Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Examination Special
Down on the farm...

Down on the farm the herd are shortly to go to market, but they’ll need fattening-up if they’re to fetch a good price for the farm manager.  Modern, intensive farming methods mean that these days the livestock is rarely put out onto common land to forage and fatten naturally for market, as used to happen two or three weeks after Easter.  Instead, the farm workers are now required to keep the stock on the farm in indoor pens where they can be fed a carefully prepared diet whilst being closely monitored for signs of wasting.  A further benefit of keeping the stock in these sedentary holding pens is that it prevents the stock from wandering off and causing damage to themselves that may reduce their price at market. 

After five years on the farm, however, some of the stock becomes highly agitated and it is necessary for the farm manager to assemble all the animals of marketable age and frighten them: this is know as an ‘assembly.’  It has become increasingly popular for farm workers to placate and soothe the more restless livestock with music piped into the farmyard buildings.  A fortunate by-product of this practice is that it seems to increase the animals’ appetite for stale or dry fodder.  Some farm workers even go so far as to allow some of the stock to select its own music - which each wears inside its ears - so long as the fodder is eaten, or, as the workers say, ‘done.’

The livestock are fed a specially prepared diet to ensure that they put on the maximum weight possible and each animal is continually measured as both The Board of Farming and The Inspector of Farms are firmly of the opinion that the bigger the animal the better.  There are some farm workers and purchasers of the stock, however, who claim that some of the largest specimens produce the least flavoursome meat, and that much of this bulk is simply down to a thick layer of fat which is of no use, and which has to be thrown away at a later date.

By this time in the year the stock will already have been provisionally graded, the lower grade stock having for some months now been fed a basic yet adequate diet.  The higher grade animals are frequently given special supplements which are often administered after the other animals have been let out towards the end of the day.  Having watched this part of the diet being consumed it is clear that this fodder is hard to swallow and very unpleasant to taste; yet the animals seem to understand that it is good for them and they do their best to digest it, or, as the farm workers say, ‘take it in.’

There is a peculiar practice that happens on many farms regarding the amount of attention given to individual animals and this is worth explaining in some detail.  A great deal of fuss is made over the average specimens - the ones that are expected to achieve only a middling price at market - and the staff on the farm are under strict instructions to pay them particular attention.  In dire circumstances, or when a vast sum of money called a ‘funding’ is at stake, the foreman of the farm or even the farm manager will take such an animal away at intervals where, it is understood, they perform a special series of prods and pokes that are intended to make the animal grow bigger very quickly, and so fetch a better price on market day.  The reason for this prodding and poking is that although the animal can fetch any one of eight possible prices (not including the last price which is reserved for Useless Animals), an animal that reaches one of the four top prices is worth, to the farm manager, a dozen or so of those that do not.  This is because of a steep falling away of the price halfway down the grading and explains the elaborate soothing and petting visited upon the average specimens. 

The Board of Farming insists that all animals of a certain age on the farm go under the hammer on market day.  Some farm managers attempt to hide animals on the farm or remove them altogether if it is clear that they will achieve a poor price.  This is because when the Inspector of Farms comes to assess the productivity of the farm he will only be concerned with two things: firstly, the number of animals achieving the top prices when compared to the number only achieving one of the lower prices; and secondly, the average price achieved when every animal on the farm is considered. 

As market day approaches it is not unusual for one or two of the best animals on the farm to collapse without warning, whereupon they are allowed to leave the farm for a period.  This collapsing is a tremendous worry for both farm worker and farm manager for it seems to happen only to the higher grade animals and is necessarily a great loss to the productivity of the farm.  Although the exact cause of the collapse is not known, such an animal is usually said to have been ‘under stress’.  I have with my own eyes seen several best of breeds fail in this way.  The carcass of such an animal is often still presented at the sale where, because of its superior breeding, it will still get something.

This year The Board of Farming is predicting another bumper yield as modern, intensive farming methods continue to raise the Average Price Achieved.  But for the farm manager and workers the approach of market day is always a very worrying and difficult time of the year.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Schools Minister Called to Resign Over Thick Kids Claim

Schools minister Ian Mortimer in hot water after saying thick children are to blame for unmanageable teacher workloads

Ian Mortimer, the politician charged with overseeing the government’s much heralded teacher workload review, is facing calls to resign over comments he made while addressing a conference of teaching union representatives yesterday.  

Mr Mortimer, speaking at the conference to outline the government’s plans for tackling teachers’ workloads, stunned delegates by saying: “the greatest contributing factor to unmanageable teacher workloads is the dimness of children,” adding, “a persistent minority of children are regularly handing in error strewn and illegible work causing extra and unnecessary work for teachers.” 
He went on to praise the correct answers and neat handwriting of bright children and promised measures within the next 6 months to tackle what he called “the spiralling and unacceptable number of thick children in this country.”
Furious delegates at the multi-union conference threw complimentary highlighter pens and sticky post-it notes at the minister.  SNATWU executive member, Helen Burnard, said: “I’m absolutely astonished by Mr Mortimer’s comments.  The feedback I get from our membership is that thick children actually do very little writing and seldom hand their books in anyway.  It’s not fair to blame them for what they, quite literally, haven’t done.”
But not everyone at the 300 delegate conference threw stationery at the minister.  Kate Huskins, divisional secretary for NUHT, said:  “Some of the highlighters were hard to come by colours and came in a neat presentation pack, I kept mine.”

Unusual Tints proved to be a conference highlight
Eton educated Mortimer narrowly avoided losing his job last year after calling for the term ‘village idiot’ to be included on the Special Educational Needs register. On another occasion he was forced to apologise after insisting that a junior minister must be a dunce because he had not been to private school.
A statement released by his office said: “Mr Mortimer goes to great lengths to keep in touch with simple folk and had not intended to offend half-witted people of any age.”

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Five Computers To Every Child

Five Computers to Every Child Says Gove
Government unveils plan to guarantee five computers to every school pupil in England and Wales by 2014.
Computer provision for school children is set to improve dramatically under proposals announced by the government yesterday. The initiative, designed to address widespread concerns that UK school leavers are falling down world I.T. league tables, will see every school child in England and Wales provided with five computers each before 2014. 
Whilst details of the measures are still to be finalised, sources close to Whitehall hinted that the provision is likely to include one computer with rearranged or missing keyboard letters, another that takes a whole lesson to boot-up, a laptop that won’t charge, a second laptop which isn’t configured to the school network and from which children will not be able to access the work they did last lesson, and a back-up computer without a plug in case any of the other four should become faulty and start working properly. 
Secretary for Education, Michael Gove, said while speaking yesterday at a school leadership conference in Bournemouth:  “Under the last government’s programme many children had to share a computer while it was taking a whole lesson to boot-up; this is clearly unacceptable.  Our new proposals will put an end to computer sharing – from now on every child will have their own broken computer.”
Michael Gove, who addressed the conference delegates for twenty minutes, went on to say that he also expected to see significant improvements in access to jammed printers and a higher level of complexity in reporting I.T. problems promising that “the days when you told someone what was wrong and they fixed it are over.”  He also announced that supplies of I.T. repair tape would be delivered to every school in the country to help improve provision.
But leader of the Labour Party, Ed Militaryband, said the proposals were not affordable and accused the government of not doing its sums properly:  “This just hasn’t been costed properly.  How can the government make massive cuts to public sector budgets on the one hand, while on the other promise to improve the provision of computers that don’t work?  It just doesn’t add up.”
I.T. Repair Tape promised for every school
But Martin Holmes of The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested that the proposed increase in the provision of computers that don’t work properly is affordable:  “At this early stage we are finding that the numbers do seem to add up.  The assertion that an increase in the provision of computers that don’t work is incompatible with swingeing cuts to the education budget appears to carry little weight.”
Teaching unions have broadly welcomed the proposals with NUT Secretary Christine Blower calling the measures ‘good news for pupils.’  But she did register concerns that some teachers were still unable to block-book a computer room for a whole term saying that “Indiscriminate computer room block-booking remains the privilege of a select few.”  She went on to call for provisions that would allow every teacher in England and Wales to block-book a computer room for up to three years into the future adding: “Some teachers are still having to teach, even when they don’t feel like it.”
This latest initiative, designed to ensure that no child leaves school without an authentic computing experience, comes just weeks after the government revealed plans to punish schools found putting too much paper into photocopier trays.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Peril of Grey Laces: The Bitter Root

Recently, Mr Johnston remembered to me, from the wrong side of a fish-and-chip counter, that when he was a scholar under me, I had informed him that if he continued to wear grey laces in his shoes, he would probably end up in prison. The teacher knows his influence when his doctrines are remembered above his lessons, and, no doubt, Mr Johnston was, with tremendous love and tact, hinting at the fallibility of my predictions. But I, reaching for the late-night saltand vinegar, was already congratulating myself on my propheticism.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

My Dear Jerusalem,

   I have completed The Bitter Root and now feel sufficiently equipped to deal with my charges (wayward, or otherwise) for the remainder of my dwindling career. I have today purchased a new Toilet Book and a goodly vessel in which to catch the many children's tears I hope to engender over the coming weeks and months. If I ever again refer to a group of children as "guys" then I shall spend a period of time in The Pennance Room (my stock cupboard) until I feel that I have purged myself of this appalling Americanism; for – as you correctly point out - it is only in a vain effort to impress the mobile majority that I perpetuate such a crass and shallow piece of nomenclature in the first place.

   Your humble servant,


Post-script: Do I know the Mistress of Divinity to whom you refer in the book?

Dear Mr Henwick,

   God bless you, Sir, for your frank admission, though I am sure I have never heard you call the young scholars 'guys'. 

   I find that, once empty, the tiny bottles of soy sauce found in portions of supermarket sushi make excellent starter kits for those wishing to avail themselves of all the benefits visited upon that number who make it their business to collect children's tears in a bottle.  I have always suggested the aforementioned receptacle to student teachers operating under my guidance and I have never observed them to have been ill served by my so doing.

   With regards to the Mistress of Divinity; she was, and, I believe, still is, one Miss A_____ P_____, formerly of N_____ T_____ School and now of London town.  I can only hope that you have been blessed with the good fortune to know her, for I am, Sir,

   Your most humble and obedient servant,

   Jerusalem Andrews

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Arson Marker
Teacher charged with ‘constructive arson with intent to destroy marking’ can return to work says GTC
A teacher from Leeds who continued to park his cars on a notorious housing estate despite them being repeatedly set on fire has been told he can return to work.  Mark Butts, a geography teacher at Mappleton School, was suspended last May after being accused by his headteacher of “going out of his way to get his students’ work set on fire.”
A General Teaching Council disciplinary panel heard that Mr Butts, who has lost seven cars to arson on the Bridgeham Estate over an eighteen month period, continued to regularly park his car on the estate despite facing a five mile walk home and an annual insurance premium of £4567. 
But the GTC panel concluded that Mr Butts had done nothing wrong:
 “Mr Butt’s habit of packing his car with boxes of firelighters, sticks, sacks of coal, exercise books and GCSE coursework before parking it on a notorious housing estate five miles from his home is unusual,” said GCT panel chair Esther Richards, “but not unprofessional.  We mustn’t jump to conclusions.”
A fire crew struggles valiently to prevent work from being arson marked
Teaching union SNATWU have welcomed the decision to allow Mr Butts to return to work claiming that Mr Butt’s was a victim of his own diligence: “By taking work home Mr Butts has naively left himself wide open to completely unjustified accusations that he might be trying to get his marking destroyed in a fire.   We are strongly urging our members to safeguard their careers by never taking children’s work home.”
But the decision not to discipline Mr Butts has left at least one parent furious:
“Last Friday night my eldest set fire to his brother’s GCSE coursework and his sister’s Yr 8 Rainforest project without knowing.  It’s outrageous that this teacher is not going to be blamed in some way,” said one mother of three.
Mr Butts, who has always refused to say why he kept a cigarette lighter selloptaped to the petrol cap of his car, claimed the ruling was “a victory for common sense”, adding, “some of the work was of very poor quality anyway, and needed a lot of kindling to get going.”

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Humpty Worry
Michael Gove – Advisor to the Simple

Dear Michael,

I've been selected for an interview for a Maths post next week and as part of the process I will be interviewed by some pupils. Is there anything I can do to give the right impression and get them to give me the job?

Nigel Bird, Yorkshire

Dear Nigel,

You're right to be concerned, Nigel, it's children that do the hiring and firing in schools these days so you'd better follow my Top Twelve Tips on how to impress that all-important school council:

  1. Include a few spelling mistakes in your application letter. The panel are unlikely to want a teacher that thinks he or she is cleverer than them.
  2. Have some chews, lollies or prizes to hand out. Don't give them out straight away as that could seem a bit obvious – best to wait at least three minutes.
  3. If your mobile phone isn't an expensive and up-to-date model, borrow a friend's. Download a cool ring tone, arrange for it to go off and say: 'I never turn mine off.'
  4. Wear a cartoon tie.
  5. Show them that you're on their level by addressing them as 'guys.' It may help if you imagine yourself as Tony Blair.
  6. Ask them, casually, if an ice-cream van visits the school in the summer term. Express surprise when they say 'No.'
  7. Show that you know the difference between children and young adults. Assure them that they're young adults and that all those younger than the youngest young adult on the panel are still children.'
  8. Grin fanatically. Young adults want to have fun and excitement at school and are unlikely to appoint anyone that comes across as 'a bit serious.'
  9. Don't be afraid to lol!!!
  10. Impress them with the story about your mate who goes with someone who nearly got on The X Factor.
  11. When the IT question comes up, say you believe young adults should be on computers as much as possible, ideally unsupervised.
  12. At the end of an interview you'll usually be asked if there is anything you'd like to add. Show them how you would dance at a Year 9 school disco. Only do this if you've prepared something good.
         Good luck lover,

   Michael Gove

Friday, 4 February 2011

New Acronyms Soon
Unexpected acronym haul set to end months of speculation and uncertainty say Whitehall chiefs
The coalition government is planning to release dozens of previously ‘forgotten’ acronyms after discovering them in a Whitehall drawer, it was revealed yesterday.  The move ends almost six months of speculation over when and where the next educational acronym was coming from and has been warmly welcomed by all three of the leading teaching unions:
“At a time when teachers are worried about losing their jobs, and change seems to be relentless and without thought or reason, news of the extra acronyms is a welcome boost to the profession,” said Vanessa Jones, General Secretary of SNATWU.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education, which inherited the bottom drawer from a cleaning contractor employed under the previous administration, described the acronyms as ‘surprisingly good’ adding that government think tanks were ‘working round the clock’ to come up with policies to fit them:
 “Technically some of the acronyms are better suited to abbreviation but we hope that won’t stop some middle leaders and education chiefs from trying to turn them into words anyway,” he said. 
No details are yet available regarding the exact composition of the acronyms but many school leaders are hoping for a whole new raft of the slightly moronic sounding mono-syllabic type:
“CAT, SAT, MATT, we really like ones like that,” said Roger Gibbons, Headteacher of Barnwell Academy, Manchester, adding, “I hope they come on a raft.”
But Professor Christine Howell of The Educational Acronym Trust (TEAT) does not agree: 
“If the teaching profession is going to gain credibility in the public’s eyes then we are going to need impressive sounding acronyms to demonstrate our mastery of complicated and important sounding things: we need to show simple-minded people that we are the gate keepers.   CAT, SAT, MATT is all very well for staff meetings and training days but we’ve got to think more holistically than this.  Personally I would like to see a much wider use of silent letters, particularly the ‘N’ used after a ‘G’.  Finland has had GNAfFAWL for over a decade and it’s just another case of the UK lagging behind.”
The discovery of the acronyms, thought to be worth millions of pounds, could hardly come at a better time for the government which only last week announced plans to build all new academies entirely out of acronyms.  The General Teaching Council has announced it plans to bring out a special limited edition tie and brooch to celebrate the new acronyms and to give itself “something to do.”

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Teachers Rack Up the Miles as ‘Drive Marking’ Hits New High
Over two weeks into the New Year and an estimated 200,000 sets of books remain unmarked despite a Christmas holiday period that saw UK teachers transport marking around the country an average of 457 miles – a new UK record - claims a report by assessment climate watchdog Marking Miles UK.
According to Peter Right, the recent surge in the number of miles travelled by unmarked work is down to a steep rise in the number of teachers who now believe that transporting heavy sets of marking to friends and relatives over a holiday period can actually make the marking happen:
“There have always been a small number of teachers who believed that it was enough to just put the marking into the boot of their car and ‘drive mark’ and this was always particularly noticeable at Christmas due to seasonal optimism.  What we are seeing now is an unprecedented rise in the number of teaching professionals who actually believe they can get their marking done by simply driving it around to other people’s houses and carrying it to and from the boots of their cars.”
Peter would like to see much more done by the GTC to educate teachers that moving sets of books around doesn’t actually mark books and has already set up an awareness campaign called  ‘You Need A Pen In Your Hand To Mark A Set Of Books’.  Jane Lovell attended one of the sessions:
“When I was at teacher training college there was a rumour going around that if a set of books clocked up 400 miles in the boot of your car they could be considered marked – if you had the right tyre pressure.  None of my tutors ever said anything to suggest it wasn’t true.”
And according to History teacher David Searle it’s not just teaching colleges that are to blame.  David attended a course on assessment in 2006 and was surprised to be told by the advisor that if you didn’t have time to mark a set of books the next best thing was to carry them to and from the boot of your car over a three week period:  “It seemed like a reasonable thing to do; I had no idea that the books weren’t being marked.  I definitely feel that teachers deserve more training in assessment.”
Meanwhile Roger Trend, Head of Marking for Greenpeace, has claimed that UK marking is among the least environmentally friendly in the world and urged teachers to check the boots of their cars for ‘forgotten’ sets of books.  “Avoiding marking by ’losing’ a set of books and handing out new ones has always been an attractive option for teachers,” he said yesterday, “but the Amazon Rainforest is not big enough to go on meeting this demand.”
James Andrews, The Bitter Root: Educating the Wayward Scholar