Tendring Topics…….on line
An Unappreciated ‘Gift horse’
The sage advice, ‘Never look a gift-horse in the mouth’, came to my mind when I read in the Clacton Gazette the scathing criticisms of the ‘paltry’ little Christmas Tree that was, in the first instance, installed on ‘Christmas Tree Island’ in Clacton-on-Sea’s town centre this year. It was only fifteen feet high and there’s no doubt that it did seem very small in that central position. However it had been donated to the town by the Federation of Small Businesses, an organisation that Tendring Council would surely wish to support, and similar trees had apparently been donated to other towns where they had been gratefully welcomed.
Fifteen Feet (over twice the height of even the tallest man!) isn’t such a very small Christmas Tree in most situations. I’d have thought that directly it had been received the council should have realized it was too small for ‘
’. They should have thanked the
Federation for their gift and explained that in the traditional situation it
would have been dwarfed by its surroundings.
It had therefore been decided to place it in the foyer of Clacton Town
Hall where it would be seen to full advantage by the Town Hall’s many visitors*. A fifteen foot tree certainly wouldn’t look small and paltry there. Christmas Tree
I am glad to learn that the Council raised enough money to obtain the kind of tree that we would all like to see in the town centre. Here it is; the splendid new tree ready for the lights to be switched on! Consultants Mott MacDonald who have been working on the council’s coast protection project donated £785 towards it and is says much for the spirit of goodwill of the Federation of Small Businesses that they also donated £200.
A happy ending! It’s easy to be wise after the event but I can’t help feeling that the Council might have handled the matter a little more tactfully and the Clacton Gazette might have refrained from publishing quite so many scathing comments about the original ‘gift horse’.
*I’ve no idea if that is what the Council will do with it, but it seems a good idea.
A Maelstrom of Migrants?
On New Year’s Day 2014 (just over three weeks from the date this blog is published) the flood-gates will open and migrants from
and Romania will be free to
come to the UK
and seek employment. Will there be, as
some sections of the press and some politicians prophecy (and perhaps secretly
hope!), a flood of them, all seeking our jobs, our homes, our health service
and social benefits?
Why is it, one wonders, that so many migrants some with traditions and cultures totally different from ours, seem so eager to travel not just from Europe but from the four corners of the world, to make their home here in
Britain. It certainly isn’t because they know they can
be sure of a warm welcome. Nor, I
think, is it to take advantage of our National Health Service, and it’s certainly not the generous way we treat our unemployed
and make sure that everyone in the UK has a roof over his or her head!
I think that one of the big attractions of the
UK is our English Language. In virtually every country in the world
English (usually, I fear, American
English!) is taught in schools. It
has become an international language.
Young people from every country in the world have learned enough English
at least to communicate with others and read the public notices and the
newspaper headlines. They know that that
will help them find accommodation and work.
Some probably speak fluent and grammatical English, better than at least
some British school-leavers who tend to use text-speak and to be incapable of
composing a sentence without inserting ‘like’ into it and concluding with,’Know what I mean?’ A
young Pole or Indian who speaks correct and clear English is clearly more
likely to get a job in a shop, a restaurant or any business dealing directly
with the public, than a Briton who is semi-literate and inarticulate
I won’t know, and the news-hounds of the Mail, the Express, the Sun and the Telegraph won’t know either for a few weeks whether the English language will have the same attraction to migrants from Bulgaria and Romania as it has to those from, for instance, Poland and Pakistan. I am inclined to think not.
Romania is to some extent an anomaly in eastern
Europe – its language derives largely from Latin (no doubt the result of Roman
colonisation two millennia ago!) whereas the languages of its neighbours, Bulgaria, Serbia
all resemble Russian and have a Slavonic source. There are already many Romanian migrants in
western Europe. They are not living in the UK
but have settled in Italy
where the languages sound and look familiar and are easier for them to learn. It is at least possible that new Romanian
migrants will do the same.
As for the Bulgarians, their language not only resembles Russian in its vocabulary and grammar but is written in the Russian (Cyrillic) script. In
Britain they wouldn’t even
understand public signs. Perhaps some of
those who have learned English will come here. I think it likely though that many will try to
settle in another EU country with a Slavonic language like the Czech Republic
or Poland. Public notices, road signs and press
headlines would look different but the words on them would at least sound
familiar and probably have a familiar meaning.
Will language decide whether that flow of immigrants from
in the New Year is a trickle or a deluge?
We’ll all have to wait and see.
‘Education, Education, Education’
Tony Blair declared before his successful election in 1997 that those three words spelt out his three top priorities in government. He even managed to introduce them into a Russian tv soap opera while on a visit to that country! An international nation-by-nation survey of success in three important aspects of education; literacy, mathematics and sciences has recently revealed that the
UK has slipped back. We are no
longer in the ‘top twenty’. It seems
that Tony Blair’s period in office, followed by that of the
Conservative/Lib.Dem. coalition has been far from successful in furthering
those educational priorities. Among
those whose results were better than ours were several far-eastern countries
notably South Korea and, in
Our Education Secretary, Michael Gove, certainly tries! Sadly, most of his ideas are met with derision or strong opposition by the teaching profession. He has been accused of trying to put the clock back. Surely, if some aspects of education in the past were better and more successful than those currently practised, that may well be the best course of action.
8 and 9 year-olds in
School, Ipswich in 1930
I am the little boy with glasses by the head-master’s right knee!
He would like to replace the assessment of a pupil’s progress by ‘course work’, by relying – as in the past – on the results of written examinations. I am sure that he is right. I use the Google search engine continuously to make sure that I spell names correctly, get dates right and that anything else that I write is as accurate as I can make it. It occurs to me that if, when I was at school in the early 1930s, we’d had laptops giving access to a such a search engine I could have used it to get full marks for most of my homework without actually learning anything whatsoever as I did so!
A class photo from an elementary school in the
area in the early 1930s. Heather Gilbert, my future wife, is the little girl in
the back row, second from the right.
In the ‘bad old days’ of selective education a child’s future was, so they say, decided by his or her performance in just one exam, the 11-plus, which decided whether they went to a grammar school or remained in a secondary modern. In the 1930s it was by no means as simple and straightforward as that. I have never understood how it was I found myself transferred from an ‘elementary school’ to a ‘grammar school’ at the age of ten. Perhaps someone had made a mistake. It certainly wasn’t because I was a child prodigy – I wasn’t! Heather Gilbert, my future wife, had a very different experience. Illness prevented her from taking the 11-plus (we called it the ‘scholarship exam’, in those days) However it was decided that she was a late developer and she was transferred from her elementary school to Wanstead County High School at the age of 13. She soon caught up with the others. The system really was flexible. No-one’s future was fixed inexorably at the age of eleven.
That ‘grammar school education’ that Heather and I both enjoyed was the first step in what is nowadays called ‘social mobility’. It made it possible for us to move from the ‘aspiring working class’ to the very lowest fringes of the ‘lower middle class’. That was thanks to ‘selective education’. I think that my two sons were at the
when the school changed from ‘selective’ to ‘comprehensive’. Comparing the number of CCHS pupils who go on
to good universities today with those who did so in the early 1970s (in 1971 my
elder son was one of four students who went on to Cambridge and I don’t think
it was an exceptional year) I can only conclude that Clacton County High School
is now failing its brightest pupils.
Since it is trying to cope with every level of intelligence and of
eagerness to learn (or determination not to!) it is probably failing its less academic pupils too. This is almost certainly happening all over
the country – hence the results of that damning international survey. Clacton County High School
There are of course still plenty of selective schools – they are the private ones ranging downwards from such famous institutions as Eton and
Harrow. They select their pupils not on the basis of
ability and enthusiasm for learning (though most have a minimum standard – for
which privately-run ‘prep schools’ prepare them)) but on the ability of the
parents to pay the school fees! It isn’t
surprising that they out-perform state comprehensives at preparing students for
universities and ‘white collar jobs’. The
result is that there are even fewer opportunities for social mobility today
than there were from the 1930s to the ‘60s.
Is that really what we want?