Do it for the kids: A reflection on the grammar school system

I never find time to write so much anymore, or to research the little fascinations that would grab me as I delve deeper into the world of the past. But, I did want to make time to reflect on a research presentation that I watched this morning.

Our education system survives by labeling pupils. Even if a student will never know it, the world that they move in everyday is fraught with name-calling, segmentation, categorisation, etc. You could be FSM, EAL, SEN, PP, MAT, in need of intervention, TA supported, on a behaviour report, and so on. Most of these labels, and the tests that ascertain whether you deserve them are solely for the benefit of the pupils. Whether that be so that they can be provided with adequate sustenance, provided with extra funding or provided with a little extra support in and out of lessons.

There are hundreds of tests like this, and thousands that will determine your IQ level, intellect, and qualifications. But, there are few like the 11+. No other test carries such cultural significance, in terms of separating those who can pass from the meager ‘rest’. No other test, rests so highly on your economic background, and whether daddy can afford a tutor. No other test, quite like this one, generates that ‘make or break’moment for people so young.

‘You need to pass this test, darling. You don’t want to go to that horrible school with all the other children…’

What effect is this immense pressure having on today’s youth? Children are reaching high school with anxiety problems, high stress levels and eating disorders. Is it right that children are being forced to fight for a place at a school where it is largely predetermined who will succeed the entrance exams based on wealth and primary school attendance?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. Nor do I know a great deal about the system. But it was heart-wrenching and fascinating to question it for a while this morning.

Let me know what you think


Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat

I was wondering about the origin of that little quote on our new £5 note and I found this transcript of the full speech. I thought I’d share an extract with you as I found it such an interesting read:

In this crisis I think I may be pardoned if I do not address the House at any length today, and I hope that any of my friends and colleagues or former colleagues who are affected by the political reconstruction will make all allowances for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act.

I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – Victory in spite of all terrors – Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Let that be realized. No survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge, the impulse of the ages, that mankind shall move forward toward his goal.

I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

If you want to read the rest of this speech, I found it here.

The Crusades – BBC Documentary

Just a week before I am about to sit an exam regarding the Third Crusade and its characters, I have stumbled across a brand new BBC Four documentary series narrated by leading Crusade historian Thomas Asbridge. It has so far covered the causes of the Holy War, the Battle of Hattin in 1187 and the relationship between Richard I and Saladin amongst other topics.

Now I can revise without lifting a single page. What luck!

The Lotto Craze

It is driven into the human psyche that if there exists a small chance of something happening to a person, that person might be you. You might refuse to go out in a thunderstorm because you might be hit by lightning. You might refuse to travel by aircraft because there was a report on the news about another missing plane. You might buy a lottery ticket twice a week, every week for the rest of your life because, well, somebody has to win it.

It took twenty years and six months (four years and six months if we are only counting the time from which I could actually buy a lottery ticket) for me to catch the bug. All my life I have seen my Dad carry lottery tickets in his wallet or back pocket, heard my Mum discuss her disdain for people who don’t pay their fair share of the lottery syndicate at work and heard friends talk about what they would do if they were to actually hit the jackpot.

However, it wasn’t until the £66 million rollover last weekend that I had ever considered playing. This wasn’t because a few million wasn’t enough for me to spare a £2 coin, but because of the hype and the energy that this particular draw had created. I was constantly amidst friends talking about how they would spend their winnings and promising that it wouldn’t ‘change’ them. But, really? Could winning more than £50 million not affect you as a person?

The National Lottery of the United Kingdom has been operating since 1994, when it was established by the government of John Major. There have been many winners of the jackpot, defying the odds of a reported 1 in 45,057,474 chance to match all six balls. There were even a total of 133 claimants to one particular draw in 1995 which split the winnings for each down to £122,510. Gutted.

There exists a wealth of time and effort that has been spent on analysing Lotto statistics and attempted predictions, with Derren Brown even having a go. The most common lottery numbers stand at 23, 30, 33, 38, 40 and 44, whilst the most overdue are 5, 6, 16, 33, 36 and 45. But does deciphering the perfect combination of these numbers mean that you are guaranteed to win? No! Should you choose special birthday dates or phone numbers? Should you only play on a Wednesday? Ask a psychic? Or let your chicken walk on a calculator? (There’s an interesting story behind this one that I might follow up with.) No! Because, mathematically, every ball has an equal chance every time and has done since the very beginning in 1994. (However, if I have helped you win, and you’re feeling generous… wink wink)

I have thought long and hard about what I would do if I had been The One. Unsurprisingly, I very quickly came up with a long list of spends. I would have allocated £1,000,000 each to my sister, mother, father, boyfriend and best friend. But that would still leave me with £61 million. So, then I also doled out money to my grandma, grandad, uncles and aunties, and good friends. But that would still leave me with £50 million.

So, then I would have a nice house or two, a nice car or two, a holiday or three, leave my job and pay my bills. But I can’t imagine it is humanly possible to spend any more than £5,000,000 on my own without drastically altering my lifestyle and leaving behind all the people that I love and have built my life around. So, I would have to throw a lot towards charity. Not due to some greater humanitarian sensitivity or because it is the ‘right thing to do’, but in order to protect any sense of self I wish to retain!

Lest we forget that the odds of matching all six numbers exceed the odds of having identical quadruplets, which stands at around 11 million to one. So, to sum up, I’ll still be reporting to work at 9am on Sunday morning.


The story of Lazarus of Bethany, as I have recently been told, is the climactic story which demonstrates the power of the Jesus as he overcomes man’s biggest fear and truest enemy, death. After four days, Lazarus is brought back to life in a demonstration of Jesus’ almighty force, like his father before him. The name is a symbol of the restoration of life in the hands of the Lord.

Look up here, I’m in heaven

Bowie, Lazarus

Poignantly, Bowie told his fans a matter of days before his death today that they had to look to heaven to see the star. The Telegraph reported that Tony Visconti, producer of Bowie’s Blackstar, has released a statement declaring that the album was timed as a parting gift to his fans.

In its staging, his death very much became an extension of his life in that it has become an artful masterpiece which has touched millions in a matter of hours.

Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a metre and stepped aside

Bowie, Blackstar

His final album painted a beautiful and haunting picture of how he wished to share the story of his final months and of his death. He steps aside to rest from the business of mortal life, and transcends leaving us only the legend.

You know, I’ll be free, Just like that bluebird
Ain’t that just like me

Bowie, Lazarus

Artists across the globe have today and previously declared to what extent the star had influenced them ranging from Madonna to Boy George, and from the Arctic Monkeys to Marilyn Manson.


Bowie also had an enormous influence on the fashion industry, and on the perceptions of homosexuality and sexual identity. A truly inspirational figure and timeless icon.

jpgAfter eighteen months battling with cancer, it is reported that Bowie passed peacefully in the company of his family. It came as a shock to the world after Bowie had kept his illness and deteriorating condition quiet, however, he had left subtle messages to his fans. The most haunting of which comes in his opposing selves in the video for Lazarus. You can watch it here.

Rest in peace, 8.1.47-10.1.16.



A Day in the Life of a Plantation Mistress

For a seminar coming up in the next two weeks, we have been tasked with writing through the eyes of somebody involved with slavery. As I imagine the role of the plantation mistress will be largely overlooked by those eager to write as slaves or masters, I took it upon myself to complete the task.

(I also thought this was similar to the crime monologues I had been looking at recently)

I am open to constructive criticism on what I have written, if anybody is interested!

Dear diary, my only friend,

I am endlessly lonesome. I awoke alone in my four-poster bed, with my husband already out on the fields, tending to the Negroes. It must have only been about half past seven, based on the soft autumn light filtering through the silk curtains in our bedroom. He had been leaving earlier and earlier lately, and I am certain that I know the whole truth of why without asking.

It weighs heavy on my mind, ever since that jezebel birthed another pup earlier this month, that Charles spends many unnecessary hours amongst the slave huts.  There are many rumours about the place that the horrid little Negro is too pale to have been fathered by anyone other than my husband, and in their idiocy they do not believe that those rumours reach up here to the house. Nonetheless, I have a sharp enough tongue and a strong enough wrist to whip the little whispers out of the filthy liars that serve in the Big House.

I decided to promote that Sarah into the position of my hand maid. For the first day she sobbed, devastated by being brought so far from her child, so I told her that today she could bring it and have it sit in a basket by the door while she tended to me. The moment I set eyes on the child my heart ripped in twain. I looked into its crib and my Charles looked back. I was shocked and sickened to see the truth.

Though it was impossible to miss the pain that that Negress was in from childbirth and working in the cotton fields under the careful watch of the overseers, I could not help but smack her. I wiped the dozy smile of a new mother from her face with the back of my gloved hand as she looked upon the wretched infant. I knew it was not her fault and I was surely not doing it as punishment, since I could have easily hit her with something else, if that was so. I suppose I did it due to the shock, the sudden realisation that the man I had married and doted upon and adored had thought it acceptable to deflower this woman and have her in our house. I suppose I did it because it was not until that moment of truth that I fully understood how trapped I was and how little he thought of me.

To him, I am nothing now. I am no more than one of Them.