IT just doesn’t add up. Swindon has come bottom in the south west for its GCSE results in English and maths, and yet we can’t be producing children with fewer brain cells than the rest of the country, can we?

Please answer the following multiple choice question, selecting one answer only...

Swindon is bottom for GCSE results in English and maths because:

  • our children are the thickest in the land.
  • messing about with exams and marking systems faster than you can wear down a stick of chalk renders maths and English almost inscrutable.
  • underfunding in education is one of the greatest tragedies afflicting the younger generation so of course they are suffering as a result.

Swindon Borough Council is putting achievement at GCSE level near the top of its list of priorities (presumably sharing space with handling the growing crisis in adult social care and befuddling the bejesus out of us with the new parish set-up).

This isn’t surprising, given the big fat ‘could do better’ we received from Ofsted last year.

It’s all right for the politicians — and we adults in general — to insist that we’re getting there, that we’re on our way to having a half-way decent education system.

Fionuala Foley, cabinet member for children’s services and school attainment, says: “The Swindon Challenge Board we have set up is working well and leading initiatives to improve education, but it will take time for some changes to take effect.”

Anyone with a heart has to feel sorry for her. She’s been landed with a job which is only slightly more pleasant than gutting prawns for a living.

But it’s not about her, or any other grown-up in the town — it’s about the thousands of kids we are told are failing. I’d suggest it’s not them who are failing, it’s us who are failing them.

In the getting-on-for 30 years since I left school, various governments have introduced more coursework, less coursework, A*s, grading from 1 to 9 (or is it 9 to 1?), tweaks to the curriculum, the invention of academies, ever more zealous Ofsted inspections, increasing paperwork and free nervous breakdowns for teachers.

Funding, as any teacher who is not afraid to speak out will tell you, is an insult and schools are struggling to survive, let alone excel.

I watched Goodbye, Mr Chips the other day and, while it may well be a sentimental lot of old bufoonery, it is nevertheless inspiring.

All those school dramas are — Dead Poets Society, History Boys, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie...

Sure, somebody may get bullied, somebody may die and somebody may forget how to decline their Latin verbs, but they all share one thing in common: Great teaching.

Pupils need schools if they are to learn and succeed at their subjects.

Schools need money to pay for books and stationery and other materials and facilities.

Schools need teachers who are not bogged down in form-filling, who are not afraid to instil a little discipline, who do not live in dread of the rat-a-tat-tat of the Ofsted inspector and who are respected by their pupils, their colleagues, the public at large and the government, both locally and nationally.

When will the powers-that-be stop tampering with grading, curricula, school governance and do the one job they need to do: Provide the money and support to let teachers teach?

You don’t need a degree in rocket science to work it out. Which is just as well, because if you’re from Swindon you haven’t got a hope in hell of getting the grades needed to study for a degree in rocket science.

Police set to do police work

BREAKING NEWS: the butcher is going to be selling meat from animals which have been slaughtered, butchered and packaged up in his shop.

Meanwhile, the baker has announced he will be baking various edible items using ingredients and an oven.

And to cap it all off, the candlestick maker will be using tallow and wick to create candles, which can be lit and used to provide light in the darkness.

It’s a revolutionary approach by all three, although it begs the question, what have they all been doing until now if they haven’t been... erm... doing their jobs?

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Wiltshire Police have announced that they’re planning to do some policing.

A new ‘crack squad’ will be Sweeneying around town trying to catch the most prolific of our criminals.

Having run many stories over the past few months about various parts of town which have been blighted by misery thanks to criminals getting away with everything short of murder, it is good news that the police intend to do something about it.

But surely this is what they should have been doing all along? I would have thought catching criminals, and making the worst of them the top priority, was in the job description.

Bad news for all

IT is bad news for everyone who works at Swindon Borough Council that such a devastating number of job cuts has been announced.

Plans to slash 15 per cent of the workforce — about 420 jobs — is bad news all round.

Obviously, those who are made redundant will be worried about the future.

Jobs are not that easy to find, and retraining becomes harder the older you get.

Many of these people will have loved ones depending on them and/or will have extensive financial commitments.

For those who remain, they will feel the loss of their colleagues deeply.

They will probably find they will be expected to take on their responsibilities, adding extra workload and pressure to their lives for no more money.

The fact that the council can afford to lose so many staff must surely mean one of two things: Either it has been carrying a lot of dead wood and wasting money for years now; or it is cutting staff it can’t afford to lose and therefore the knock-on effect will be a lowering of standards.

There is no way a company or public body can lose so many staff without cutting corners and doing things less well as a result.