Mark Andrews on Saturday: Protractors, metal detectors, and the new Millennium Dome

By Mark Andrews | Opinions | Published:

Read today's column from Mark Andrews.

CHILDREN from deprived backgrounds are being ‘frozen out’ of the school system, restricted in their opportunities because parents cannot afford the correct equipment, says a new survey by charity Buttle UK.

Forgive my scepticism, but what ‘equipment’ are parents being expected to provide? Surely a pencil, protractor and a couple of set squares should be within the budget of most families.

We hear the same arguments about school funding, about how schools are being forced to do without ‘essential equipment’. Yes, subjects such as chemistry or physics need properly equipped laboratories, but for the majority of subjects you would think a good teacher, a chalk and a blackboard would do the job.

Now I don’t doubt that coming from an underprivileged background puts some children at a disadvantage. If, as the report suggests, children are turning up for school undernourished, then that is a real problem that needs tackling. The trouble is, as seems to be the fashion at the moment, the serious issues get conflated with the trivial in a fog of hand-wringing hyperbole.

Take, for example, the claim that children from deprived backgrounds are struggling with their homework. Why? Because 61 per cent of ‘educational professionals’ said they knew of families without online access at home. Is this supposed to be a shock? Until three years ago I didn’t have the internet at home either. I never knew I had it so bad.

Maybe if today’s educationalists want to improve opportunities for disadvantaged kids, they could go back to doing what schools through the ages have done. Setting homework that requires just a paper and pencil.

A GROUP of metal detectorists picked up more than a few old coins during an event near Doncaster.

Fourteen of them were taken to hospital after unwittingly tucking into a cannabis cake.


This happened in a place called High Melton. As, presumably, were the metal detectorists.

IMAGINE somebody visits your house to give you a price for, say, a kitchen extension. After a few sharp intakes of breath, and a bit of pencil sucking, the builder gives you a price of £33,000. It’s more than you were expecting, and the work will take 16 months, but you decide the benefits just about outweigh the costs.

Anyway, the workmen turn up, spread their tools on the floor, and begin digging the foundations. As they do so, one of them mentions it will now cost £88,000, and take five months longer than they said. How would you react? Call Cowboy Builders?

Yet multiply the figures by a million, with delays of years rather than months, and that is exactly what we are being asked to swallow with HS2. In 2010, we were told it would cost £33 billion and be completed by 2026. Now it’s £88 billion, and will not be ready until 2031.


Never mind the debate about the merits of the project, how is it we tolerate such ineptitude when it comes to public sector infrastructure projects?

Could you imagine the fall-out if a private sector company got its figures so spectacularly wrong? And why aren’t the people who cocked the figures up taking the financial hit?

Yet time and again, major public works end up costing vastly more than originally thought, and are usually met with a resigned shrug and a few platitudes about how the project will support thousands of jobs.

It’s 20 years since we endured the Millennium Dome fiasco. And it seems we haven’t learned a thing.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.


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