have been determinedly vague when it comes to policy commitments but, under the direction of Iain Duncan Smith, they have been consistent in recognising the desperate situation the poorest people in our country.

No so the government, who, after all, have the power to address the situation and a moral obligation to do so since the Labour movement was founded by educated working people, in response to these latest truancy figures Schools Minister Vernon Coaker accused the Tories of misinterpreting the data and said that the government was working to make ‘school an exciting place and challenging children when they didn’t attend.’

That soft thud you can hear is the sound of a ministerial head being neatly buried in the sand. There is no polite way of saying it, much of the experience of being educated is deadly dull, no heart ever leapt with joy at the prospect of memorising the times tables or taking a spelling test, wise heads on young shoulders usually recognise that the dull mechanics are worth enduring in order to experience the benefits having an education can bring in later life.

If they are serious about repairing ‘broken Britain’ the Tories will have to drive this not at all popular message to a generation of young people raised on the glittering falsehoods of reality television and the instant fame and fortune offered to X Factor contestants. That may well involve dragging reluctant kids to school and prosecuting the parents who failed to send them there in the first place and remodelling the nation’s teachers as educators instead of entertainers desperately trying to ‘engage’ their bored students.

It won’t make them popular, but it might just give the next generation the benefit of a decent education rather than a sentence to a life on benefits.


No more ‘legs 11’ if the killjoys have their way.

This week I have been given good reason to fear for the health of the British sense of humour and its long term partner good old fashioned common sense.

John Sayers (75), a bingo caller in Kent has been warned off using well known phrases such as ‘two fat ladies’ (88) and ‘legs 11’ by the local council because ‘there may be two large ladies in the audience or someone might think I’m looking at their legs.’

An official for the council told the press, ‘we have to be politically correct’ and said that although the ban was ‘sad because such phrases are part of the fun of bingo, but, unfortunately, in today’s society people take it literally.’

Fun, I’m guessing, is something the humourless drones employed by Kent County Council think happens under laboratory conditions, never mind the fact that the sort of large ladies who play bingo take the supposed insult contained in phrases like ‘two fat ladies’ and worse in their stride some bureaucrat has decided to take offence for them and so another little bit of colour is pressed out of life.

I don’t usually approve of making New Year’s resolutions or suggesting ones other people should make, but this year I’ll make an exception. Lets make 2010 the year when we tell the dough faced bureaucrats of the ‘political correctness’ brigade to go take a long walk off a very short cliff.


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