Testing times

Today, in one of the myriad of initiatives for which this government (and its recent predecessors) are justly famed, tougher testing for new teachers was proudly announced.  Initiatives are supposed to be a prelude to action, but most of the governmental kind seem more an of an alternative to action and act as a prelude only to further initiatives.

Anyway, the latest “idea” is that new teachers should be tested to ensure that they have some basic skills in mathematics, literacy and reasoning (a suitably dumbed-down Trivium for the 21st century).  All good skills to possess and pass on to the young, but I found myself wondering why this has been limited to teachers.  I can think of a number of other groups who might benefit: MPs, those writing and reviewing tenders (or potential culls) and those hoping to work in the financial sector sprang rather quickly to my mind.

Perhaps the most pressing case might be the staff of the Daily Telegraph, who recently managed to produce the most massive fail spanning all three areas.  The dear old Torygraph manage to announce to the world that there were only 100 cod left in the North Sea – somehow ignoring the many tens of thousands caught by fisherfolk every day.  The actual number of cod left in the North Sea has been more accurately estimated at 400 million – so a mere 6 orders of magnitude out.  Their error was broadly the same as confusing the number of people aged 110 or older in this country with its total population.  Surely even the tea lady could have pointed out the idiocy of this claim before it was published.  Proper reading of the report on which they number was based, a little very basic maths or some very basic reasoning would surely have saved red faces all-round.

Talking of surprisingly large numbers, the splendid Hugo Rifkind reported – via Twitter- that the UK imported more than half-a-million ash trees from the EU in 2011.  Oddly, no-one was very interested in this stat – but ever the contrarian, I very much was.  Given their propensity to self-seed – my parents have to remove a number of imports new ash trees to match our imports from their lawn each year – it seems extraordinary that we are importing the things.  If anyone in authority is reading this blog, I can put them in touch with my progenitors who I’m sure would be willing to let a few hundred thousand ash tree seedlings go for a very reasonable price (buyer collects).  I am similarly amazed that we import mint – a plant described as mildly invasive in much the same way that the Poles would have described their German neighbours in 1939 – and rosemary which is quite rapidly taking over my garden (not down to my fingers having a particularly viridian hue and in despite of my benign neglect and attempts to eat it).  All these unnecessary imports must be doing little for local employment, our balance of payments or attempts to keep unpleasant plant diseases from arriving from overseas.  Perhaps, we should also add a little basic gardening knowledge to the new teachers’ Trivium when we make it a compulsory requirement for our leaders and policy makers.

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