R on’s Rambles


Once again the government is attempting to improve the public’s conception of technical education. The proposal is for a new post GCSE qualification called a T-level which is supposed to be on a par with A-level. As long as it has a different name I fear it will not be seen as on a par, if it is so to be then why not call it A-level? The A-level has a fairly clear public image, primarily as a prerequisite for a degree course, even if some fear that it has been dumbed down to some extent in recent years (I am not sure about ‘dumbing down’ but I do think that A-levels are still tough, certainly tougher than GCSE and tougher than some degree courses). The question in my mind is whether or not we are going to expect the same intellectual challenge in T-levels and, if not, should we regard the qualification as equal?
There is no doubt that courses in engineering, in the broad sense of the word, could be as intellectually challenging. Engineering is, to a large extent, applied science. One is not going to get very far in higher education in any engineering discipline without an understanding of the fundamental science underlying it. The old A-level Physics syllabus, dealing with electricity and magnetism, static forces, Newtons laws of motion, heat, light and sound, and the nature of matter, is essential background to my mind. An engineering A level would be little different except that it could give more engineering applications. It has to be supported by Mathematics, and once again much the same as A level maths. For some time we have had A level Design and Technology. IT and computer science are a must! Why would we want to start calling them T-level?
Of course engineering is far from the only ‘technology discipline’, computer science exists in its own right, materials science, chemistry, pharmacy, biology, medicine et al. I doubt that these disciplines would support a revolution of post GCSE education at A-level. Many students reject the intellectual challenge of these A-level studies, a decision largely made on the basis of their work at GCSE, seeking what they discern as the ‘softer’ option. Nevertheless most of those students do have their talents, and go on to study non-science and technical courses, often they are more creative and their creative abilities are no less valuable. There are many opportunities for students to develop their creative talents but I do not get the impression that this is the aim of the government’s T-levels. So what is the point of the T-levels? Do they want them to appeal to those students that are seeking the softer option, do they want them to be easier than A-level? If so why claim them to be equivalent? There is a danger that the public would soon see them as of a lower standard. As a nation, we need more people with technical knowledge and skills. Comparisons are often made with Germany where there are routes for young people to follow a more technical education that leads them into well paid careers as technicians in a variety of fields, not everyone wants a degree (or Dipl Ing in engineering). We have always had similar opportunities, currently there are NVQs and BTechs which can be studied at different levels, in the past we had Ordinary National Certificates, Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas, often studied part-time, and we may still do. HNC and HND were much valued by employers and public, and many holders went on to very successful careers. Is that not what we should be concentrating on in order to generate a pool of able technicians? Is that not what the higher levels of BTech are trying to do?
Whatever we do there is always a cultural problem in this country, which is linked to class. Historically the aristocracy sent their sons to public schools, after public school they went to university to study classics or theology, or they went into the army, as officers of course. It was beneath them to study anything that was useful and practical. Those who considered themselves upper-class followed suit. Later medicine became an acceptable study, largely, no doubt because they were increasingly aware of their dependence on doctors and were having to accept them in their homes as almost equals, but artisans were seen as servants and of a lower class no matter how skilled and intellectually clever they might become. That attitude persisted in the twentieth century and still persists in some quarters today, engineers and technicians are seen as lower down the social scale than medics, lawyers and bankers. Calling a new qualification that you wish to be equivalent to A-level a T-level, risks encountering the same problem once more.
If it is equivalent to an A-level. Call it an A-level.
If we want to increase the appeal of sub-degree technical education we should put the emphasis on that, emphasise the interesting challenge that technicians at this level can face and the potential salaries that they can achieve. This type of education needs to be done in conjunction with business and industry, the recent emphasis on apprenticeships is the key and industry has to play its part. Dumbing down degrees as a means of producing technicians without the close involvement of industry is not the answer. Apprentices need to have some pay and must have proper training, there has been instances of ‘sham apprenticeships’. Revising the old idea of Training Boards and Levies is a good start, what a pity that Maggie Thatcher disbanded them.

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News from Westminster

Competition was fierce and the adrenaline was pumping, with wheels burning the eager participants were ready for the off. No this was not the Swaffham raceway, though I did have the pleasure of being suited and booted to raise the chequered flag at the track last month, but it was the official opening of the new Feltwell Skate Park that I had been invited to open. There was some seriously impressive spins and jumps from the kids on display, my moves were a tad more constrained, and after a fantastic fund raising effort to secure the funds for the park, I know it will be a very popular asset to the village.

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On Saturday May 19, while millions were glued to their TV’s watching the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, three riders from the Magpie Centre, home of West Norfolk Riding for the Disabled Association, trounced the competition at Regional level to secure places in the RDA National Dressage and Countryside Challenge Championships, to be held at Hartpury, Glos on July 14/15.

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Did you have to use a slate at primary school? When I was at primary school, for the first year or two, we had to write on slates. Later, we progressed to the ink pens – more later. In order to wipe our slates clean, we had to knit dishcloths about six inches square, using needles about a foot long and half an inch thick. I found this experience really stressful and, having finally cobbled together something vaguely resembling a dishcloth, I vowed never to knit again. On several occasions, I have mentioned to people that I had to use a slate during my early education and, usually, I have been met with disbelief and ridicule by people, such as Management, who were educated in posher parts of the world and had pens and pencils from the earliest days. I used to walk two miles to and from school, usually sucking a cinnamon ball (4 for 1d from the penny tray) and not everyone will believe that, either. Only on reflection years later, do I realise how immensely patient was the shopkeeper, waiting patiently while the young schoolboy tried to decide whether to buy 4 aniseed or cinnamon balls, 4 black jacks, 2 traffic lights, 2 sherbet lemons, one liquorice stick in sherbet or one Gobstopper with his carefully nurtured penny.
Anyway, back to the slate. I had an hour to kill today so I popped into a little village cafe and delicatessen for a coffee and a read of my newspaper. Seated around a table were five ladies of my age, all knitting. (It turns out that, every morning from 10am to noon, it is open house for those who wish to attend the cafe to learn to knit or sew and drink discounted coffee). One of the ladies was the proprietor and, as she put down her knitting to make my coffee, she invited me to carry on with the knitting in her absence. Queue Nisbet’s slate story and the fact hat I had given up knitting in disgust 68 years ago. We all got chatting about the use of slates and, gradually, all the ladies recalled that they, too, had been forced to use slates. You know, a sheet of slate framed with wood and cleaned with the wretched dishcloth. Obviously schools in the Midlands were as deprived as my school up North. One lady remembered that her mother used to be really angry about all the chalk dust in her cardigan but none of them seemed to have had any trouble knitting the dishcloth. We then moved on to discuss our progression to pen and ink, The pen with the detachable scratchy nib and the inkwell filled daily by the janitor from a jug in which he had mixed the ink powder and water. This led one of the ladies to remember that her father had owned a nib-making factory and that she still had hundreds of these push-on nibs. We agreed that, in my style, she should hang on to them as they would probably “come in” one day, much like all the stuff in our attic. I look forward to my next chat with the old dears.
As I drove off in the car, a really doddery old lady was trying to cross the road. I stopped, as did a car coming the other way, to give her plenty of time and space. Suddenly, a blue light ambulance screamed around the corner and aimed for the gap we had left between our vehicles. Happily, the driver was alert!
Unhappily, my beloved Espace is in hospital with a broken front spring and a driver’s door window glass which lost the will to live and crashed down into the bowels of the door. She is mended now and ready for collection. It will be good to have her back as I still cannot work the Satnav in Deannie’s Mokka!
Joe died and his will provided £30,000 for his funeral. After the funeral, a friend asked Joe’s wife how much the funeral had actually cost. “\All of it” replied the wife. “The funeral cost £6,000, I donated £500 to the church, the wake, food and drinks cost £1200 and the rest went on the memorial stone” “£22,000 for a memorial stone” said the friend “How big is it?” “Two and a half carats” replied the wife
John asked his wife Mary what she would like for their 40th wedding anniversary. A mink coat, a Mercedes, beautiful new jewellery or a new home in the country were all turned down. Thoroughly exasperated, John asked Mary what she really would like. “I want a divorce” she said. “Oh” replied John “I wasn’t planning on spending that much”.
A young lady gave an old lady a lift. Having stared at a paper bag for some time, the old lady asked what was in it. “A bottle of wine I got for my husband” “Good trade” said the old lady after a moment’s thought. Best wishes to you all Ian Nisbet