Summer solecisms

30th May 1997 at 01:00
It's howlers time again: that happy time of the year when examination markers relieve the tedium of their job by making fun in public of children's mistakes. The introduction of externally marked national tests for 14 and 11-year-olds should result in a boom in unintentional double entendres produced under extreme stress. What fun.

Just to even things up a little, let me report a few adult slips that have come my way recently.

There was David Blunkett, being interviewed on the radio: disgraceful, he said, that so many children failed to reach their chronological age by the time they were 11. Yes, I know what you mean, David.

And whose idea was it to set a text for key stage 3 national tests that celebrates gang warfare and underage sex, not to mention glamorising teenage suicide? Don't they get enough of this sort of thing on EastEnders and Brookside? Just because it is Shakespeare does not mean it is suitable.

Typing up parents' comments on the questions in our annual survey has been shocking too. Should I preserve the misspelling and the split infinitives as evidence that standards are not failing after all? One parent tells us that her daughter has been subjected to pier (sic) pressure on the subject of school uniform. Surely this is forbidden under the Geneva Convention? And the apostrophe is dead. Parents have abandoned it altogether. Teachers still use it, but frequently in the wrong place.

"Take your daughter's (sic) to School Day" urged a letter from my son's school. My daughter's what, exactly? Lunch box? Hamster?

Teachers clearly should be assessed. One indignant parent told us so when the primary league tables were published. We did not send in our national curriculum teacher assessment scores as our protest against the decision to publish them, but the parent was incensed that other schools had their teachers assessed and published the results and we did not.

Nursery vouchers too have provided a rich source of confusion and misinformation. From the nice lady in our village who runs a nursery school - "It's ridiculous, my mummies will never be able to afford Pounds 1,100 a year" - to the forward-thinking young man who called our local helpline. "Do you have a four-year-old?" he was asked. "No, but my girlfriend thinks she's pregnant. " Then there was the proposal that the village playgroup where I have taken children for the past 20 years should re-designate itself a pre-school as it is now registered to take vouchers. I opposed this passionately, citing all the values of learning through play and parental involvement which make playgroups special. "It was my proposal, but after listening to Joan, I think I am voting against it," said the chair.

Yes, I did say chair. I answer to anything, but the gender-conscious staff at my school have trained me to refer to myself as an item of furniture. Unfortunate, then, that some reactionary gremlin at The TES corrected all references in a recent diary of mine on the role of the chairperson chairholder from chair to chairman. The staff will never believe it was not my fault.

No wonder that it is difficult for children to take adults, and teachers in particular, as seriously as they might like.

A friend of mine is that rare creature, a male nursery school teacher. He had been for an interview, dressed in an unaccustomed suit, and decided to go straight back to the nursery afterward. His unusual appearance was noted by one of his small pupils. "Hello, Mr Brown. Have you been to work?" Joan Dalton is a governor in the East Midlands

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