Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Distressed Shepherdess of Raydale

So, there we were, enjoying a peaceful walk around Semerwater, when we were passed by a quad bike driven at high speed just outside the hamlet of Marsett. The rider seemed in a hurry but we thought no more of it and carried on walking. The second pass was faster but this time we merited a glance, on the third pass, she stopped and asked if we'd seen her dog! The rider was a middle-aged woman and her quad was equipped with a home-made scabbard, in which rested a very well-work metal shepherd's crook. The Shepherdess explained that her dog had taken herself off for a walk, not an unusual occurrence, but had failed to return, prompting her high-speed search. She then said that the dog answered to the name of Nell, but then said it was best not to call her if we did see her, as "she's not very nice". Her concern was that the dog had been stolen, as there had been a few cases of this reported in the Dales recently. A young dog, she explained could be worth £5,000. Nell, however, was 8 and "getting a bit old", nonetheless, she might still be worth £1,200 to £1,500 to someone who needed a dog and wasn't too discerning as to where it came from. We took the Shepherdess's phone number and agreed to get in touch if we saw any sign of Nell on our walk. Couldn't help but wonder as to the nature of their relationship; obviously they worked together, but the Shepherdess had little in the way of affection for her co-worker. Had Nell been stolen, or merely taken herself off in search of a more companionable accommodation for her later years?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Send the kids to grammar school - scare the parents

Why do the middle class like to be frightened? Fear drives them, but also saps them of reason. Spent much of this week listening to parents of kids in Years 5 and 6 getting into a state of arse-dripping panic over their choice of high school. In Calderdale (Halifax and its environs), we have two selective grammars. So parents get suckered into private tuition - sometimes for kids as young as 7 - so they can cram their offsprings' little heads with just enough to give them one of the 310 places on offer each year.
To up the ante still further, the grammars offer a pre-test, which, for a fee, they set and mark themselves (nice little earner...) And today 1,500 kids sat it. Now, if they just scrape through, the private tutors will trouser even more cash to make sure they do better come the real thing. The problem is though, there'll still be too many kids passing for the places available. Last year, over 800 "passed": what to do? Raise the nominal pass rate, until just 310 lucky ones hit the magic score. Simple.
I don't like selective education. My year was the first one to go through the comprehensive system back in the late 60s in Leeds. So I didn't have to endure the mystic mog tendency among my primary school teachers, who consoled parents with the age old saw that their 11 year-old wasn't "university material" - as if they could possibly tell at that tender age! The aim was to manage failure - after all nearly two thirds of their pupils were doomed to fail, the age of deference was still with us, so parents could be placated with the brutal truth: "your kid just isn't bright enough".
Yet, every year, we have to endure the same thing here in the less enlightened reaches of the old West Riding, where 11-plus angst stalks the homes of the middle class and their less affluent fellow travellers.
Why don't we just admit the charade doesn't work; why not let the more able go to the same schools as the rest; why not let them be role models for their contemporaries; why not take the fear out of education and let our children learn at their own pace and in keeping with their abilities?
I've seen just too many 10 and 11 year-olds reduced to tears because a classmate has parroted some piece of parental garbage about who will pass the accursed 11-plus to believe for one instant that competition has any place in selecting a high school place. Hubris stalks the homes of the failure: parents of the unsuccessful can be seen haunting the playground when the results are announced, telling no-one in particular that grammar school wouldn't have been right for their child, or that now they'll be with their friends at comprehensive. But it's empty rhetoric for those who heard them trumpeting future academic success earlier in the year. They don't really mean any of it. Their child has failed to deliver in this most important race. Even if they one day manage to win a Nobel prize, the invisible stain of 11-plus failure will still mark them out - all because they had a bad day one Saturday back in the dog days of their last year in primary school.