The Week In Radio: Latin lesson that was a touch of class

Even if the Oscar-nominated Brit-flick, An Education, didn't strike a chord with the judges, it certainly struck a chord with me. I went to the school portrayed in the film and I remember the headmistress Ruth Garwood Scott even more fearsomely than Emma Thompson played her, a regally coiffed presence requiring pupils to line up and, amazingly, curtsey as we shook her hand. But that was then, and weirdo etiquette like curtsying is way off the curriculum now, replaced by texting tutorials and domestic violence role-play probably. Yet the question of precisely what children should learn at school is still wide open, according to Anne McElvoy, who is currently engaged in that nightmare modern quest – finding a secondary school for her 11-year-old son.

Unlike other parents, McElvoy has the advantage of being able to put the politicians on the spot, and in A Good School, she did this with wonderful incisiveness. "Is it just me having these problems?" she asked Ed Balls. "I think it's you," he said, because everyone else thought that under Labour, education was better than in recorded history. Even when he wasn't speaking, the figure of our education minister dominated this excellent documentary like the bully at the back of the class. He is anti-Latin, for example, because "very few businesses are asking for it". Which would suggest he thinks business should decide what gets taught in school. "Cui bono?" asked Anne, but if he got her meaning, he certainly wasn't letting on.

There was plenty here to get depressed about, from the new fashion for "lernacy" (don't ask) to the children who think "Winston Churchill is the dog who sells insurance on television", but Balls was by far the most depressing thing, a latter-day Gradgrind whose approach, according to David Wootton, history professor at York University, epitomises Bentham's idea of education to "maximise the benefits out of minimum investment and produce measurable outcomes".

Huge numbers of schoolchildren are giving up physics now, so bad luck if they tried to listen to Monday's Costing the Earth on nuclear fusion. I had to play it back twice and even then it was right at the top of the mind-boggle meter. What I grasped was that we're either a) within a whisker of realising this holy grail of energy that has the potential to save the entire world or b) chasing an expensive folly.

Either way, the images made wonderful listening. Tom Heap visited the Vulcan laser, the world's most powerful laser, which is buried in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside. "This control room looks like some kind of Sixties Dr Evil lair," commented Dr Kate Lancaster, cheerily. Fusion only works at enormously high temperatures – 20 times hotter than the core of the sun – where it turns matter into plasma, which is what the sun ands stars are made of. Co-incidentally, just down the road in the Jet facility at Culham, lives the biggest machine in the world, which looks "like a monstrous Meccano set" and is currently producing "the hottest temperature in the solar system" in an attempt to force particles to fuse.

Of course, like all physics, just when you thought you had grasped it, new problems arose. One is, it takes more energy to create a reaction than is produced. Another that the fusion fuel itself, tritium, is what you find in a hydrogen bomb, a detail that terrifies Greenpeace. Then there's the fact that there's only 20kg of tritium in existence. Oh, and it's going to cost billions, even before we know if it actually works.

Which brings us inevitably to accountants. "There are 300,000 accountants in Britain, which means that, as with rats, you're never less than a few feet from one" was Jolyon Jenkins's winning introduction to A Brief History of Double-Entry Book-Keeping, whose grand premise is that accountancy is no less than the history of civilisation itself. Double-entry book-keeping is at heart, he says, a religious impulse. It started in 14th century Italy because merchants needed to account for themselves to God but by the 19th century it had become an instrument of social control. By dividing up book-keeping, only the top people could understand the whole picture of a business. And now that Britain is overrun with accountants – there are more per capita than in the EU or America – we have become unwittingly engulfed in an "audit culture" by which everything from hospitals to blind dates must be rated and subject to performance indicators. Lucy Kimbell of Oxford University sent friends a form to audit her life, and found them perfectly happy to estimate her financial, social and cultural worth. She thinks our willingness to collude with narrow auditing mechanisms like school league tables is both "fascinating and horrifying". Indeed, you might agree, but just try telling that to Mr Balls.

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on The Crimson Field
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal