We didn't go in for all this sex at my alma mater

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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THE VEXED issue of education is in the air once more. Now THAT'S an attention-grabbing opening sentence for you (I jest!). Ever topical, this column will today turn its attention to the whole question of Education, complete with one or two pithy words of advice to that most delectable of Education Secretaries, Mrs Gillian ShephArd (three marks off for incorrect spelling of your own surname, Mrs S!!!).

Education. The word derives from the Latin: educo, meaning literally, "I will have been defeated" and cationis meaning literally, "Cat-O-Nine- Tails, a good thrashing with". I doubt whether today's teachers, lecturers, "activists" and assorted filthy neckers have much knowledge of Latin, but it would do them no harm to gen up on the etymology of their chosen subject. "I will have been defeated by a good thrashing with the cat o' nine tails": this strong, positive, punitive aspect of education has, I fear, been too oft neglected in these dread times.

What is going on in our schools? The average student is being handed a selection of A-Levels for being able to name all the numbers from one to 10, though not necessarily in the right order. Sighting such a mathematical genius, the Vice Chancellor of The University of Nuneaton By-Pass (!!!) immediately dips into his bulging bank account to offer him - or her! - a vast cash hand-out as a reward for taking up a place at his seat of learning. And what will the aforesaid student have learnt upon completion of his 16-odd years of education at the taxpayer's expense?

a) The pop-group currently topping the Hit Parade.

b) How to wear a "condom"(dread word!) on one's head or upper forearm.

c) Six different ways for a young man to become a lesbian.

What a far cry it all is from my own alma mater, the famous Basters Hall (school song: "Baste Up, The Basters! Baste Up, Baste Up, and Baste the Ball!"). To my mind, the traditional English education offered by Basters equipped its pupils (Old Basterds include Judge Jeffries, Mr Perkin Warbeck, Mr Alvin Stardust, Lord Parkinson, Dr Crippen, Mr Martyn Lewis and Lord Wyatt of Weevil, and for no little time Mr Jeffrey Archer was the distinguished Head of Basters' English Department) with all that is required for a full and rewarding life. If Mrs Shephard wishes to set her house of education in order, she need look no further than Basters Hall.

I hear to my horror that pupils these days are allowed to smuggle dictionaries, encyclopaedias, set-texts and whatever into the examination hall. What could be more absurd? Towards the end of my time at Basters, I was lucky enough to be taught by the young Norman Tebbit, who happened to be teaching us English Poetry for a term before gaining his wings and taking up his chosen career as an airline pilot. Norman was, as you might imagine, a stickler for learning by heart. Wishing to cover as much ground as possible in the time available, he forced us to learn and recite the first lines from more than a hundred famous poems.

"I wandered lonely as a cloud" we would begin. "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, April is the cruellest month, Tyger Tyger burning bright, Half a league, half a league, half a league onwards, I must go down to the sea again ..." To this day, I can recite all these first lines word-perfect, and my old friends on Punch will attest to the fact that a weary Punch lunch would often be enlivened by a swift canter by Uncle Wallace through Mr Tebbit's Immortal Canon.

And Mrs Shephard would do well to copy Basters' great emphasis on sport, sport and yet more sport. Worried lest lively young minds learn more than was strictly good for them, the Headmaster wisely instituted three hours of sport each morning and a further three hours each evening, as well as floodlighting all the dormitories to prevent any nocturnal "goings- on" taking place beyond his watchful gaze. Like many of our great public schools, Basters had, over the years, established its own idiosyncratic variations to cricket, football and rugger. In cricket, for instance, it was an old Basters tradition that the use of a cricket ball was immensely vulgar, leaving who was in and who was out and how many runs were scored wholly to the umpire's discretion.

This may have seemed unfair at the time - particularly when, in the first five minutes of his innings, Arbuthnot Minor was awarded two full centuries by the umpire, Mr Arbuthnot - but, my god, it taught us a thing or two about real life. But what will young lads today learn of real life now they are denied Latin, no-ball cricket, school songs and single-sex schools?