Rationalising Christmas and New Year

What exactly are we all celebrating? We stay up later than normal, flipping between lots of TV channels with little to watch (Jools' Annual Hootananny is not my thing), and drink several times what our Nanny Government says is a sensible limit. But only because one of the numbers in our Gregorian church calendar system goes up by one.

Now, years are natural units, based on measurements of the seasons or the stars, but the start of the calendar year is arbitrary, and depends on political and scriptural judgements in Rome over the last couple of millennia.

I agree that midwinter festival is good to have, to mark the passing of the darkest days, but we in the north already have one in Christmas, and it is midsummer for our upside-down friends in the southern hemisphere. So what are we celebrating on New Year's Eve, if not an even more wanton and self-centred version of Christmas, but with the present giving replaced by excessive drinking?

And having Christmas and New Year so close together also takes a whole week (or two) out of the economy and causes office discord in the annual rush for the key leave dates.

Moving Christmas to the Spring Equinox would solve a lot. It would give an excuse for the non-Christians to join in, and could be argued on Biblical grounds even if it would interfere with the dates of Easter — shepherds watch their flocks all night during lambing season, don't they? But I don't see the major Christian denominations agreeing to such a big change, even if it would leave New Year as the single centre of the midwinter festivities.

If the Spring Equinox Christmas is out, how about the Winter Solstice? It was origin of the current date of Christmas since the pagan celebration of Yule-Tide was held on the 25th December, the date of the Solstice in the old Julian Calendar. Looking around at the fashion for lighting up the outsides of houses with glowing Santas and moving, lit-up reindeer, most of the celebrations around this time of year are strictly secular already, so reuniting Yule and Christmas on the same day on the Solstice would fit the multicultural, inclusive theme of the last decade of insipid politics.

What to do with New Year, now that we have sorted Christmas? I'd move it to the Spring Equinox, when the weather is warm enough for me to want to go out in it. But I go out for a drink on the Equinox anyway, so why would I need a calendar justification? Let's just leave the New Year booze up when it is, so all the young partying types can go out by themselves and get cold and drunk, without expecting me to join in.

So I'll be sitting at home in front of the TV, flicking channels while the fireworks go off all evening, drinking some wine, looking forward to the longer and warmer days to come.


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Tories to Ease Physics Teacher Shortage, while TDA Says All is Rosy

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove has said that a Conservative government will exempt good physics (and science and maths) graduates from student loan repayments if they go into teaching. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), meanwhile, has muddied the waters by claiming to have exceeded its targets to recruit and train teachers for all main shortage specialisms.

The teacher training quango has managed to massage the teacher recruitment figures to disguise the shortage of physics teachers in schools, by failing to set a target for their recruitment. The TDA reported that “for the first time ever” recruitment to all main specialisms has exceeded their targets and that “a healthy supply of well-trained teachers is entering our classrooms.”

The total number of mainstream registrations of Science teachers did indeed rise, by 1%, from 3655 last year to 3701, although to claim that the target of just 3405 was exceeded “by as much as 9%” seems to be over-egging the results a little.

The key omission, though, is that there is no target for physics teachers at all! Their numbers declined from 584 last year to an estimated 571. Bang goes the government target of having physicists making up a quarter of all science teachers by 2012. With a quarter of current physics teachers already over 50 and keen to retire, this target looks as far away as ever.

(See here and here for my previous comments on physics teacher shortages and the solutions, and on Gordon Brown's pontifications here.)

The Conservatives, though, look like they at least recognise the seriousness of the problem.

In a speech to the Sir John Cass Foundation, Michael Gove said
“We will make a new offer to people - similar to something President Obama wants to do. If after leaving school someone decides to do a maths or science degree at a designated university, achieves a 2:1 or First, and decides to go into teaching, the taxpayer will cover their student loan repayments for as long as they remain in teaching (until the loan is fully paid).”
This could be worth £40k to a teacher whose pay cannot otherwise be increased beyond that offered to other, less scarce, specialisms.

The Institute of Physics has welcomed the initiative, noting that that
“Children in approximately 500 secondary schools across the country have no teachers with experience of physics beyond school.

“This means too many students being taught physics by teachers who may not even have taken the subject at A-level. How can students be inspired by teachers who themselves have no solid grasp of the subject?

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