Tuesday, 23 May 2017

In Defense of Grammar Schools


There is a debate going on in the UK at the moment about education. As an ex-teacher I am interested in the arguments.

The Conservative Government wants to allow Grammar Schools to be re-established. Before the 1960s there was a system of Grammar Schools and Secondary Modern Schools.

In order to get into a grammar school, all children took an examination at age 11, in the final year of their primary school. It was called the 11+ examination. Those pupils who were in the top percentage got a place in the grammar school. I don't know what that percentage was, but I have heard it said that the top 25% went to grammar schools.


The grammar schools were academic schools, and they taught academic subjects. secondary moderns tended not to teach much in the way of languages, for example.

It is said that the future of children was settled at 11, and that was not good, because some children developed later. But the 11+ was not the end. There was a 12+ and a 13+ that pupils could take if they seemed to be developing in a more academic way.

At that time, the school leaving age was 15. The pupils who went to grammar school had to stay on until 16 so they could do the GCE 'O' level examination. A few pupils stayed on at secondary modern and did 'O' levels as well. If they did well in the examinations, they could then go on to the 6th form in the grammar school or at a college. I have several friends who did this.

During the 1960s, came the advent of the comprehensive school. These schools were deemed to be fairer than the old system. Each neighbourhood took in all the pupils from its catchment area. All went to the same school, regardless of their academic ability. This, it was said, was much fairer. It did not create an elite and a lot of 'failures' at the age of 11.

On the face of it, this seems to be fine, only I think there are a number of flaws in this argument.

The main one, I think is this. Pupils from a given area all go to the local comprehensive school. There is no examination for entry, so no feelings of failure by those who did not pass the 11+.
That sounds fine, but if the neighbourhood school is not very good, all pupils from that particular neighbourhood are being failed.


Children do not get the chance to meet children from a different background, either. They are living with these people, have been brought up in the area, either rich or poor, and so they do not get a rounded picture of society.

The idea was the opposite of this. Pupils attending comprehensive schools were supposed to see all the different types of people. Yes, they saw all the different academic types, but not people from different social backgrounds.

Comprehensive schools were supposed to prevent the feelings of failure by some pupils failing the 11+. I don't think you can stop pupils from feeling inferior intellectually by lumping them all together. They can see the brighter pupils doing better than them in their academic work. That will make them feel inferior just as much as 'failing' the 11+.


One other thing brought about by the introduction of comprehensive schools, is that the education given is a watered-down academic curriculum, which is not suited to all pupils, and has lowered the academic standards for the very brightest pupils.

Grammar schools, they say, create an elite. This is supposed to be bad. In a perfect world, I suppose everyone would have the same academic capabilities, but everyone does not. There are some people who are much cleverer than others. Some say that it is solely due to their background how some people develop, and a middle class background is advantageous. This I would not dispute, but only to a point. There are middle class children who do not excel, and working class ones who do, in spite of their background.

They say that comprehensive schools help social mobility. How? Pupils live and learn in the same area with the same people and values.

In a grammar school, pupils come from all backgrounds and all areas of a town. They mix with each other and get to know something of the lives of each other. Pupils from working class backgrounds can get an academic education, and get away from the schools in their area where ambition is perhaps not so great.

Bright pupils who live in an area with a poor school can get away from that as well.

It is said that grammar schools have more middle class pupils than working class ones. That is something that can be worked out. 'They' say that the exam can be coached and middle class parents are more likely to put up the money for coaching. Well, I went to a grammar school and was coached for the exam, but not by private tutor, which is the perception, but by my primary school. Encourage primary schools in working class areas to coach. Or develop an exam where coaching is no advantage.

There's always an answer, and in my opinion, the advent of comprehensive schools has lowered standards. When I look at the exams I took at 'O' level and the exams pupils take at GCSE, there's no comparison. We had to write essays. They just have 'structured questions', or fill in the blanks.

I see grammar schools as promoting social mobility far more than comprehensive schools in contrast to what the detractors say, that they are elitist and prevent it.


Interview with Kimi from The Wolves of Vimar Series




I interviewed Kimi, Davrael's wife. You may remember I interviewed Davrael some time ago.. Here is what she told me.
Me: As you know, I have interviewed your husband,
Davrael. He told me something of the life on the Plains.
Perhaps you can tell me something about how you two met.

Kimi: Of course. It will be a pleasure. As you know, Davrael
is from a nomadic family. One of the Tribes. They travel the
Plains following and herding the horses that roam across
them.

Me: The horses are free then? Don't they belong to the tribe?

Kimi: Yes, each tribe calls particular herds their own, and
they brand them when young to show their ownership, but
most of them are wild and free. I am from the settlers. We
once roamed the Plains just like the Tribes, but our
ancestors decided to settle in order to have more control
over the breeding of our horses. They thought that they
could breed better animals that way.

Me: And did they?

Kimi (smiling): There are still arguments about that.

Me: How did you and Davrael meet then?

Kimi: One day I was out riding with my brothers when we were attacked by a group of Tribesmen.

Me: Was one of  them Davrael?

Kimi: Oh, no. It was an enemy tribe of the Swooping Hawks. They are called the Howling Coyotes. The Tribes have never liked the settled folk. They think we have abandoned tradition and the settled folk think that the nomads are primitive people, so there was no love lost between us. Anyway, my brothers tried to fight them off but there were too many of them and they took me with them. I think they wanted to marry me to one of their men. They did raid sometimes for both horses and women.

Me: Where did they take you?

Kimi: They took me to their camp several days away. It wasn't their main camp. In fact they had strayed into the territory of the Swooping Hawks. That was why the trouble began.

Me: Trouble?

Kimi: Yes. A band of Swooping Hawks came upon the camp and a battle began. I know little of that battle because I was tied up in a tent, but I could hear the noise--shouting and screaming. Then it suddenly went quiet. I heard a voice commanding the capture of all the horses and a search of the tents. After a while, a man came into my tent. I was petrified. He was an imposing-looking man, although not really handsome, with long hair held back by a braid around his head. What was the most terrifying, though, was the tattoo of a hawk on his face. I tried to hide, hoping he wouldn't see me and that I could somehow escape, but he was too observant and saw my little wriggles behind a bed. He lifted me out and said, 'What have we here then? A little mouse trying to escape the hawk?' He laughed at my frightened expression and continued, 'Well, it seems the hawk has caught the mouse after all.'

Me: This was Davrael I assume.

Kimi: Yes. He freed me of my bonds and told me that I would be well treated. He asked me where I had come from and what tribe I belonged to. I told him that I was not a tribeswoman and where my family were settled. He agreed to take me back to my family if I could assure him that they would pay in horses for my return. Coin has little meaning for the Tribes. They count their wealth in their horses and trade by barter, you see.

Me: Did you give him this assurance?

Kimi: Yes. I was confident that my father would pay him whatever he wanted.

Me: So he took you back to your family?

Kimi: Not immediately. Davrael and his men were out searching for some horses that they suspected that the Howling Coyotes had stolen. They were some of his best animals. Beautiful golden horses with silvery manes and tails they are. Come to think of it, their manes and tails are almost the colour of Randa's hair!

Me: Where did he take you?

Kimi: Well, I rode with them for quite a long time actually. Some of the horses had strayed a long way, and some had even been taken to the territory of the Howling Coyotes. There were a few battles, but eventually he got them all back. Every evening he would come into the tent he had said was to be mine and we would talk. Gradually I learned that he was not the fearsome warrior I had thought, but was, in fact, quite a gentle perso, although he could fight well when required. He was kind to me and I gradually began to fall in love with him. I was surprised when he told me that he reciprocated my feelings.

Me: There were problems though I understand.

Kimi: Yes. This is quite painful for me to relate. Davrael took me to his father and told him that he wanted to marry me, but his father flew into a rage and said that no son of his would marry a settler. We the went to my family. They were delighted to see me as  they had given me up for dead or worse. When Davrael and I eoldthem of our love, my father said that there was no possible way that he could allow it. He offered Davrael two of his best horses if he would go away and forget about me.

Me: He didn't, of course.

Kimi: No. We met in secret for a time, but then decided that it was impossible to live like that and so we decided to elope.

Me: You went to Grosmer then.

Kiki: Yes. We went to Grosmer. If all that had not happened, or if either of us had obeyed our fathers, then we would never have met Carthinal and the rest of the Wolves. I wonder what would have happened then?

Me: Thank you very much, Kimi.


If you want to find out more about Kimi and Davrael, you can buy The Wolf Pack by clicking on this link.

http://mybook.to/thewolfpack

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Some tautological sayings



Tautology is using words that mean the same thing in a sentence, that do not add anything further. An example is 'widow woman'. I am going to talk about some tautological things that people say and write today.

So let's begin.


 I heard someone on the radio talk about a 'small, little...' Can you have anything little that's not small? I have heard this on several occasions. Never, though, a 'large, big...' that I can remember.
 'Reverse back' is another one frequently heard. Have you ever seen anyone reverse forwards? I haven't.
 'Repeat again.' Now this one can be used, but only if the thing has been said (or done) at least twice. Repeat means to do it again. The 'again' is in the word itself.
 One that irritates me, and is very frequently used these days is 'Various different...' Have you ever come across things that varied but were the same?
 'Fall down', although frequently used in everyday life, is none the less tautological. You can't 'fall up', so the 'down' is unnecessary. This is one that writers should watch out for.
 Close proximity. If it's in proximity, it's close!
 necessary requirement. If it's not necessary, it's not a requirement.
 PIN number. Since PIN stands for Personal Identification Number, saying PIN number is saying 'personal identification number number.'
 We see, in advertising, 'Your Free Gift' Well, if it's not free, it's not a gift, and if it's a gift, then obviously it's free.
 Thought to myself. Writers beware. Unless telepathic, you can only think to yourself. Telepaths are a very rare commodity, I think.

I would love to hear any others you can think of. I know there are so many. Please add comments in the comments box.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A review of The Key to Erebus by Emma V. Leech




I recently finished reading The Key to Erebus by Emma V.Leech. I really enjoyed the story.

Jehenne is a young girl who leaves Britain to go to live with her French Grandmother. When she arrives, everything seems normal at first, but gradually she is drawn into a world which she did not know existed. A world of elves, ghouls, vampires, fairies and others.

Her Grandmother is heavily involved in this world, and she sets about introducing Jehenne to all the mysterious and sometimes dangerous beings that inhabit it.

Jehenne finds she is in great danger from a renegade vampire who is seeking the mysterious Key to Erebus.

Jehenne finds the truth of the key is more frightening than she thought.

While I enjoyed the story immensely, I did find Emma Leech's punctuation a bit off-putting. She uses semicolons far too much, and frequently in places that were inappropriate, or where a comma or full stop would be a better choice. She also seems to be unsure of how to punctuate

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Aspholessaria.

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The journey continued. There were, as Trinelli expected, a number of times her healing skills were called upon. True to her word, Asphodel helped as much as she could. It was little enough, because the girl had not been trained in healing. She knew nothing at all. Not even the simplest remedies used by almost every housewife in the land.

She had been brought up as a privileged daughter of one of the ruling families of Quantissarillishon. Although only minor royalty, she had not had to work, The result was that she knew little of how life would be for most people. She was fascinated by Trinelli's healing, both the mundane and that which the goddess channelled through her priestess.

One day, after they had been travelling for a week, Asphodel asked Trinelli about her religion.
'Well,' began the other woman, 'What do you know about Sylissa?'

'Not much, really. We elves tend to worship Grillon, as the god of nature. We know a little of the others, but Grillon is our god, really.'

'Well, Sylissa is the god of Life and Healing. She is the twin sister of Kalhera, god of Death. They are like two sides of one coin. Sylissa's colour is white, as you can see from my robes, while Kalhera's is black.'

Asphodel settled down to listen as Trinelli told her about how Sylissa and Kalhera were the daughters of the Chief of the Gods, Kassilla and her consort, Zol the god of Knowledge and Learning. how each chose some aspect of life to be their jurisdiction.

Because she chose to aid those who were sick, occasionally there were disputes between the two sisters, if Kalhera thought Sylissa were denying death to people, but generally they were on good terms.
The clerics of Sylissa were the doctors and nurses of the world, but they did not rely wholly on the power of the god to cure sickness and injury. No, they learned other ways too, such as herbs, and manipulation. They could set broken bones, although sometimes they would call upon Sylissa to help.
Asphodel became fascinated by this and began to ask questions about the various herbs and other methods Trinelli used, She fould the rest of the journey passed quickly, especially as Trinelli sometimes gave her little things to do.

Just as they approached Bluehaven, Trinelli turned to Asphodel and said, 'You seem to have some aptitude for healing, you know. Have you ever thought of becoming a healer.'

Asphodel was amazed. The idea had never crossed her mind.

'I'm not sure I'd make a very good cleric,' she said.

'You don't have to. We have some lay people who help us. Why not come to the temple with me and see the Great Mother there. You can decide then what to do.'

So Asphodel went to see the Great Mother and decided to become a lay healer.

Soon that was not enough, and one night she dreamed of Sylissa.

'Come and join me,' the goddess told her. 'You have great potential. It's wasted here. Join my clerics.'

So after a year in Bluehaven, Asphodel joined the novices at the temple of Sylissa.

All went well during her first year as a novice. Mother Caldo, the Great Mother of the temple praised the young elf, saying she thought she had great potential, and could rise through the ranks quickly. Mother Caldo told Asphodel that she could probably become a Great Mother herself, such was her potential in healing.

'There's just one thing, though,' Mother Caldo said one day, in conversation with one of the archbishops. She sighed. 'The girl is lacking in discipline. Sometimes she seems to think she knows better than her superiors.'

One day, the Great Mother called together all the clerics of the church of Sylissa in Bluehaven. She stood in the pulpit of the temple and began to speak.

'As you all know,' she began, 'the annual meeting of all the Most Highs of all the religions was held recently in Asperilla on Holy Island. There, they decided that all the sickness and other problems that surround us are a punishment by the gods for the evil that we do.'

She looked at the paper before her before continuing.

'The consensus of this meeting was that we should try to eliminate evil from the world. The best way to do this, they said, is to refuse aid to those who perpetrate evil. The discussion, apparently, decided against the active persecution and killing, as this would make us as bad as them. The Most High of Sylissa, therefore, has decreed that we will not give aid or healing to such people.'

She shuffled her papers and left the pulpit. An astounded Asphodel followed her fellow novices from the temple deep in thought.

This cannot be right, she thought. Surely we are supposed to give healing to all comers, regardless of anything they might have done. At least, that's what I understood I was promising when I took my vows.

She listened to her friends talking, and they all seemed to think it was a good idea to eliminate evil in this way, and so she said nothing.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Book Release



The ebook version of my historical novel, written under the pen name of Emily Littler, is now on sale. You can get it by clicking this link. It will take you to your own country's Amazon store.

myBook.to/vengeanceofaslave

It tells the story of Adelbhert, a young boy who is forced to watch the crucifixion of his father and other men from his village who are being punished for mounting an attack on a Roman city. He and his little sister are taken and sold as slaves.

Their purchaser takes them to Brittannia, where he is treated as a pet--which he hates. He stores all the things the Romans have done to him in his memory and refreshes it every night with a litany of hate.

He has promised his sister that they will escape the Romans and return to their homeland in Germania, but this proves impossible. All the while, his hatred and desire for vengeance is growing.

When he gets the opportunity to escape, he finds the means to attack the Romans.

But how can one young man defeat the power of the Roman Army, and can he overcome his hatred. which is eating away at his soul.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017


David Profile Pic

David Kummar is the author of a number of books, including the War of Enden series, which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed.
Welcome to my blog, David. I believe you have a new book out, called My Abigail. Please tell us something about it.

my abigail cover
“She would always be my Abigail.”
It was always about Abigail, for me. The book is called My Abigail, the major plot twist has to do
with Abigail, and the character I was reduced to tears over was Abigail. Trust me, I cried
countless times writing this book.
So, why is the main character named Caleb? Let me explain this book.
Caleb is a teenager, who lives in a small rivertown. He isn’t the cool type of teenager. He’s
lonely, angry, moody, unhappy, and doesn’t really have any friends. Not one. So when he meets
Abigail, who is as kind as she is beautiful, the two mesh pretty well. After all, what choice did
Caleb have, unless he wanted his high schools years to -as the kids say- suck?
Around the same time, he meets Xavier, a nerd who he’s heard all about but never met. They
become friends as well. Then there’s Ayva, the little girl his mom babysits. She’s creepy… really
creepy… but nice enough. They get along, and for Caleb it’s like having the responsibility of
being a big brother.
Things turn dark, as things tend to do. Abigail has her secrets. Xavier isn’t who he says. Ayva
continues to act stranger and stranger. And Damian, the shadowy figure on the street who
haunts Caleb’s nights, threatens to reveal everything.
Never before has the saying “ignorance is bliss” been more true. Because when Caleb finds out
exactly what’s going on with Abigail, he wishes he never had. He wishes he had never met the
perfect girl turned monster.
What’s that secret? I can’t tell you that. I can assure you, however, that it’s something you’ve
not seen before and you won’t expect coming. Don’t take my word for it. The reviews on
Amazon say the same thing.
I could talk about lots of things in regard to this book, and I might in the future. I could talk about
the music I listened to, or the time it took me to write it, or the usual day and how typing fit into
my schedule. But I can talk about those later. What I want to let you know is what my purpose
was for this book, and how it became the most important book of mine.
First of all, I wanted to win an award and become a millionaire. Nah, I’m just kidding. That wasn’t
even on the plan, and probably never will be.
For me, this book wasn’t really about making money (haven’t done that) or shocking people out
of their socks (hopefully did that). It was about writing something worth reading, and something
unique.
This book is scary, sure. It’s definitely emotional, what most would call sad. But overall, my hope
is that it’s original. Because just like the title character, this book has its secrets. It has its dark
moments. It had its happy ones. And in the end, it has Abigail.
Thank you David. It certainly sounds a fascinating book.