Richard Ingrams’s Week: Must do better - Sir Jim needs a lesson in language

Saturday 02 May 2009 00:00

The education establishment has a vested interest in promoting the use of computers. Those in charge look forward to a golden age when the internet becomes the sole source of all information, thus enabling them to dispense altogether with books, which are expensive, untidy and take up a lot of room.

So I am not surprised that in his report on the future of primary education published this week, Sir Jim Rose, a former schools inspector, proposes that computer studies should be made what he calls "a core skill" alongside literacy and numeracy.

We have not been told very much about Sir Jim apart from the fact that he is a former schools inspector. Nor is it at all clear why this man should be given the rather important task of deciding what children should be taught in schools.

Two things, however, are generally true of people like Sir Jim. The first is that they are guaranteed to be several years out of date. Thus he recommends compulsory computer skills for primary school children just at the very time when people have begun to realise that computers cannot only become addictive but may actually help to lessen the attention span to an alarming degree.

Secondly when the Sir Jims of this world pontificate about the need for clear speaking they will themselves do so in impenetrable jargon of the worst kind.

Thus Sir Jim dictates: "Deferring school entry on the grounds of a child's date of birth, language delay or social factors, for example, as their peer group moves on from early-years provision to a reception class is shown by recent research to be questionable."

No one capable of constructing a sentence like that should be allowed within a mile of a primary school.

There is never enough evidence

We are not looking for anyone else. That is the traditional response of the police when faced with the acquittal of men they are convinced were guilty all along. They were at it again this week when three men accused of assisting the 7 July suicide bombers were found not guilty. Andy Hayman, former commissioner of Special Operations at Scotland Yard, wrote of "a sense of bitter disappointment" at the acquittal of the men. And this he said was probably "the last throw of the dice". The police had done a very thorough investigation but the evidence was "not convincing enough".

The implication is clear. The men were almost certainly guilty. The police just didn't have the evidence to prove it. At no point was Hayman prepared to admit that they might just have been innocent. As it happened, the acquittal of the three men coincided with the reopening of an appeal case in a terrorist attack far more serious even than that of 7 July – the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 which resulted in the deaths of 270 people.

The Libyan convicted of the bombing, Mr Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, began an appeal in Scotland against his conviction in 2001. Megrahi did not have the benefit of a jury trial but was found guilty by three Scottish judges who persuaded themselves that he had put a bomb in a suitcase in Malta which went unaccompanied to Frankfurt where it was loaded on to another plane to Heathrow before being transferred on to Pan Am Flight 103 to the US and exploding over Scotland.

Should Megrahi's appeal succeed, it will be interesting to see if the Scottish police say that they are not looking for anyone else.

Ah, sweet mysteries of life: we salute you

My old friend John Michell, who has died, was dismissed by many people as a crank. That was because he wrote at length on subjects such as Stonehenge, flying saucers and alien abductions. He even for a time edited a magazine called The Cerealogist devoted entirely to the controversy about corn circles.

The mistake his critics made was to assume that John necessarily believed in little green men from outer space. All he was trying to say, with great good humour, was that there are a lot of things about this world of ours that are mysterious and which are likely to remain so – a point previously well made by Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Although they have been appearing in Britain now for about 20 years, the corn circles have yet to be explained. And regardless of their origin John was at pains to point out that a great many of them were artworks of singular beauty.

But John's delighted insistence that mystery is an essential element in our lives was something that caused intense irritation to scientists, many of whom want desperately to believe that there is nothing, however obscure, that they cannot explain. Richard Dawkins in particular was said to grow purple in the face at the mere mention of John's name.

Being a naturally good-humoured, mild-mannered person, John never showed any anger over this reaction, which only succeeded in maddening his critics even more.

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