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.