Leaving Day

Well, the Year 11s are officially gone. Only officially, because their first exam is tomorrow and it is mine. If my timetable will permit it, I hope to be outside the exam room as they leave to get exit poll reaction before I collect up the question papers for my future use.

At the request of some of them, I brought my guitar into school and played a 30-minute set for a modest crowd of them at lunch outside on the playing fields in the marvellous sunshine.

May Days

These are the waning hours of the long weekend. Most of the Year 9 reports due this week will have been written by the end of the evening. It’s now just 14 teaching days until half-term.

The Year 11s leave in six teaching days. I’ve offered them as much revision time as I could. Most of them didn’t take it up. The exam is the day after leaving day and it’s all up to them now.

The non-resident grandparents will be here for most of the half-term week. Because they will have been away from home since today, involved in various ministry projects, they will only have five days with us. We want to go away on holiday, but holiday lets are invariably Saturday to Saturday. I have a few days to try to work out what we are going to do.

Crime and Crime Prevention

Today’s pustules on the butt of society are Adrian Hutchinson and Keith Buckley.

They got 26- and 28-year tariffs with their life sentences for the murder of a 62-year-old man who refused to hand over his mobile phone during their fifth robbery of the evening in Oldham town centre. As reported in the Daily Mail,

After Mr Smith refused their request for a cigarette, Buckley punched him in the face before the pair dragged him to a darkened yard, threatened him with a knife and demanded his property.

The 62-year-old had only bought the phone a week earlier and refused to give it up, but was put in a headlock and hit and kicked repeatedly, causing fractures of the skull, cheek, jaw and larynx.

Taking his phone – which was later sold for just £20 – the pair left Mr Smith dying where he lay, and his body was not found until 17 days later.

Hutchinson and Buckley aren’t teenagers – they are 25 and 22 – but their prior convictions go back before that. Hutchinson was first convicted at 11and before he was 16 he had nine convictions for arson, assault, and burglary, but never received any time behind bars. It was 29 further convictions later that he was finally jailed in 2004. He got four years for burglary, robbery and assault.

But never fear, the Government is here with a new solution for the growing crime problem. It now wants to hold schools responsible for curbing crime, as well as teen pregnancy and all other lifestyle issues. How well they meet 18 new targets for improving and policing pupils’ lifestyles and well-being will be included in their Ofstead (school inspection) reports.

Surely once schools are encumbered with even more non-teaching responsibility, the next generation of Hutchinsons and Buckleys will be redeemed. Our hope is the the expansion of bureaucracy and the micro-management of everyone’s lives.

Crunch Time

I haven’t been blogging much in the last few days.

It’s getting down to crunch time with the Year 11s. They will be leaving in less than a month and their exam in my subject is the first day of their study leave.

I’m still trying to put finishing touches to the revision pack. I looked at the commercially available resources for my syllabus and they are useless. The official publisher has an A5-size book for £5.95 out of which they could have possibly used about 10 pages. I’m giving them about 40 pages of A4 for £1. I’m much better value for money. (Don’t worry – I’m not pocketing the cash. It’s going back into my budget to offset the photocopying costs.)

The pack is by no means entirely my work – in fact, it’s not even mostly my work. I have a very generous former head of department. I have adapted the pack I used in my last post with a different syllabus. I have changed the emphasis and imformation on a few sheets. I have added sheets for topics that weren’t covered in the other syllabus.

I have one more to finish tonight before getting the whole pack copied in the morning.

The Qualifications Racket

One of the first vocabulary words I had to learn when I moved to this county was “qualifications”. They are a British obsession. If you were going for a job in the States and someone asked you about your qualifications, you would describe your work history

This is a country obsessed with qualifications. They are little pieces of paper that say you have completed some sort of course. Some of the most important qualifications are General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSEs).

In the UK there is no such thing as a high school diploma. Instead, you receive a certificate for each subject you take. You don’t have a Grade Point Average. You get a string of grades, e.g., 5 A*’s (called “A stars”), 2 A’s, a B and a C, (if you are brainy), or a D, three E’s, two F’s, and a G (if you’re not or can’t be bothered). A*-C grades are considered good GCSEs. D-G grade aren’t. To actually fail, you have to get a “U”. In my subject, that would mean getting below 14%. In some subjects 16% will get you a C.

All of the exams are administered by national exam boards that have contracts with the Government. After all, schools can’t be trusted with so great a responsibility as examining their own students. Government always knows best.

Each department in each school chooses which exam board it will use and which syllabus within the options offered by the board. The thing about externally administered and marked exams is that they cost money. They cost so much money that more is being spent on exam fees than on textbooks and resources.

Let me put this in real terms. I misquoted a syllabus code to the exams officers at my school and she sent in the wrong number. Until she convinced them that it was because neither I or the school had ever done that exam before, so therefore they should waive the fee for the wrong entries, it was going to cost the equivalent of two years of my entire departmental budget.

No money had been spent by the exam board – no extra exam papers printed or anything. That was just the cost to go into the computer and change a 9 to a 0 in a course number for less than 100 exams.  Not that each entry would have to be changed manually – that could have taken as long as three minutes of a data processor’s time. It could have been done with a couple of key strokes.

This is because cost of the 100 exams is already the equivalent of two years of my departmental budget. In other words, we would have had to have paid double. No doubt some schools had to do just that. There’s no point in the exam board having the policy if they don’t plan on making some money from it.

As reported today in the Daily Telegraph, “One head teacher said that his exam costs had risen from £30,000 to £100,000 over five years for the same number of pupils.” So how much are these exam boards making each year? About £700 million in tax money. It’s a nice racket.

Family Matters

The most senior family court judge in southwest England has diagnosed the cause of the almost every evil in society today. Sir Paul Coleridge blames pretty much everything on the breakdown of the family, which he labels a cancer.

Though he is certainly an expert on these matters, this is not something that requires such a specialist to diagnose. But even though he is stating the obvious, it is something that the Government, with it’s family unfriendly policies, is ignoring. It is not just no-fault divorce. Mr Justice Coleridge includes the “meltdown” of the parent/child relations as well.

So you combine no-fault divorce with all-fault discipline (given the restrictions imposed by the law, compounded with the tendency to assume any discipline exceeds those restrictions) and you have a recipe for disaster. Disaster is certainly what we have in this country. Disaster is what we see every day in schools – with a combination of kids who can’t draw their family tree and as they are shifted throughout the week from one parent to another, or sometimes a relative, or a former partner of a parent, with no consistent structure in their life.

If that’s what it’s like in relatively sedate rural areas, think about what other educators face each day in the more urban environments. Several years ago I taught in a city of about 70,000. I was talking to a head of year who was sending out congratulatory letters to parents of children who were performing above expectations in at least five subjects and also letters to parents of children for whom significant concerns had been raised in at least five subjects. As he was looking through the envelopes, he noticed that all of the former were sent to “Mr and Mrs” and all of the latter were sent to single parents or adults of two difference surnames.

This echoes Sir Paul’s statement, “I am not saying every broken family produces dysfunctional children but I am saying that almost every dysfunctional child is the product of a broken family.”

Why Five-Year-Olds Need Section 28

Some Muslim parents have complained about a couple of story books used at two Bristol primary schools. As a result the books have been pulled. So is this some sort of anti-Muslim rant? Far from it.

The books are characterised by the school as part of their “anti-homophobia” curriculum for five-year-olds.  One is a fairytale about a prince who turns down three princesses. He marries the brother of one of them. The other is set in a New York zoo, where two male penguins who fall in love.  Bristol City Council says they were intended to help prevent homophobic bullying.

What five-year-olds are engaged in homophobic bullying? What five-year-olds are holding themselves out as homosexual?

This is exactly the reason it was wrong to repeal Section 28. The use of these books is clearly about promoting not only homosexuality, but homosexual marriage equivalents.  Parents complained that children were coming home asking questions about same-sex relationships when there had never even been discussion about heterosexual relationships.

The schools in question are 60%-70% Muslim. Perhaps because Muslims are unacceptably unaccepting of homosexual behaviour, the school and the local council have felt the needed to force the issue on the children at such a young age. Parents complained so much the council has temporarily removed the books from the curriculum, which just goes to prove the council’s point.

The sad thing is that it is only Muslim parents that can get this done. If it were Christian parents, the council would have simply ignored them.

It Could Be Much Worse

I may complain about the general unruliness with which I deal on a day-to-day basis. In my subject, even dealing with pint-sized atheists hour after hour and their same little arguments (though honestly, most of the time that is a very generous term) can be wearying.

A survey by one of the teaching unions, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, as reported in The Times, notes:

Most teachers said that pupil behaviour had worsened in the last two years and many said that low-level disruption – such as pupils talking, not paying attention and refusing requests to turn off mobile phones – was now the norm in classrooms.

I would say that this is true even where I am. However, there is much to said for teaching in the hinterlands.  Not only have we not had a teacher assault this year, I don’t think there is any pupil in the school who would dare such a thing.

Speaking ahead of the union’s annual conference in Torquay today, Ms Bousted [ATL general secretary] said that one in ten teachers had received physical injuries in the classroom.

Twelve per cent said that they had needed to visit a doctor and eight per cent had taken leave from teaching as a result of pupils’ aggression.

Three per cent of teachers said that they had been involved in incidents involving knives, two thirds had been punched, nearly a half kicked and a third had been threatened.

The Government has a unique approach to dealing with a norm of classes full of unruly children. Schools minister Jim Knight said that classes of up to 70 pupils are perfectly acceptable. All you need are a couple of teaching assistants.

No Teachers’ Day in the UK

I found out from Wikipedia that today is Teachers’ Day in Albania. In fact, many countries have a special day for recognising teachers.

The UK does not have such a day. We are not particularly set aside for respect. Rather, this country see teachers has needing lots of regulation and quality control. Most of use are told what to teach by the government, because we can’t possibly be competent professionals.

We have little power left to maintain discipline. The government has determined that many of the methods that formed useful citizens, including most members of the government, are cruel. In a classroom environment, the thing I am most aware of is avoiding proximity to any pupils. This avoids jail or lawsuits. Not that there is a recourse if they get in our face.

We are suspect, so we need hightened background checks which not only include criminal records but any allegations, hearsay or rumour that a police officer wants to put in it. We will be among the first to be biometrically tagged to the national database.

We also provide a dumping ground for people who want someone else to raise their children. Sadly, despite our best efforts, the acorn usually does not fall far from the tree. At a recent parents night, the parents of a disrepectful Year 8 pupil were instructed to use the appropriate entrance to the school. I watched as the dad (all six feet and more than 250 pounds of him) just bullied his way past a female member of staff and ignored her insistence to use the other entrance. Is it really a surprise that his son tries to treat staff the same way and sneers at them with disrepect or laughs in their face when given instructions in school?

At least those parents came to parents night. The ones who don’t are mostly the ones who need to be there. They can’t even be bothered to find out about their child’s progress or lack thereof – and they especially don’t care about how their child is negatively affecting other children’s progress. I don’t think they would particularly care to observe a Teachers’ Day.

Can’t Be Trusted

It has been announced by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that I will be amongst the first to be required to have a national identity card and have all of my details – including fingerprints and other biometric data – held on a Government database.

While offering the comforting words that most ordinary Britons will not face compulsory registration until at least 2017, non-EU foreign nationals will be require to have the card from November of this year. This is because I am apparently more of a terrorist threat. You never know what we foreigners might do.  Especially if we are not from an EU member state.

But even if before November I am able to pass the Life in the UK test and fork out the £655 application fee and the Government decides I can be trusted to be a UK citizen, I get caught up in the next round. I’m in a “sensitive” job. That doesn’t mean they have recogised that I care deeply for those to whom I impart the knowledge religion and history, or that I cry easily when they can’t be arsed to learn. No, just being a teacher is sensitive. “Sensitive” is New Labour Newspeak for “can’t be trusted”.

But isn’t that the whole point of what will be a national database? Isn’t that why totalitarian regimes insist of identity papers? No one can be trusted. The problem is that in this society it is the Government which isn’t trusted enough by the people. The population has to be gently convinced that they themselves can’t be trusted.  With the deftness of a pickpocket, they will be divested of every shred of privacy.

Learning History and Citizenship

I’ve previously discussed the bias in history textbooks in the UK. In his most recent blog entry, Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens looks at how the approach to British history seeks to undermine everything that is British.

At the same time that Britishness is being de-emphasised to the British, it is being heavily enforced with those who want to move here, or those, like me, who have been a long time but want to become citizens. New immigrants or those who want to upgrade their status have to take the Life in the UK test. It’s mostly aimed at limiting the number of dark-skinned people, but since the law has to be seen to be impartial, it takes in palefaces like me who are not from EU member states.

Since they keep increasing the fee, I can’t afford to apply for citizenship. Thus I haven’t bought the book I need for studying to take the test. The test costs £34 for each sitting. I have had a look at the website linked above, to see what sort of things I need to know.

You would think that someone who speaks English as a first language and is certified to teach Citizenship to GCSE level wouldn’t have any trouble with the test. Surely they wouldn’t expect new immigrants to know more than someone with a good GCSE grade. Oh yes, they do.

I was just looking at the most recent available past paper for the OCR’s Citizenship Short Course GCSE. The bits that aren’t multiple choice or short answer are based on provided sources. The examinee doesn’t have to know any citizenship – they just have to be able to read for comprehension.

Typical GCSE questions:

State one example of a global evironmental problem
Citizens of the UK have rights and responsibilities. State one employment right that citizens have.
State one legal responsibility parents in the United Kingdom have to their children aged under 16.
State one employment right that citizens have.

Included topics in Life in the UK test:

How is the process of buying a house different in Scotland?
What are the powers of the devolved administrations?
How is European law organised?
What are quangos and non-departmental public bodies?
How can people find a dentist? (Clearly a trick question)
Which groups of people receive free dental treatment? (See the previous question)
How is education different in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales?
Who can offer information on occupational or personal pensions?

Textbook Agenda

I’m not suggesting that textbooks in this country are biased and driven by a political agenda, but I’m looking for another satisfactory explanation for the following definitions in a textbook I’ve been given to teach history.

Socialism: movement to make the country fully democratic, with equal rights for everyone

Left-wing: believing that society should be made more equal

Right-wing: believing that the country should be strong and that ordinary people should have little or no power

Why, how could I think that somebody (like author Andrew Boxer) has a “Left-wing good/Right-wing bad” or “Socialism good/Capitalism bad” message they are trying to get across to 14- to 16-year-olds? Of course he never comes out directly and says it. He doesn’t need to, really.

Government Not Helping Children

A two-year review of primary education by Cambridge University has discovered that starting school at age 4 is not helping British children. Even though they don’t start school until age 7, children in Sweden and Finland outperform Brits by age 11. In other words, British children are learning less in seven years than Scandinavians in four years.

This is also despite being tested more than in other countries.  Everyone recognises that emphasis on testing is way out of whack. Everyone except, of course, the Government. As a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said, “The idea that children are over tested is not a view that the Government accepts. The reality is that children spend a very small percentage of their time in school being tested.” I mean, technically, the DCSF spokesman is correct. The tests themselves take very little time.

But as the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said, “When it comes to testing in England, the tail wags the dog. It is patently absurd that even the structure and content of education is shaped by the demands of the tests.”

Or as the DCSF spokesman said, “Seeing that children leave school up to the right standard in the basics is the highest priority of government.” The Government sets “the right standard”, which is a particular test score. Therefore the priority of the Government is that children achieve a certain score. The only way for children to achieve this score is to stop teaching them how to read and write and instead teach them how to take the test.

Schools that assume that teachers should teach lose. Schools that keeps kids mentally goose stepping toward achieving test results win.

The more government gets involved in education, the worse it gets. The results get manipulated to show the government and its policies are making progress. Thus, what was already a flawed means of assessment becomes fraudulent product of the need for political spin.

The only problem is that children at the real losers. They get the damaging stress of the examination environment together with a (when compared to the rest of the world) substandard education.

Teach Your Children Well

Muslims may think that the Bible messed up the true revelation of Islam, but they seem to follow Proverbs 22:6 just fine. “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”

When I saw in the Daily Mail that al Qaeda were training up ten-year-olds (and perhap younger) to carrying out kidnappings, assassinations and suicide bombings, I thought well, yeah, that’s the Daily Mail. So I looked to see if anyone was carrying this story. Everyone is carrying this story.

But is it really surprising? These are type of folks that are happy to strap explosives to women with Downs Syndrome and turn them into killing machines by remote control.

The videos of children undergoing training were intended to be used encourage other children to join the cause. Of course for children to see these, their parents would either have to provide them or send them to a madrasah that would considering them appropriate viewing. It is so unfathomable to me as either a father or a teacher.

So when you think about these people, remember that these are their values.

Hobbling

Well, I tried walking today. I was in bad enough shape that my wife wanted me to stay home, and she never wants me to stay hom. But against all advice, I hobbled to my car and drove to school and really hobbled to my classroom. I lasted one period – my GCSE History group with an important revision lesson before tomorrow’s exam – before I hobbled back to my car and home.

I won’t be going in tomorrow at the very least. My little venture into the walking world caused significant heretofore unseen bruising. I hope I don’t lose the rest of the week. We’ll have to see how it goes.

Confusing Historical Fact and Fiction

I have the hardest time convincing some students that Jesus, regardless of what they think of His claims or the Church’s teaching about His Deity, was a real historical person. When I tell them that there is more documentary evidence for the historicity of Jesus than there is of Julius Caesar, invariably the response is, “Who was Julius Caesar?”

But it’s worse that I thought. According to a survey commissioned by UKTV Gold, 21% thought Winston Churchill was a fictional character. It wasn’t just Sir Winston whose reality was called into question. The further back in history, the more doubt prevailed. Thus 27% thought Florence Nightingale was mythical and 47% though Richard the Lionheart never existed.

On the other hand 58% thought Sherlock Holmes really lived. Only 53% acknowledge Richard I.

Free Day

I got to school this morning to discover that the power in the town was out with no expectation that it would return for several hours. Fortunately, we are not expected to teach in darkness. We had to stay long enough for the kids to get back on the buses and disperse into the countryside.

Today it is about 8°C (46F) with intermittent rain. The forecast for tomorrow is a high of 5°C with snow. Hopefully it will be enough snow to merit another free day. There are suggestions of 4 inches in low lying areas and 8 inches on higher ground. However, it is possible that the snow will be delayed until after everyone commutes into school before it dumps down, making it difficult to get home. So I’m hoping for early snow or no snow at all.

Parents Night

Tonight was Year 11 parents night. That’s when parents come in, annual report in hand, to discuss their child’s progress in the run up to GCSE exams.

I had about eight appointments. The only thing is that I teach every pupil in the school, including every Year 11. Virtually all of them will be sitting a GCSE exam in my subject. It is required. So where were the other 90 or so parents?

Of course many of them didn’t show up at all. It is a very rural school so it isn’t easy for many of them to get in. However, it was the ones who turned up and didn’t to see me that disappointed me. Didn’t surprise me. Just disappointed me.

One of the parents who had a appointment didn’t take it seriously at all. “It only religion, after all. You only need it if you are going to be an RE teacher or something like that.” So I painstakingly explained that we taught a philosophy and ethics syllabus and that the ethics issues we dealt with we the big ones that people deal with either personally or as a member of society – that we are the only subject that teaches thinking skills for critically evaluting these things. I explained that no, it isn’t about opinion – that just having an opinion is worth one mark out of twenty on each of the four exam questions.

Most of the parents milled around waiting to speak to the important subjects. They were happy to spend their time doing nothing, rather than taking five minutes to discuss how their child was doing in this GCSE subject. The kids can’t be expected to take the subject seriously if the parents openly don’t.

I have to say that other than the one parent who openly challenged the value of my subject, all of the others to whom I spoke were very nice. Because of that, I enjoy parents night. It’s great to talk to parents who care about all aspects of their child’s education.

History That Matters

I’m covering American involvement in the First World War with my Year 10s. Thursday I was showing a map of Europe in 1914 to demonstrate the changes in boundaries after the War (particularly as they relate to Wilson’s 14 Points) when I drifted over to the Ottoman Empire. I explained how all the countries in Middle East – Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and what would eventually become Israel – were all created out of the break up of the Ottoman Empire after the war.

Then, speaking of the Ottoman Turks, I mentioned the Armenian Genocide. At that point I reached a crossroads: I could either get back to the lesson plan, the scheme of work, and the exam syllabus, or I could give substantive time to the horrors of 1915. Modern pedagogy said to stick to the syllabus. If it’s not on the exam, they don’t need to know it. Teach the exam. Obviously, I went the other way. Two hours the other way.

None of my students will remember the 14 Points in five years time. Don’t get me wrong – they are still going to learn them and about the Lodge Reservations and how it all relates to Isolationism of the 1920s. But they won’t remember. However, if they learn about the Genocide – if they see the pictures and read about the atrocities – they may remember it.

But more importantly, they may leave school with an understanding of the sort of place the world is. They may appreciate the place they have found themselves in time and space and what a valuable thing it is to live in a peaceful corner of the world. Later they will learn about the Jewish Holocaust – you can’t get out of school without learning about that – but now they will understand that this isn’t just a thing that happened to Jews during the Second World War. It happens to Christians and it continues to this day in both the Genocide denial of the Turks and the systematic obliteration of the Armenian past in eastern Anatolia.

I may not have time or opportunity to cover the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33 or Cambodia or Bosnia or Rwanda, but I can a least do my part to see that the Armenians are not forgotten. If I can inspire one student to aspire to see that others are not forgotten, I will have done something worthwhile.

Paper Everywhere

The Year 11 reports are printed. I was late home tonight because after I dislodged some paper from my printer, it refused to work. This happened just after the computer tech went home and I couldn’t figure out how to network to a different printer. So I fiddled and fiddled with it, until for no apparent reason, it decided to start printing again.

I have doubts as to how many parents are actually going to read my reports. After all, if parents took my subject more seriously, some of the kids probably would, too. But no matter, reports are what we write.

We were told on our INSET day that PSE (Personal and Social Education) is moving toward an assessed model. Since we all teach PSE to our forms, there was a general outcry about more marking, especially marking that is very dubious in value. But everybody seemed to agree that if there was paperwork to be done, the Government would find more of it for us to do. We are an “eco school”, but even the students openly wonder how this can be when we go through so much paper. And every piece of it goes across a teacher’s desk.

Then there’s the post. Every day I get anything from a few to a stack of offers for every possible resource or course. Sometimes I get the same thing twice on the same day. It all goes in the bin.

I try to re-use worksheets and handouts. Nonetheless, my copies are slowly destroyed as they get used by three or four sets of pupils, and they supply has to be continually replenished.

My recycling bin is in constant overflow. But not with reports. Those end up in someone else’s bin.

And Now the Time Has Come. . .

Christmas break is not well and truly over. The INSET day is done and the kids come back tomorrow.

I’ve been scurrying to get all the new units of study in place and finish merging all of the Year 11 reports for printing.

I’d love to stay and chat but I must get back to it.

Paid to Misbehave

Figures released from the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed more of the nature of the Welfare State. As reported in The Times:

120,000 adults aged 18 to 34 have been on incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance for five years or more.

A further 130,000 have been on the benefit for at least two years.

An analysis of the figures for May 2007 shows that more than a third of the 289,150 adults aged 25 to 34 have been on benefits for more than five years . . .

A spokesman for the DWP said that 300,000 of the 504,000 young people claiming sickness benefit last May had mental and behavioural disorders.

Yes, they are claiming sickness benefit because they can’t behave. With the sort of young people that are leaving schools now, we can only expect these numbers to increase. Kids will have even less motivation to buckle down and do their work – they can be as disruptive as they want to be – even get thrown out when school governors can resist the pressure of the Government to keep them in the classroom – and they will still get an income from the State.

Negative Numeracy

My brother-in-law came across a news story from November in the Manchester Evening News demonstrating just how poor math skills are in this country. The story is just too good not to post in full, though I’ve highlighted a few things in bold:

A LOTTERY scratchcard has been withdrawn from sale by Camelot – because players couldn’t understand it.

The Cool Cash game – launched on Monday – was taken out of shops yesterday after some players failed to grasp whether or not they had won.

To qualify for a prize, users had to scratch away a window to reveal a temperature lower than the figure displayed on each card. As the game had a winter theme, the temperature was usually below freezing.

But the concept of comparing negative numbers proved too difficult for some Camelot received dozens of complaints on the first day from players who could not understand how, for example, -5 is higher than -6.

Tina Farrell, from Levenshulme, called Camelot after failing to win with several cards.

The 23-year-old, who said she had left school without a maths GCSE, said: “On one of my cards it said I had to find temperatures lower than -8. The numbers I uncovered were -6 and -7 so I thought I had won, and so did the woman in the shop. But when she scanned the card the machine said I hadn’t.

“I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher – not lower – than -8 but I’m not having it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Final Questions and Answers

To close out the year, we’ve been watching the last episodes of From the Earth to the Moon.

As each new year brings changes and developments, I can’t help but feel that we have stepped back from human potential. I’m not writing as a humanist, but rather as someone who sees human progress as a positive thing – a greater use of God given talent and ability.  At least by this end of 2008, we are promised the mission of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, to once again map out the surface and find good places for human to land.

2007 was a eventful year, There’s no need to recount all the major news that happened in the world. For me it brought a new job.

What 2008 we don’t know. There is talk of economic recession. There is an American presidential election. The only thing we know is that at this time next year, God will still be on the Throne.

The thing I wonder is whether anyone else’s life will be better because I was there. Will I be a better husband? A better father? A better teacher? Will I demonstrate any human progress of my own? Will history repeat itself and will I chalk these aspirations up as failures this time next year? Or is this the year I make my big move to difference? Will I stop asking all these questions?

I hope that you, the gentle reader, had a good 2007 and wish for you a better 2008. But whatever happens, remember, God is still on the Throne.

Phase Two

The grandparents have been delivered to their friends near the airport, ready for their morning flight back to the States. It seems strange to have them gone after a week. Child A1 cried for a long time after they left. Child A2 was unfazed, but I don’t think she realises that they won’t be back for six months.

This moves the holiday into Phase Two, marking the rest of the Year 11 mocks and writing the rest of the reports. The reports require the grades from the mocks and the reports are due on the day we go back.

I’m also trying to finish up Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare, so I can justify starting Eric Clapton’s autobiography. I get so many books on the go that I don’t focus on finishing them in a timely manner.