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Government can't let us down again

PUBLISHED: 11:45 14 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:21 06 July 2010

DURING the last hung parliament of 1974, teenagers left school with a satchel of life skills.

They could read, make a decent fist at basic arithmetic, rustle up a passable Victoria sponge, correctly compile a formal letter, point to Africa on a world map and produce presentable legible handwriting with a cartridge pen.

DURING the last hung parliament of 1974, teenagers left school with a satchel of life skills.

They could read, make a decent fist at basic arithmetic, rustle up a passable Victoria sponge, correctly compile a formal letter, point to Africa on a world map and produce presentable legible handwriting with a cartridge pen.

Today's school leavers just wouldn't have a clue - but they'd have no problem fitting a condom on to a cucumber in three seconds and reeling off their human rights.

The government should hang its head at how today's teenagers are equipped for life.

They go into the real world either with an inflated sense of their own ability waving their raft of A*s - A-pluses? There is no such thing -or they leave with Es and Fs, which are just as meaningless as a gauge to their ability and effectiveness in a workplace.

But, most shocking, is that one in five can't even read - or understand basic arithmetic. An illiterate, innumerate and virtually unemployable generation. Inadequate with the darkest of futures. Welcome to modern Britain.

That so many young people have not mastered one of the basic skills of life is as disturbing as hearing that a surgeon is hacking off limbs with a rusty saw and no anaesthetic or asbestos is back in building use.

In a modern, progressive developed country, more than 100,000 16-year-olds are spat out with no hope from a system that absorbs billions of pounds a year, effectively useless to make their own way in the world.

How can that be? How can it go on unchallenged?

What have these children been doing for 11 years in a school system? How can they be invisible in a structure designed to nurture and care? What have the teachers been doing? One in five school children cannot be unteachable.

The fact that 17pc of 16-19-year-olds are functionally illiterate, according to a professor at the University of Sheffield, should shock every one of us.

Extravagant investment into much-fan fared new fangled initiatives - usually translated as half- cocked over-hyped expensive and unproven ideas to bring up basic skills - has brought little or no change in the last 20 years.

The introduction of literacy and maths hours and one-to-one teaching has made no difference.

Perhaps it isn't shocking. Reading a book is so out-dated; it's a dying art. Look at teenagers' posts on Facebook- nothing is spelled correctly, apostrophes went out with the ark and any old syntax goes.

My sons tell me to “chill out, who cares?” when I wave angrily at a misplaced apostrophe.

The teachers' response is that a “long tail of underachievement long had been a feature of English education”. As if they'd had no responsibility to change that.

The head of the NUT said: “There are no magic solutions.”

We're not after magic; just decent effective teaching that they're paid to do.

Successive governments have let down our teenagers. They are either unemployable because they have no qualifications or out of work graduates up to their eyes in debt after achieving degrees that mean little in subjects that mean less and are irrelevant to employers who can't afford to take anyone on anyway.

A grand old mess really 13 years after “Education, education, and education.”

If and when a government emerges from the mire, those in power who had the benefit of an expensive private education - and have probably never met a 17-year-old who can't read -must put this right before another generation is failed and left to wither on the scrap heap.

Hanging in suspense, the nation has waited for an old Etonian and Westminster School boy to broker a deal to run the country.

Two silver-spooned men with so many millions between them they could probably buy the entire nation and get change to buy a slice of Europe too.

So nothing has changed with time.

David Cameron is joined in the House by a handful of old Etonian mates and, overall, the make-up of Parliament is more socially exclusive with the rich and privileged than it was in 2005.

The British electorate is still deferential to old money however much they pretend they are not, looking to those born into privilege and wealth with that natural confidence to rule to look after them.

Britain still embraces the notion of “born to rule” and is deeply suspicious of those without privilege who have worked hard for power and influence.

The British public gets what it deserves.

Parenting a premature baby is one of the toughest, anxious and heart-rending experiences there is.

So alarmist headlines like “premature babies 'feel more pain in later life' are neither helpful or positive for those enduring those worrying times now.

Friends who have babies born at 24-28 weeks say the opposite.

They all tell how the medical prods, pricks and poking which ultimately saved their babies' lives in their early months made them tough and feisty toddlers who would fall, graze a knee and bump a head and jump straight back on again enjoying life.

And they grew into feisty fearless children who rarely complained about pain.

Calorie Restriction is storming the land of plenty, America.

The diet and health regime is designed to stretch old age out to 120.

If nibbling on the odd nut and untainted grain makes someone happy, good luck. But fate does tend to govern a life span.

People so strung up on obsessions can be the first to keel over from the stress and strain.

A pint, a pie and a little bit of what you fancy lays the path for a happy fulfilled life than an over-long horrible one.

After all, reaching 65 eating nothing but millet and sipping spring water defeats the object if along comes that bus….

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Is it me or do the women spending the equivalent of a mortgage at cosmetic counters look far less well-preserved than those who splash their cheeks with cold water and get down the allotment?

Face creams are a big con but come with a feel good factor. We can all con ourselves that a £25 pot will perform miracles the £2.50 one can't. It won't, of course.

Now cheap-as-chips creams sold by German discount store Aldi are topping the effectiveness poll.

And tubs of creams sold for £8 in Boots have been found for £1 in Poundland with a new label stuck over the Boots one.

But show me a woman who is as confident and happy after slapping £1 gloop on her wrinkles as she is smearing on a fortune.

It might be madness but we fall for it every time because we're experts at the art of self-delusion. And it is one of the few things in life that make us feel good.

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The younger the eco-warriors are, the more effective they are. Adults don't like to be shamed by children into recycling and picking up litter.

Congratulations to the children at Foxborough Middle School for winning the “Suffolk - Creating the greenest county awards” in the waste, recycling and purchasing category. This school always pursues interesting challenging ideas that, as we know, help produce interesting and challenging citizens.

Let's hope the grown-ups don't let them down by dumping paper, bottles and plastic diligently recycled by the children into landfill sites.

That is the hardest lesson for children - adults do tend to let them down.

She's posed in her underwear, starred in Strictly Come Dancing and, cougar-like, launched herself on the dating scene.

But is the zing of HRT on the wane for Esther Rantzen who couldn't muster 2000 people to vote for her in Luton? I do hope so.

Rantzen has turbo-charged her way through her 60s in her in-your-face irritating manner.

She's been everywhere, sprawled in her lacy smalls, blathering on about being ready to love again four years after the death of her husband then storming into Luton in her black leather jacket.

She couldn't take a hint then. People have had enough of her. She is not invincible, she's infuriatingly self-opinionated, pompous and vain.

Luton has sent her packing. Let's hope the rest of the nation does too.

That's Life, Esther.

The balance between being a “good mother” - whoever she might be. I'd love to meet her? - and enjoying an independent life is something that troubles every mother. And that's an understatement.

Women talk about “getting it right” all the time

Should she sacrifice every ounce of herself for her children? Is she that mumsy woman in the cardie living life through her boys and girls?

Or is she the woman packing lunchboxes then dashing to work to be back at the school gates to run them off to football training before cooking a healthy meal from scratch and supervising homework?

Every mother I know struggles with this one. Is leaving children to their own devices neglectful and is looking after your own needs selfish?

The whole “good mother “ thing is indefinable yet every mother tries.

So the death of television executive Angharad Jones who walked into the sea to die because she felt she wasn't a good enough mother was a stop-and-think moment.

An intelligent, educated and high-achieving woman feeling so wretched about the job she had done with her 17-year-old daughter she killed herself is heart breaking.

Whatever the circumstances, a child wants a mother alive doing her best - and that's never perfect - than a mother dead from guilt about what she hadn't done.

Children need to see their parents mess up- and apologise for messing up. Fallible parents make balanced children.

We set ourselves such high standards. Ms Jones didn't deserve to die for making decisions that might not have best served her daughter - and her daughter certainly doesn't deserve the legacy of guilt.

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