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.

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I’ve said in recent posts that I don’t believe in coincidence and that I’m easily distracted. Venturing upstairs to the reference and study section of Keighley library after my morning double espresso in Wetherspoons next door (see previous posts), I had to confront both.

Philip Snowden and women’s suffrage

First, ‘talking’ about how I began my blog to another blogger earlier this morning (she’ll know who she is) I mentioned one motivation being my desire to air my ire about discrimination, particularly discrimination against women. What first confronted me when I walked along the upstairs floor of the library? The ‘Snowden Library’, that of  Philip Snowden, a tireless campaigner for women’s suffrage. You’ll find more about him in one the pictures.

Proper parkin – again – and other recipes

Then, resisting the temptation to sit down all day with some of his books, I wandered to another section to see what they had about the beautiful Wharfe valley in which I live. A book about Yorkshire dishes almost jumped off the shelf at me. I opened it at a random page and what recipe did I see? Parkin! A proper recipe, almost the same as that I posted a few days ago.  And plot toffee.

I spent much of the rest of my time today with that book and recorded 27 recipes on the iPad. I’m putting some of them here as pictures. I had to include a fish recipe; in Yorkshire you’re never far from the sea and the superb Yorkshire coast. Then there’s a really weird one, ‘Long life’, using whole eggs, shell and all. I just had to include that.

Chicken stew and dumpings? I was taken back to childhood by the recipe for rabbit stew and dumplings. That was a frequent winter meal (rabbit was cheap, the cheapest meat; then chicken was a luxury, for Christmas). Now chicken is cheap and rabbit a luxury, hence chicken stew: chicken legs, onion, garlic, carrot, red lentils, barley, tarragon, parsley, thyme and sage.

Perfect for the cold, miserable, wet weather today, for which I abandoned a planned trip to one or more Worth Valley Railway stations.

Brontës

Finally, I spent a short time in the Brontë section. I knew if I got immersed in that I’d probably lose all sense of time and get a frantic phone call from Petronela asking where I was when she finished school. I just hope she’ll be returning there after the half-term break; she’s enjoying it having knocked the students into shape in the first two days.

I could spend six months in each of those sections.

It’s a long time since I posted on this site, not since September last year. I apologise. Some major health problems have meant that many things had become far behind and catching up on them always took the time available. However, I feel I must write something about tomorrow’s UK referendum to vote to leave the European Union or to remain in it.

When the referendum was first mooted I knew immediately that I would vote to leave and nothing from the campaigns for either side has influenced that decision since – and I have followed the campaigns closely. I am not influenced by how good or bad a presentation is made by this or that campaigner; by far the best presenter of her case on yesterday’s Big Debate on tv, was the Scottish Conservative leader, on the ‘Remain’ side, but her arguments were largely based on falsehoods or presented speculation as fact.

Immigration

I resent the implication, and often outright accusation, from the ‘Remain’ campaigners that we who believe immigration should be controlled are racist and xenophobic. I have spent a good proportion of my time since a teenager contesting all types of discrimination, as I became aware of them. The first – before I was a teenager – was religious discrimination; the second, when I was 16 years old, was gender discrimination; the third, racial discrimination, shortly after that.  Others followed. I have travelled widely and far from being fearful or feeling hatred to foreigners I have always tried to ‘integrate’ in their culture and have enjoyed it when there. I’m married to an immigrant. One of the primary reasons for Leeds being one of my favourite cities is the large Afro-Caribbean population, immigrants and their descendants.

Controlling immigration is common sense – without control, sensible forward plans for health and social care, education, housing, and other things cannot be made. It should not discriminate between immigrants from the EU and other parts of the world, as it does now. It should take into account Britain’s needs in terms of skills and education. It should of course take into account Britain’s obligation to true refugees. Personally, I also think that some purely economic migrants should be accommodated as a small contribution to correcting the gross imbalance in wealth distribution. So while I think a ‘points system’ is generally the way to go, there should be some kind of bypass system to take account of the last two criteria. If outside of the EU, it is the UK electorate which will be decide what the control system should be.

Influence

The UK may have had some influence on EU decisions when the EU was far smaller but it is nonsensical to say that we have much influence now or will have in the future if we stay in it. In recent years almost every UK proposition or objection has been voted down. This will get worse as the EU grows. The Prime Minister got almost nothing from his ‘renegotiations’, and if he could not get substantial reform then there is surely no hope whatsoever of getting any reform in the future if we’ve voted to stay in.

Economics

When we had the possibility to join the Euro dire warnings similar to those we are being bombarded with now were given by the ‘experts’, of a crashing economy if we did not. Thank goodness we took no notice of them then. The ‘experts’ did not warn us of the impending bank crisis and the resulting disasters to the world economy. When Norway was deciding whether to join the club the ‘experts’ similarly warned them; it subsequently proved to be nonsense. I can’t avoid noticing that it is the ‘fat cats’ and organisations representing them who issue most of the dire warnings. Or it’s those already on the gravy train or who hope to be: the scientists who live on UK money returned by the EU, not those like Dyson who finance his own research from developing products which sell; the Kinnock family whose joint income from the EU sinecures, or something close to that, beggars belief; organisations representing big business. Finally, personal experience: when I was teaching in Romania (not then a member of the EU) I warned my students that joining would have disastrous consequences for everyday life in the country; within a very short time of the country joining the EU food shopping bills rose sharply and are now generally close to those in Britain. Salaries have remained a small fraction of those in this country.

Sovereignty

To me it is ironic that senior members of the present Government, who have argued so strongly for devolution of power from the centre in London (whether we believe they have delivered that is another argument), are now telling us we are best governed from somewhere on the European continent, on the basis that we have one seat among 28 in some decision making body of the EU, and no say at all in other EU unelected decision making bodies.

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