6 SEPTEMBER 1975, Page 22



The revolution that never was

Rhodes Boyson, MP

In Dur wasteful 'welfare age' every MP receives letters alleging that people on social security buy colour television sets and we know that community homes for delinquent children are lavishly provided with allInechanical devices and cost far more to run than Eton. Thus it was like a deluge of cold water and a return to reality to read that the Inner London Education Authority hag. decided not to provide colour terevision sets for its local educational broadcasts. Is sanity retiaming to our stricken society?

Iii the mid-1960s there was a belief that we were on the threshold of an electronic revolution in schools and that radio, television, film, language laboratories, computer terminals and teaching machines would turn the teacher into a machine mechanic and a pupil-counsellor, The University of Utah in the US even developed its continuous progress plan with the teacher-counsellors being advised by computers when students fell below their targets. Later, the 'talking page' in Britain promised to revolutionise the teaching of reading.

Yet after ten years little of real puipose seems to have happened. Mr.!. H. Munday, a senior inspector of the Department of Education and Science, concluded in September 1973:

There is no firm evidence to show any massive advance in the effectiveness of teaching by the use of technological meihods.

Nor is there any evidence that the use of technical devices has produced a major saving in either money or manpower.

Sir Alex Clegg, then Chief Education Officer for the West Riding of Yorkshire, alleged in July, 1972 that mechanical teaching aids to learning were an 'American' contagion.

• It is possible that with highlymotivated students in the services and business that mechanical teaching devices have much to offer. But with lesson-resistant or slightly-bored children they are counterproductive. The live teacher provides concern, praise, recognition and punishment for her pupils but the machine has not yet been invented which will shoot out an arm with a boxing glove on the end to knock off his seat any pupil who ceases to watch the machine or television screen and switch his attention to a deep investigation of his neighbour's inner ears.

Children grow up watching television for entertainment or as coloured rolling wallpaper and they are unlikely to sit transfixed with attention when similar equipment is used in school. In the US the average child spends 5,000 hours watching TV before he joins school and in his school years he will watch a further 10,000 hours which is almost twice as long as he will attend school activities. He does not watch it for instruction and the very sight of a set at school will, following Pavlov's dogs, out him in a mood for entertainment if not sleep.

In 1968 ILEA established a close circuit television service covering 1,370 colleges and schools with a potential audience of 880,000. Sets were put in all schools at considerable expense and the authority provided its own programmes. It is doubtful if the viewing figures ever justified the expenditure of £1,750,000 a year and there is in any case an effective service from the IBA and the BBC.

The worship of the mechanical aid and the television set, which have themselves produced some of our problems in the revolt of youth, was evidenced in the decision of ILEA in 1970 not to have its Annual Carol Service for 14,000 schoolchildren at the Royal Festival Hall but to continue in the 'more liberated style of folk singing' which ILEA fostered by having a professional group singing on the ETV network. The authority in all seriousness wrote that thus 'a larger number of children could be more effectively encouraged in their classrooms than in the Royal Festival Hall.' It needed the deputy head of Kidbrooke Park Junior School to bring the ILEA back to an assessment of children as children and not mechanical devices when she said: "Why must a carol concert be forward looking? Carols are traditional so what is wrong with children singing them as they have been sung for generations.'" It is very probable that the education authorities which spend most on mechanical devices have lowest academic standards and most classroom problems. New York has spent a huge sum of money on mechanical aids but its schools have spiralled downwards since the war. Children there from deprived homes will certainly not be overawed by mechanical aids in schools when they are surrounded by electric games parlours, the ubiquitous TV, car and electric trains.

School teaching will always be a cottage industry. In school chalk and talk are the most effective visual and aural aids and the more equipment that is put into a classroom the mOre they are downgraded and the less time there is for them. The best infant schools are often those with least equipment. Give such schools halls for drama and gymnastics, add small playing fields for games, sand and water facilities, radio, television, videotape machines and tape recorders and there will be no time for teaching reading since the teachers and the schools will have to use all these facilities and apparatus to justify the expenditure!

It is ironic that if schools cease to be well-ordered cottage industries then mechanical devices and television teaching could come into their own in the home and not the school. A fourth channel giving educational programmes with back-up correspondence courses as an alternative to school could be highly successful with introverted children. Mother could then be in her rightful place as the cottage industry supervisor. If the educational voucher were introduced there is no reason why parents should not decide to use part or the whole of it to buy such programmed, home-learning when they considered local schools to be unsatisfactory. This would be most likely to happen in areas where schools were heavily equipped with mechanical devices and yet lacked academic standards and classroom discipline. Thus mechanical devices in schools which helped to break them down would create a lasting market for them in the home where discipline was on a one-to-one relationship. That would be a turn for the book and even ILEA would be surprised!


Observing the 'Sunday Times'

Robert Ashley

I had a little laugh to myself last weekend. I hope you did too. But just in case you didn't, let me tell you what is was that amused me. The Sunday Times ran a long piece about the troubles of the Observer. There was a picture of editor David Astor, looking as engagingly youthful and rumpled as ever, and a long surrounding story of the various downward steps in the Observer's progress to its present parlous position. It is a sad tale, and it therefore wasn't that that tickled me. It was the fact that the Sunday Times did not contain one single word about its own financial. troubles. The Observer did, though. There, on page 3, with a slight air of malice, was an account of how the Sunday Times, far from being the profit-maker it has been in the past, is now in serious money trouble — "heavy financial losses" was the phrase the Observer rolled appreciatively round its lips.

I'm not surprised the Sunday Times is in trouble. It is the most expensive of the three quality Sundays. It is the thickest, and therefore might be thought to be the best buy. But the question is whether people in fact do think that. On the face of it, fewer and fewer of them do. Average sales in January-June 1975 are nearly 110,000 a week down compared with the same period in 1974. Why should that be? There are probably many answers to that question, and all of them are right. But let's have a look at some of the more obvious ones.

Firstly, that phrase 'the most expensive' used in the paragraph above. The Sunday Times now costs fifteen pence, which the more sensible amongst us remember is three shillings in respectable money. All right, three shillings isn't a lot these days. It won't buy you half a pint of decent beer in some London pubs I know and in a summer like we're having, the Sunday Times lasts a damn sight longer than a half of bitter is likely to. But people don't think that way. They have been conditioned to think of papers as cheap things, things to buy, glance through and chuck away. But not any more. Fifteen pence is fifteen pence, whichever way you look at things.

Lapecuazor September 6, 1975

And one of the things people are looking at more and more is their Paper bill. As the size of it grows, the necessity for it shrinks.

Another thing is the sheer size of the Sunday Times. On the face of it, this should be an attractive feature of the paper. More value for money, therefore a better buy. But that is another thing that doesn't work quite the way logic Suggests it should. The reason for

that is best suggested by the . famous remark of the little girl Who said, "This book tells me more about penguins than I wish to know." There can be few people in the country who haven't at some time felt, when confronted by yet another lengthy 'Insight' piece, rather as the little girl felt. If the Sunday Times were only, say, five Pence, one would have no compunction about skipping the article, so saving at least half an hour of a Sunday morning, and thereby

enabling one to go and do something ennobling, like weeding the garden, or practising putting on the lawn. Throwing the Sunday Times away, with a great chunk of it still unread, would not, at fivepence a time, seem such a wanton waste of hard-earned money. But at fifteen pence the thought is almost unthinkable. Therefore, get thee behind me, Satan. Lead me not into temptation. Cancel the damn thing and You won't be torn between the compulsion to plough through it to get your money's-worth, and the desire to get out in the garden. The analysis isn't so far-fetched: the feeling is one I've often had when, exhausted after chugging through all the Sundays for three hours or SO, I've sat back and marvelled at the fact that they have left so little sediment in my mind. What can I really remember as a result of three hours' slog? I often ask myself. And all too often, the answer is — not very much. And if that is the case with me, who am professionally involved in the business, how much more likely is it that such is the case' with what Samuel Johnson called The Com mon Reader?

The unfortunate fact is that although we still buy nearly 21 million copies of Sunday newspapers a week, that figure is well over a million down on last year — just twice, incidentally, the drop in sales of the daily national newspapers, It seems possible that the Great British Public is finding something else to do with its Sundays (every single paper, as I reported a -few weeks ago, is down

compared with the same period of last year). I am sorry for Harry Evans, Brian Roberts and David Astor, flogging their guts out at the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, and the Observer respectively, in an attempt to give us

a fact-filled weekend. It begins to look as though, more and more, we just don't want to know.

There is one other factor, which I barely dare mention in case the aforementioned editors take it personally, which may account for our no longer wanting to know. It may be that the Sundays are a bit more boring than they were a few years ago. I've always been able to take or leave the chi-chi middle section of the Sunday Times. Now I prefer just to leave it. Alan Brien's Diary used to get on my nerves a bit, but after reading his successors I find myself muttering "Come back Alan. All is forgiven". The last straw for me was that column by Hunter Davies a week or two ago in which he seemed to be swing that because he hadn't seen any rioting in Portugal it probably wasn't happening. I hope the Sunday Times Foreign Editor gave the insufferable Mr Davies the rocket he has long deserved.

So there for you are three possible reasons why circulation is falling. There are plenty more reasons why the Sunday Times is worried: it has been having precisely the same problems as other papers — rising costs being the most important. The Sunday Times and its magazine are said to have lost nearly £300,000 in the first seven months of this year. Not a fortune. But decidedly not a profit. And the way things are going it may be some time before the paper is in the black again.