Education: Word of Mouth

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Diplomacy will out

When Clare Barrington launched her beautifully researched Irish Women in England at North London University's Irish Centre the other day, she brought along her husband, Ted. To you, that's His Excellency Ted Barrington, Ireland's ambassador. I asked him what he thought of Pauline Collins's version of The Ambassador, the BBC's most recent piece of compulsive Sunday night viewing. He'd seen only one episode but "quite liked it", he said diplomatically. "Mind you, I've been receiving some strange letters since it started." One woman wrote to say she had "no idea you were so powerful". She then appealed to him to do something about her mortgage. "I'm afraid we're not really like the character Pauline Collins made us out to be." His wife's book, on the other hand, is exactly right. This annotated bibliography shows that more Irish women than men crossed the sea to England since 1880, most of them single and alone. It deals with these women as politicians, prisoners, activists and lesbians. Clare, who obtained her master's degree in Dublin, learnt how to dig for information from the wise Heather Creaton at London University's Institute of Historical Research. Clare has now gone a step further and is studying librarianship at Thames Valley University.

In praise of closure

A school the London borough of Camden that is about to close (for failing to come up to scratch in GCSEs) has just been inspected by Ofsted and guess what: not only has it been given a clean bill of health, but it has received high praise for its teaching and learning methods. The school, whose pupils were found to be "always good and often excellent in all lessons" and, though still achieving below national expectations, were "achieving in line with their ability and often above, orally", is the Roman Catholic St Richard of Chichester. An account of the HMI report, which has yet to be published, was presented at last week's meeting of Camden's education committee, by the school's head teacher, Paul Segalini. Some councillors tut-tutted and mumbled into their chins. Yet, despite the praise, St Richard's will still be axed this summer.

School league nailed

Another school, this time a primary in neighbouring Haringey, though not under sentence of death, finds itself in a similarly "ironic" position. South Harringay Junior School's teachers have been described as "good and caring" in an Ofsted report. It also found a "positive attitude to learning" and harmony between the "many social groups living in the densely populated neighbourhood". Thirty-one different languages are spoken at the school and, until recently, many children, most of them refugees, spoke no English at all. Despite a huge pupil turnover, the school was unceremoniously confined to the lower end of the recently published league tables. Why? Because pupils did not score highly enough in the national tests. Well, of course they didn't. Who could expect them to? Now their case has been argued by Alison Assiter, head of social studies at the University of Luton and vice-chair of the school's governors. "The league tables for our school are demoralising and discouraging," says Professor Assiter. "Our particular circumstances were simply ignored. The tables create a damaging effect on the school's attempt to integrate children from a wide variety of backgrounds." Professor Assiter is right, of course. Whatever has happened to "value added"?

Bored or bourred

How often have you heard people, particularly those of the younger variety, say they are bored? Boring is about as abused a word as "y'know" at the end of virtually every sentence. So where on earth did it originate? Dictionaries are not precise. My Shorter Oxford finds earliest examples of the word cropping up in 1766, but it admits there is no real explanation. Now along comes Tony Thorne, head of the English Language Centre at King's College, London University who agrees that it was first uttered in the mid-18th century. But, he told Laurie Taylor, who runs Radio Four's Afternoon Shift and must be the wittiest professor in the Beeb's captivity, that the word "boredom" did not appear in writing until 1852 when Dickens produced it in Bleak House. And, says Thorne, the origin is the French bourrer, which means to pad or stuff, rather than "bore" as in drill. Thanks for that. And if the BBC carries out its threat to axe Afternoon Shift, I shall happily tell Mr Birt to get bourred ...

And finally ...

"I don't want to be a nurse 'cos it's badly paid and long hours, so I'm going to be a hairdresser instead." (Quoted by Nick Foskett, senior lecturer in education at the University of Southampton and director of the Centre for Research in Education Marketing in an article on vocational programmes in Education Marketing, the Heist journal.)