Do record GCSE results mean kids are getting cleverer?

All morning news has been coming in that it’s been yet another record-breaking year for GCSE results. In fact, the pass rate has risen for the 24th consecutive year since the exams were first taken in 1988. Why does that not come as a surprise?

No disrespect to all those happy teenagers (mainly girls it seems) who are currently basking in the glow of their multiple A* passes, but these ever-improving grades simply show that surely exams must have got easier over the last couple of decades. It’s either that or kids are getting brighter year-on-year, and let’s be honest, why would that be very likely.

You only have to hear many of them speak – or not, as the case may be – to know that this is not a generation where all teenagers come with a staggering IQ or an unusually high grasp on politics, current affairs, the English language, history, world geography or even basic common sense. But this is hardly surprising.

Generation Y is one that has grown up with a rather unhealthy obsession towards body size, fame, fashion and endless low-life celebrities. It’s a generation who seems to believe that 5 minutes of fame on the TV or a few hits on YouTube will automatically equate to a gilded life free from work. It’s a generation who spend 99% of their time physically attached to a mobile or laptop and experience genuine withdrawal symptoms if unable to access Twitter or check their Facebook feed. It’s a generation who have all but obliterated good grammar and basic spelling from the English language, just to ensure it’s quicker and easier to text.

So when those in charge of all things ‘education and exams’ rubbish claims that exam questions are being dumbed down and expectations lowered, or in the case of  Andy Burnham – Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary – claim that “Exams are not getting easier; young people are working harder than ever before” you know it’s all a load of tosh.

Go back 20 years and those sitting GCSEs – the incredibly smart kids included – simply weren’t achieving the ‘record breaking’ 13 A* grades that so many now seem to get. So does that mean we were all dimmer back then or just didn’t try quite so hard? Hardly. If anything we had far more time on our hands to get the work done and a lot more motivation to pass.

We were a generation without celebrity lifestyles to emulate and affordable fashion to religiously follow. We were a generation without mobiles, computers, social networking and trash TV. We were a generation who knew that the only realistic way to earn any money once leaving school was through plain hard work.

And on top of all that, the subjects that we had to study were restricted to the traditional (harder) academic ones such as foreign languages, science and humanities. Of course we may not have actually enjoyed these subjects we were forced to choose from but at least we all covered the basics: the monarchy that shaped this country; the wars which changed the world; the geological forces that formed the planet; the human biology that keeps us reproducing; and those all essential language skills which enable us to ask directions to the nearest railway station when lost in La Rochelle.

Today students are turning their backs on these subjects. Why? Because they find them ‘boring’ and ‘completely irrelevant’. The truth is they also find them a little bit too much like hard work. After all, why waste your time learning about rivers and volcanoes or trying to memorise the periodic table when instead you can pass the time getting better grades in music, drama and P.E? Nothing against those subjects I hasten to add, but at school we covered them in addition to our other lessons, we didn’t plump for an ‘A’ in recorder and a ‘B’ in advanced trampoline.

Of course those in charge of ‘education and exams’ will once again claim these vocational subjects are more geared up to the job market today. But how can it be better to miss out on so much? If students aren’t learning a broad range of subjects at this age how can they possibly emerge into the workplace with a well-rounded education?

Surely that’s the whole point of school isn’t it? As far as I was aware, all those years spent stuck behind a desk were never intended to be a walk in the park or as enjoyable as a day out at Alton Towers. School was meant to be a place where children filled their sponge-like minds with as much information about as many things as possible, not to mention learn that sometimes in life you just have to do things you don’t always enjoy. But obviously I’m well out of touch with the whole point of  education today.

Yes it’s true that I’ve probably forgotten all of the German and much of the French I learned, and I’m sure I probably yawned my way through 100’s of years worth of mind-numbing historical facts. I certainly hated chemistry with a passion and maths sure as hell hated me. But regardless of that, or whether any of it has been relevant to my adult life, I still had the opportunity to find out a little bit about everything.

So it does seem a great shame that traditional subjects such as English, history, geography and science are being ‘dumbed down’ and so many schools are not even offering core subjects anymore, let alone encouraging students to give them a go? Because let’s be honest, there’s no point studying drama, media studies or sociology at GCSE level if, when you then open your mouth as an adult, you have absolutely nothing of interest to say – or think that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1966 and Asia is a small island located off the south of France.

Obviously there’s no disputing there are countless students who worked like demons and deserved the high grades they received. Or the exceptional clever clogs who passed maths at the age of 6. Or the many great schools which produce brilliant results. But what about the others – the majority that make up the rest of the exam entrants?

There are 10’s of 1000’s of kids who don’t bother listening in class and plenty more who don’t bother showing up until the day of the exam? There are kids who, through no lack of effort on their part, just don’t make the grade. And let’s not forget the huge numbers of badly performing schools which apparently produce consistently poor results year after year?

If GSCEs really are as tough as ever how on earth is it possible for nearly a quarter of all girls sitting exams this year to have been awarded an A, not to mention the 1 in 12 who are also expected to also earn a coveted A*? Doesn’t really add up to me, especially when the average exam-sitting teenager I come across these days seems more interested in straightening their hair, updating Face Book and completing a 140 syllable tweet.

Hopefully next year things will change as the Government look to introduce the English Baccalaureate – a school ‘leaving certificate’ that rewards children for gaining at least a C grade in the five disciplines  of English, mathematics, science, foreign languages and humanities.

The bite-sized modules that pupils can re-sit to boost their overall grades in favour of traditional end-of-course exams will also be abolished and, more worrying for pupils who live to text, those taking English language and literature will now be penalised by as much as 12% for the grammatical errors they make.

My grammar probably isn’t what it should be, but here’s a couple of helpful hints for those currently ploughing their way through endless poetry or The Catcher in The Rye: ‘8’ (as in gr8 or h8) is not an acceptable replacement for any vowel and writing ‘bcoz’ probably won’t win you any brownie points.



How NOT to stop kids having sex

I haven’t had much time to write recently – work and migraines have been getting in the way – but today I saw a headline flash past my eyes and I had to have my say.

So what caught my attention? Condom’s for 12-year-old boys, that’s what. Yes, you read right. 12-year-old boys.

12-year-old boys who will, I guess, then be on the hunt for 12-year-old (or God forbid, younger) girls to test them out on. For many reasons, this has to be so, so wrong.

The ‘Hotshot’ condom, which has been ‘downsized to fit its 12-14 year old customer base’, is already available in Switzerland, and, if the manufacturers have their way, will be heading for the British high street and your kids wallet soon.

Lamprecht AG, the condom manufacturer behind this controversial contraception for kids, claim they set off down this path in response to a study conducted on behalf of the Federal Commission for Children and Youth. A study which showed that  not only were more 12 to 14-year-olds now having sex, but that an alarming number of them didn’t use any form of protection.

While as a parent, the idea of children so young having sex is a deeply disturbing one, and quite difficult to get my head around, it is hardly shocking news. It seems that every time you open a paper these days, there’s yet another pair of gormless babies staring back at you, sat there dressed head-to-toe in Mothercare’s finest and clutching their very own ‘hasn’t got a hope in hell’ baby.

When you see such a case of under-aged stupidity, it’s hard to know who you want to slap round the face first. The naive idiots apparently vying for the title of ‘World’s Youngest Parents’, or their own parents sat besides them, insisting that of course little Tracey and Dwain will make great parents – if they ever look up from their respective DS’s for long enough to notice what’s just popped out of Tracey and slid off the sofa.

So yes, there’s no getting away from the fact that (some) kids these days obviously have no fear of getting down and dirty with the person sat next to them in class. Nor that – judging by the sheer volume of pram-pushing girls in their Hannah Montana t-shirts – these kids ever think for a millisecond about the possible consequences of their actions.

England is now the teenage pregnancy capital of Europe, so I guess, on paper at least, arming kids with protection is a good idea. Or it would be if it wasn’t so wrong.

No child – boy or girl – could possibly be emotionally, physically or mentally ready to have sex at this young age. And  no 12-year-old boy is (or should need to be) emotionally mature enough to be trusted with something as important as preventing pregnancy or the spreading of a life threatening disease.

Most boys of this age aren’t even responsible enough to be left alone in a house with a box of matches. Some would probably forget to wash, eat or sleep if their parents didn’t remind them too. So who really believes that a randy pint-sized  man would ever want to make the effort, or for that matter feel comfortable enough to walk into a chemist and be asked – ‘Something for the schoolyard Sir?’

Of course there’s no disputing that such studies are needed to highlight how big a problem there is. Or that young boys must to be taught why they should be keeping it tucked away in their Ben 10 underpants until they are..  well until they are old enough not to be wearing Ben 10 underpants at least.

But that said, I think governments and Family Planning organisations are giving 12-year-old boys a little more credit than they actually deserve.

These kids in question aren’t having sex at ridiculous ages because they are maturing earlier than every decade that went before. Or because they are making an informed and intelligent choice about what they are ready to do. They are having sex because they see ‘Sex’ every which way they turn, and they think it’s cool to do it – and very uncool to have to admit they don’t. They aren’t going to suddenly get all responsible and grown-up just because they’ve got their own section at the condom counter.

So short of giving a free pack of 6 away with every computer game, or sticking them in with the fries when they up-size their Happy Meal, I really don’t see how providing  XS Junior condoms is the answer. If anything it gives out the worst possible message to horny young boys everywhere – that actually it’s OK to convince the girl who sits next to you in class to drop her High School Musical knickers, and hop onto the bean bag for some ‘recess’ action.

Really it comes to this. If you put aside every argument about whether selling condoms to and for kids is morally or ethically right, what about it being legally right? It’s bad enough that school nurses are allowed to hand out contraception at all, and that under-age girls can get the pill without their parent’s knowledge. But making condoms specifically for kids? The last time I looked the age of consent was 16 – and for very good reason.

Of course SWAT teams aren’t ever going to swoop in and arrest every person under that age for doing something they legally shouldn’t, but if you actually provide young kids with the means to have sex, surely it’s the same as encouraging them to break the law?

What’s next? School vending machine’s selling alcopops in pink plastic bottles endorsed by Brittany Spears? Or ‘extra light’ cigarettes, with packets that feature the latest Disney film.  After all, everyone knows that kids drink and smoke before they should, so why not make it more accessible and fun?

While we’re at it, why not go the whole hog and just let kids drive cars. I’m sure Toyota or Ford could design a ‘downsized’ car with booster seats and bigger peddles, so that their feet could actually reach the brake.

That would be crazy you cry, they’d end up killing themselves or someone else. Of course it’s crazy, and yes they surely would. Legitimising anything that kids are neither physically equipped to do or old enough to handle is a bloody stupid idea.

Yes, something needs to be done to stop young kids getting into bed and up the duff, but I fail to see how the solution will be found in a small, square packet labelled ‘Hotshot’.


The madness of OAP mums

Mel Gibson, who looked like the very smug cat that got the cream, appeared on the Jay Leno show on Monday night to confirm something the media had already presumed to be true.  At the age of 53 he was to become a dad again,  for the 8th time over. With his children already ranging in ages from 10 to 26, and his new 39 year old girlfriend already having a teenage son with her ex ‘Mr Bond’, you have to ask why?

Why do so many people choose to have more and more children so late in their lives? And why would they even want to. Aside from the obvious fact that this planet is getting just a little bit overcrowded in certain parts, why do people, who should be enjoying their ‘golden years’ want to keep starting all over again? Of course in Celebrity land, this event wouldn’t even register on the ‘normality meter’. Juilo Iglesias Sr. became a daddy at 89, Paul McCartney at 61, Larry King at 65 and 66 and Charlie Chaplin at 73.

But even these walking advertisements for Viagra would have some way to go to beat the record for the world’s oldest successful sperm. That belonged to an Australian mine worker called Les Colley, who was 92 years 10 months when he had a baby with his Fijian wife in 1992.

I have to ask again. Why?

Anyone who’s ever had a baby will know that they just about zap the last drop of energy right out of you. In the early days of parenthood, you often find yourself drifting aimlessly around the house, closely resembling an unwashed tramp and wondering to yourself where you put that cup of tea you made 3 hours ago. You stare out of the window and imagine what the rest of the world is doing, while spending many hours sobbing over the fate of lambs going to slaughter, or the unimaginable horror of diminishing ice burgs in the North Pole. You sit and rock thin air to sleep,  ‘sshhhushing’ anyone that dares walks past.

Yes indeed, babies certainly leave you jabbering away like an imbecile and running around in circles like a blue arsed fly with a serious caffeine addiction.

They need constant round the clock attention. Milk on demand, nappies to deal with the result of the milk on demand, and an enormous wardrobe of tiny clothes to keep up with the milk on demand, that somehow escaped the baby before the nappy could catch it. Exhausting just writing about it. And because of this busy bottle to mouth to bum lifestyle, babies require at least one full time live-in staff to wait on their every wish and whim. Needless to say this role doesn’t come with a 9 to 5 shift, compulsory lunch break and weekends off to hide away under the duvet.

More often than not babies can stay awake for, what can seem like anyway, months on end, and therefore so do you – the full time live-in staff. And the worst part of this not sleeping lark? When they do finally switch off for 30 minutes, either at night or in the daytime, you often find yourself so overtired and wired up on Red Bull, that you then spend that precious little time doing something completely pointless, like wiping down the fridge and defrosting the freezer. Or worse still you hover over them at blanket level, and try to determine whether their chest is still rising.

It’s really quite surprising that babies aren’t used in the global crack down on terror. Sleep deprivation is the cruelest form of torture, and most men, even those with militia background training, would crack in a matter of hours.

So all of that said, I have to wonder again why people choose to have babies so late in life. Why do some women, who have obviously opted for long and successful careers ahead of having a family, then turn around as they hit retirement age and think, you know what, now I think I’m ready to be a mum. Freedom of choice and all that, but how can that be right? Babies aren’t something that you fit in and around your workload and lifestyle. Surely if you’d wanted one that much, you might have thought to do something about it when you were still young enough to pass of as the mum.

Elizabeth-AdeneyTake Elizabeth Adeny for example, at 66 she is set to become the oldest mum in the UK. This lady, who is by all accounts a ‘wealthy divorcee businesswoman’, has obviously decided that she now wants to have her slab of baby shaped cake and eat it.

Given her age and the fact that most British clinics refuse to treat women over the age of 50, she had to leave the UK  and go to the Ukraine to receive IVF. I do believe there’s a clue hidden away in the fact that she had to do that. Should those who receive concessionary tickets with SAGA and a bus pass really have the right to be checking into the nearby maternity ward – against the wishes of Mother Natures herself?

It does make you wonder whether she’s stark raving mad or just plain selfish. Mad, because most women in their 20’s 30’s and 40’s are run ragged and completely wiped out when looking after a baby all day, let alone a toddler. Selfish, because she will be coming up for 80 as her child hits their teens.

Given that Ms Adeny is single and has no other children, this child will be left with no family to call their own, at a time when they will certainly need one the most.

So I’d settle for selfishness as the underlying problem here. But I guess wealth can buy you pretty much anything you want these days, from the live-in nanny who she already has on stand by, to a second chance at experiencing those childbearing years she was too busy to appreciate the first time around.

Ms Adeney reportedly told friends she wanted a child so she has someone to “leave my money to”. You don’t need to have a baby to do that. Leave your money to a children’s charity, or a cat’s home. Or to those poor diminishing ice burgs up in the North Pole



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Head, meet Wall

As the years tick on, and my daughter stretches and grows in front of my eyes, I find that every day I end up having to repeat just about everything that I say. Every day I then have to explain why I’m repeating myself. And every day I think that this is the day where I might have actually have got the message through.

Alas, that day doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.

My forehead is now so flat from banging my head against the wall, I reckon I could easily get a job on the Starship Enterprise – and blend right in. Some days, as my words whistle through both her ears and I am met with another incredibly blank look, I have to gather up all of my self control to stop myself from leaping across the room and shaking some sense into her.

I’m frankly quite sick of hearing myself say “Why can’t you just listen to me”, or worse still, “What did I just say?” Utterly pointless things to ask a child when they are being reprimanded for not listening in the first place.

So yes, sometimes I do ask myself, what happened to my sweet and innocent little girl? The one who thrived on nothing more than love, hugs and praise. My incredibly tidy little girl, who liked to sweep the floor and rearrange the Tupperware cupboard for fun. The one who regularly arranged the contents of her underwear drawer so it was colour coded, and made her bed with military precision – spending at least 10 minutes lining her toys up in height order along the pillow.

Oh how things have changed. Her room now often resembles the second day at a Next sale, with her clothes hung up all over the floor. Her bed seems to look the same whether she’s in it or not, and her toys are, I think, expected to regroup and tidy themselves. She is going through a ‘Mary Poppins’ phase, so maybe she has been trying to ‘click’ them back into place.

Yes, Yes. I know this is all probably perfectly normal stuff. And yes, I admit that her earlier love of neatness could sometimes border on the side of obsessive. But still. While I was expecting to one day have to wade through her pit of a room, with dirty clothes up to my waist and week old toast crumbs under my toes, I just wasn’t expecting it so soon.

I guess I can live with the mess, as long as it stays behind her bedroom door. I can even live with the toys scattered aimlessly across the floor. That is as long as she doesn’t mind the odd Polly Pocket hat or shoe disappearing up into the Dyson. What I can’t live with however, is the losing things in the mess behind the bedroom door.

Take her golf glove for example – the one that I brought her a few weeks ago, to help improve her grip and keep the blisters at bay.

Buying the glove in the first place was a 3 act drama to say the least. Because her hand was so hot and sweaty from an hour on the driving range, we couldn’t work out which size was right for her. Think ‘The 3 Bears’ and you’d be halfway to the dilemma that unfolded, with open packets and assorted gloves flying all over the place.

Eventually she was taken off to wash and cool her hand, so it could shrink back down to a normal ‘Size Small’. Like I said, a complete 3 act drama.

The glove was eventually chosen and paid for. Later I was to learn I had paid more for hers than my golf loving husband had even paid for his own. Never mind, it was cute. And pink.

The glove was then worn home in the car, stroked lovingly the whole way. It was waved around, tried on several times during dinner, shown to everyone 5 times, and then taken to school the next day for ‘Show and Tell’. It was even used as a sleeping bag for her toy furry mouse, and positioned next to her pillow for the night. I think it would be safe to say that the glove was definitely the prized possession of the week.

What it wasn’t however, was put away with her golf clubs like I asked her to. So sure enough, the morning of her next lesson arrived, and the glove was nowhere to be seen. You could say that I was a tad mad at her for losing it. I believe the kitchen walls did shift slightly in fright as I made my point. I was also mad at myself for not preventing the incredibly predictable.

We both searched her room, her toy box, her bed, the garage, the garden and the dogs kennel. I searched in places that the glove would never be. Like on top of the dresser and inside the shed. Not a bleeding sausage – or glove, in sight.

Of course the woman in the golf shop remembered us when we went back in, how could she not. An identical glove was bought, this time paid for with the contents of my meek child’s piggy bank. I did explain why we were back so soon, and was told that if the missing glove reappeared, I could return it, along with the latest packaging and receipt.

Guess what. Several weeks later when we were out in the car, my daughter stuck her hand in her jumper pocket and pulled out the elusive glove. Hurray we thought.

Then I went to find the receipt and the packaging. Both of which I had tucked up high on the dresser shelf for safe keeping. Naturally they were both bloody missing and nowhere to be found. So now we have 2 gloves and no receipt, and I am admittedly feeling slightly guilty. Particularly as she had reduced the weight of her little piggy by many, many months. Never mind I told her, take it as a valuable lesson for you to learn, about the importance of looking after your things. I think she listened this time.

As for that missing receipt and packaging, I still can’t find them anywhere. I think perhaps that was a mild dose of parental karma, come back to give me a good hard bite on the arse.

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