Education


I wasn’t able to post here for a couple of days but I must have a grump on a couple of themes, one from UK news on Friday, the other ‘news’ from the school in which Petronela is teaching. Those themes? The continuing treatment of women as second class citizens; the disgraceful state to which education in the UK has been ‘allowed’, or forced, to fall.

Women’s pay

The ‘news’ that, beginning this weekend, women are effectively working for free till the end of the year is a generalisation, a simplification, but it makes the point very well I think.

Women in the UK are, in general, paid so much less than men for doing the same job that half way through November men will have earned the amount that women will have to work till the end of December to achieve.

How on earth do we accept this over a century after Emily Davison was killed protesting at the Epson Derby?

Children in UK who cannot read or write at 11

On Friday Petronela began to teach a ‘low ability class’. Of course some children may be ‘brighter’ than others; whether they should be ‘streamed’ as such is an argument I will not get into, it’s basically the same argument as whether grammar schools should be reintroduced. I have mixed feelings about both. However, she was ‘warned’ there are children in this class 7 who cannot read or write. This after being at school, primary school, for six years.

I’m not suggesting that all parents should, or could, teach their offspring to read and write before they go to school – at five years old in the UK (as my mother did for me, for which I’m eternally grateful). What I am suggesting (not a strong enough word) is that children should not be moved from primary to secondary school without being able to read and write at some basic level at least.

That they are gives the high school teacher an impossible task and disrupts the learning of other students.

UK lowest literacy among developed countries

Way back in 2012 there was an article in ‘The Independent’ newspaper giving some reasons why the UK is lowest for literacy in developed countries (confirmed in recent OECD survey and report) which is still relevant.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-obvious-reasons-why-uk-literacy-and-numeracy-skills-are-among-the-lowest-in-the-developed-world-8871402.html

It is almost the same with numeracy, but I will not get too much into that, except to say that I completed the first five questions in a recent GCSE maths exam paper in my head in a very short time. I could not have done that with a GCE ‘O’ level paper, despite all the assurances that standards have not dropped.

I remember well when Petronela was studying English for GCSE so she could teach in UK (at the time she was working as a teaching assistant) she came home with the question “How do you spell ‘read’?” I was surprised as I thought she knew very well. She told me that a teacher had written something on the board with the instruction to students to ‘Reed this’! Since then we have had letters from school, doctors, hospitals, the local council, etc, with basic spelling mistakes and appalling grammar.

C’ grade is not, in my opinion, a high enough grade in the GCSE English exam to teach any subject, as is the case now. Again, I do not believe all the assurances that this is the same level as was needed to get a pass at GCE ‘O’ level. I am sure that it is not.

I sometimes, as a writer/blogger, indulge in some passages which are not grammatically correct but I know I am doing it, for effect. I sometimes indulge in some ‘journalese’ for similar reasons. I may well have done it in this post. But I would not do it if I were teaching a lesson in school.

I used to tell my students in Romania that you cannot learn to use correct English fluently in the classroom, and vocabulary almost not at all. To succeed with these you have to read, read, and read. What chance do those who cannot have? Little.

To add fuel to the fire libraries are being closed, or threatened with closure, across the UK. Our local village library has been rescued by a team of volunteers.

As I said, reading from an early age is one of the many things for which I am grateful to my mother.

Advertisements

Double espresso and flames

Back in the wonderful Keighley library again; similar sequence to yesterday, coffee in Wetherspoon, quick diversion into the shopping area for some ‘chores’ then back to this great building, built in 1902 as a Carnegie library. This morning it was buzzing with a group of primary school children. I just love that.

First job, with a helpful librarian, Amy, trying to track down a comment from John Galsworthy mentioned by my blogger friend Iulia in response to my post about Sunday. We couldn’t find it so back to Iulia. Later note: Iulia came up with the answer and although the book is not in this library it is in another so will be sent to my village library – fabulous library system we have here in the UK though a combination of Government and Local Authorities are doing their best to destroy it. Volunteers have taken over many, including that in my village, to ‘save’ them.

Well patronised

This one seems well patronised, a steady stream of visitors to use the computers, or just the free WiFi using their own, to read the newspapers or borrow and return books. There are many displays on a variety of subjects which would merit a happy hour’s browsing. There’s even a designated ‘cafe’ area with a drinks machine and another with ‘snacks’. There are also printing and copying facilities. I haven’t been upstairs yet; maybe a subject for another day.

My Latvian blogger friend Ilze has demanded some photos of Wetherspoon so I may well make this interesting building the subject of a post before this week is out.

Wrong impressions from principal thoroughfare

I haven’t really been in ‘the town’ of Keighley (by the way, for non-English readers this is pronounced ‘keeth-li” – crazy!) since I was at school here though I’ve passed by the centre many times on the way to somewhere else. Going along a principal thoroughfare, North Street, on which this library stands (picture in yesterday’s post), the once majestic, now largely run down or plastered with inappropriate signs buildings, mostly now banks, give an entirely wrong impression of the town – rather depressing. Venture a few paces to the covered shopping malls and it feels a happy, lively place. These bright covered areas are so much more appealing than the architectural nightmare of the ‘new’ shopping mall in Bradford city. The people also appear ‘alive’; not so in Bradford where they usually appear downtrodden and miserable. The Keighley ‘mall’ does of course, suffer from the same disadvantage as that in Bradford, almost completely flooded with major chain stores which offer nothing for me.

Memories

It’s good to see that the majority of shops under the glass canopy in another major thoroughfare, Cavendish Street, are in business but what a pity they have been allowed to put up the most atrocious selection of signs; only one in sympathy with this magnificent terrace dating, I would guess, from about 1900. Above the canopy the past grandeur is obvious. This terrace has fond memories for me; my grandmother occasionally came to the town and took me into a little upstairs cafe for tea after school. We always ate the same thing – mushrooms on toast.

Right at the bottom of the street is another building full of memories for me. The Victoria hotel was run by the parents of a schoolmate so I was often there after school. It has been derelict for many years, a sad sight, but it looks as though it might be going to be restored. I hope.

Red sun

Red sun (bleached out here) with an even more intensely red halo, in a strangely coloured sky

Nothing to do with Keighley but I must mention the red sun which broke through a strangely coloured sky yesterday. The picture, taken with the iPad, cannot do it justice but it does give me an opportunity to mention a great poem which captured the essence of this strange sight. It was written and posted by a blogger who calls herself ‘the cheeseseller’s wife’; she assures us she is.

I was so surprised to find myself sitting under a picture showing my high school and a brief history

With that title it may seem odd if I tell you I’m sitting in Wetherspoon, one of a large chain of pubs where they open early in the morning, have free WiFi and serve good (Lavazza) coffee which is cheap: £1.30 for a double espresso (which is what is in front of me as I write this). They also serve a ‘large’ English breakfast for £4.99 if you want it. I do not, I ate my usual raw oats with milk at home.

It is, in fact, the first day of school for Petronela after the summer break. She resigned from the school she had been at for 11 years before we went to Romania as, among other reasons, there seemed little opportunity to teach history, the subject she loves and her speciality,  though she taught Humanities, Religious Studies and Citizenship as well as beginners’ French, even a little Geography, there.

Supply teaching

Time to move on so she has gone ‘supply teaching’, in the UK that means filling in for teachers who are absent for some reason, and this week was the first time a requirement for a fully qualified history teacher had come up. At the moment it is just for this week. As the school is difficult to reach by public transport from our home, I’m the taxi driver.

Right opposite the pub in which I am sitting is recently grassed over space which until a few months ago was what was left of my high school

It is, people might think, a coincidence as Wetherspoon is just across the road from a green space which was, until recently the building in which I went to school – Keighley  Boys’ Grammar School. The school has not existed for many years but the building was demolished only in the past few months.

There are a few more ‘coincidences’. The grammar school was housed in what was the ‘Mechanics Institute’, a magnificent building with a Big Ben type clock tower, built in 1870. A large part of that was destroyed by fire and the wonderful clock tower fell down but, I assure you, I didn’t do that despite my notoriety for building a smoke ring generating machine to disrupt lessons. Anyway, the fire was long after I left.

The magnificent town library. You can just see a corner of what is now a Wetherspoon pub, on the far right

For this week I’ll probably not go home but stay in the town until Petronela finishes, either in Wetherspoon or the magnificent library next door, which also has WiFi. I used to escape to this library when I played truant from school –  a frequent occurence in later years when I disliked school intensely – particularly history (!) and French. I loved maths, physics, English (language, not literature, two separate subjects) and art so attended those lessons diligently and did extremely well in final exams in those subjects. French I had ‘dropped’ earlier when I refused to go to school unless I was allowed to do so.  But the history exam was my glory day. I wrote my name and details as required at the top of the paper, waited the regulation one hour without writing a single word then left.

Apoplectic headmaster

The headmaster was my history teacher; he went apoplectic, even berserk, and I had to go into school on a Saturday morning and sit the history paper; quite pointless of course. There must have been something wrong with the teaching as later in life I set up and ran a history society and, of course, married a history teacher.

Another ‘ coincidence’: my high school was created when a forerunner of the school where Petronela has just gone to teach, a little out of the town, was moved into the Mechanics Institute.

Finally, I sat down with my coffee not taking note of my surroundings, looking at the space which was my school through the large windows in front. Then I noticed the ‘picture’ on the wall to my right, featuring photos of the Mechanics Institute and forerunners with a little information about it and the ‘grammar school’.

As I’ve probably said before I do not believe in coincidence, so await what comes next.

Our real life Cruella de Vil

Returning to UK after the longest period away since I returned, in 2004, from living in Romania there’s so much to write about. Should I settle on a theme or just ramble away as is my wont? The latter is more my style so here goes.

Britain used to be the most liberal of countries and we thought of Germany as very strict and restrictive. Now it seems to have reversed. Stupid regulation after regulation governing everything here, so called ‘Health and Safety’ reaching ridiculous proportions, every child seems to have an allergy so cannot eat this or that (we’d have starved!), excellent recruits for the Nazi SS, unintelligent bullies, controlling train travel (at least on Northern Rail) and car parking, not all of course but a substantial proportion; teachers now expected not only to teach but to take over the role of parents in the most basic of  ‘education for life’; teachers and nurses bogged down with stupid form filling rather than getting on with the job for which they signed up, so leaving their professions in droves. Essential utilities companies, like British Gas (foreign owned of course), hiking their prices by stupendous amounts while rewarding their senior executives with massive pay rises.

We have a perfect Cruella de Vil leading the country using leaving the European Union (I refuse to use that dreadful ‘B…..’ word) as a perfect excuse to remove the power from Parliament and put it in the hands of a few of her lieutenants, so called ‘Ministers’.

Of course, everything is the fault of the immigrants, especially if they’re from eastern Europe or Muslim – I don’t think.

In fact, it’s the fat cats who are determined to get even fatter and roll in their slime.

Even (now this is going to upset 10% of the population) my previously favourite radio station, Classic FM, has sunk further into the money-making mire with repeated self-congratulation from the majority of the presenters, advertisers who seem to think the audience is made up of cretins. Their much (self) lauded 25th birthday concert, with a superb orchestra and chorus (the Liverpool ‘Royals’), was largely rubbish with no obvious reason for the bits and bats played. There was a super rendition of Bartok’s violin concerto by a young man, only 21 I think, and a premiere of a very interesting, exciting, piece composed by a young woman, only 23 years old, whose name I cannot remember but I’ll be seeking her out. With that fabulous orchestra and chorus why the devil didn’t we get, eg, Beethoven’s 9th instead of that mishmash of bits of this and that?

What prevents me jumping in the car and going back across the water? An elderly lady’s smile, sitting on a wall in my village main street and discussing the weather with me yesterday morning while waiting patiently for her bus.

 

Tochitura MoldoveneascaBusy times: having ‘retired’ from my part-time job at the end of October, I launched my new business Extraordinary Writing on Small Business Saturday, 6 December. More on this below. More ‘spare time’ seems to mean that I’ve been roped in to more voluntary activities in my village, Menston in Wharfedale, Yorkshire. And, doing more of the everyday cooking, last night I made something worthy of mention I think – Tochitura Moldoveneasca – first time I’ve attempted it; again, more below.

Voluntary activities – eggs to iPads

I was delighted to get a £500 grant from Lloyds Bank Community Fund to set up a project which has two principal aims: to help ameliorate the loneliness of many elderly people; to integrate more young people in our village with the wider community. The £500 will buy a couple of iPads and cover other small expenses for a year.

I call the project ‘Teaching grandmother – from eggs to iPads‘. A small team of youngsters will teach elderly people first how to Skype on the iPad so they can talk to distant relatives and friends; second stage will be how to use search engines; third stage will be how to shop on line. At each session each youngster will have two elderly ‘pupils’ (I know of the advantages of learning in pairs from my English teaching days; also, my time installing ‘obsolete’ donated computers in Romania and teaching teachers and pupils how to use them gives me a good grounding even if the technology is, let’s say, a little more advanced! We didn’t even have Windows in the Romanian schools then, let alone an Apple OS).

I did apply for enough to buy six iPads but the final stage was a public vote on the four projects short-listed. At the time I should have been campaigning for votes I was pretty seriously ill so couldn’t do it. We came fourth. However, we’ll set up as a ‘pilot’ project and if all goes well look for more funding to expand in the future.

Tochitura Moldoveneasca

If you subscribe to the ‘healthy eating’ bibles look away now!

Principal ingedients for the tochitura: belly pork, smoked sausage, smoked back fat, onion and garlic. The sprigs of (Romanian) thyme are my own contribution to the recipe.

Principal ingredients for the tochitura: belly pork, smoked sausage, smoked back fat, onion and garlic. The sprigs of (Romanian) thyme are my own contribution to the recipe.

One of the best meals I ever had in Romania, more than once, was in a school canteen – in a high school where I taught English and where I met my wife – Liceul Mihail Kogalniceanu in Miroslava village, Iasi ‘county’. I’ve eaten this dish many times elsewhere but it has never compared and that’s not surprising because if you look it up in a recipe book or on line there seems to be little agreement about the recipe. Many times it is made to end up as more like a kind of stew or casserole, but it should be (in my opinion) very nearly ‘dry’ – just a little zeama (juice).

Because my Romanian in-laws brought two important ingredients when they visited, I decided to have a go based on how I thought the school cook might have done it. I was delighted that it turned out to be pretty good (though not quite up to the standard of the ‘school dinner’).

An important feature is that there should be plenty of fat in the meat, either by using a ‘fatty’ cut (eg belly pork) or by mixing lean (eg shoulder) with fatty. Of course, the better tasting the pork the better tasting the tochitura; it took me months to find good tasty pork in the UK. Two other important ingredients are good smoked sausage and smoked ‘slanina’ (back fat). The latter two, home made and smoked, were brought by my mother-in-law. Other than that there are just onion and garlic, salt and pepper. It helps to have garlic from Botosani in the far north east of Romania – one clove will do the job of ten bought in the UK (and has an even better taste).

The finished tochitura, with mamaliga, fried eggs and cheese (Feta in the absence of Romanian fermented sheep's cheese).

The finished tochitura, for two, with mamaliga, fried eggs and cheese (Feta in the absence of Romanian fermented sheep’s cheese).

So, the smoked back fat is sauteed a little, the chunks of meat added, browned then water added. Simmer until the meat is tender. Add the sliced onions and garlic, salt and pepper. Simmer for another ten minutes. Now I had to be inventive to get the almost dry, caramel covered meat I remember from Miroslava. So, I removed the meat, browned it again in a very hot pan with a bit of the fat. Skimmed the remaining liquid (a lot of fat now to be removed), reduced it to a thin layer in the pan then added back the re-browned meat.

It should be served with mamaliga (firm cornmeal ‘porridge’), a fried egg and fermented sheep’s cheese (cas framantat). I didn’t have the latter but my wife doesn’t like it anyway so she had cottage cheese and I had crumbled Feta cheese (vaguely similar). Pickled peppers, cucumbers and green tomatoes (gogonele) are a perfect accompaniment.

My new business – Extraordinary Writing

Having ‘retired’ from employment, and loving to write, I’ve decided to try to add to my meagre pension by writing, specialising in writing news pieces and features for companies or other organisations (for placement in the Press or house magazines) or writing, editing and producing newsletters and house magazines.

I’m not sure how I had the audacity to choose the name I did, with so many ‘extraordinary writers’ among the bloggers I read regularly, but I did.

First step was to make a simple website and I made this ‘live’ on Small Business Saturday – ie last Saturday. If you would like to have a look at it go to:

http://extraordinarywriting.net

I had landed my first job, to write, edit and produce a regular newsletter, by Monday 🙂 .

 

I consider myself very lucky as through things I do, day to day including my work, I learn of some of the amazing things our oft derided youngsters do. 

The latest is about 14 lower sixth formers from the excellent high school within our village boundary – St Mary’s Menston.

St Mary's Menston pupil Hannah Smith reads abut football to South African children

Hannah Smith, pupil at St Mary’s Menston, reads Frank Lampard to Zulu children

St Mary's pupil Kavindu Appuhamy gives an African child a lesson about rhinos, or is it the other way round?

St Mary’s pupil Kavindu Appuhamy gives an African child a lesson about rhinos, or is it the other way round?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently created a blog/website for the Wharfedale, Yorkshire, village in which I live – Menston. Looking around for news as the schools started up again after the summer break I found out about the latest phase in a project in which St Mary’s is involved, now in its seventh year.

Bambisanani (more…)