Thursday, August 16, 2007

British "safety" tyranny again

A clown who entertained children of shoppers by twisting balloons has had his act curtailed by Tesco amid fears that members of his audience could be allergic to latex in the balloons. Barney Baloney, also known as Tony Turner, has entertained thousands of Yorkshire children - and, to the best of his knowledge, he has not injured any of them.

Recently, however, Mr Turner, 47, had to make do with an emu costume, some puppets and a juggling performance during a five-hour stint at a supermarket in Leeds. "Twisting balloons into shape makes up 40 per cent of my act and I can't see what the problem is," he said. "Kids love to see me make shapes, and that part of my act is the children's favourite."

Latex, used in the manufacture of some balloons, is a common allergen. A Tesco spokesman said: "We have banned balloons because latex is used in the manufacture of them and this can trigger an allergic reaction in some children."


Classics vanishing from British High Schools

THE last dedicated A-levels in Latin and Greek are to be scrapped from next year, sparking opposition from the country's leading classicists. As thousands of A-level candidates wait to get their results this week, it has emerged that the OCR exam board is planning to combine the two subjects along with ancient history and classical civilisation into a single classics A-level, to be taught from 2008. Other boards that set A-levels in England have already combined the subjects or stopped offering them.

Although the classics A-level would still allow pupils to specialise in Greek, Latin or the other two subjects, opponents believe the proposed syllabus waters down the knowledge required. "We do not think it provides adequate training for university classics," said Christopher Pelling, regius professor of Greek at Oxford University. "The demands of a first-year university course would demand a vast leap from what students will learn at A-level." But Greg Watson, chief executive of OCR, defended the new qualification, saying it could revive classics. Last year just 183 candidates sat Greek A-level and 927 took Latin.

"There is a real eagerness to get classics moving again. Most of the classicists we've talked to say this seems to be the right way to go," said Watson. "Maybe the reason people aren't doing classics is because it seems a bit intimidating or a bit fusty and giving them the opportunity to combine Latin, for example with a couple of units of history and culture, could bring the subject to life."

The clash over classics comes in advance of A-level results to be released this Thursday that are set to revive the row over whether standards are going up or down. Officials expect a quarter of students will gain A grades, up from 24.1% last year, and that overall results will improve for the 25th successive year. So many are now gaining As that reforms are to be introduced from next year to help universities distinguish the best.

"Some of the most selective universities have been saying with some justification that A-levels have not been stretching enough at the top end," said Watson The changes include a new grade of A*, likely to require a mark of 90%. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority estimates that 5-6% of papers will win A*s, creating an elite from whom leading universities are likely to choose successful applicants.


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