Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Hotel Trinidad

I've slept in some pretty strange places.

I don't mean when I've been camping although that might qualify too as I've pitched tents everywhere from inside a ruined church to on the side of a sand dune to a field so waterlogged that an anchor would have been more use than tent pegs.

No, I mean in hotels. I still shiver with disgust when I think of the hotel where I spent the night after crossing from Thailand in Laos. The walls were encrusted with a greasy grime, the floor was home to a whole nation of cockroaches, the mattress so appalling that I wouldn't have slept on it if I could have boiled it in disinfectant. There was an "en suite" facility. Sort of. A half built wall hid a sink and a shower that would have been condemned as a health hazard by the most louse-infested rat in the filthiest sewer on the planet.

Another time I shared a twin room in a high rise in Hong Kong with a guy from Dresden. His snoring wouldn't have been such a problem had the room not been, in total, six inches wider and about a foot longer than the combined sizes of the beds. It had no windows and broken air-conditioning and was entered – with extreme care – through a door that could only open to a wide crack. The beds must have brought in with ship-in-a-bottle ingenuity. This room too was en-suite. A curtain, reached by climbing over the beds, led into a three foot square room where you could sit on the toilet but only by wedging your knees under the sink.

Other accommodation has included a large, near derelict and – apart from me – entirely empty building in China; a Pakistan dormitory with sixteen rope strung beds crammed into a space suitable for six; a gorgeous, modern luxury hotel with palatial rooms in which the only six rooms – of about six hundred – that were occupied, were occupied by our party.

Without question though the weirdest ever was the Hotel Trinidad in Merida, Mexico. The guide books seemed to think it rather squalid but I loved it. It was like the inside of a psychotics head brought to life. From the moment you walk in past a glass cabinet filled with dismembered parts of baby dolls and a life size cardboard cut-out of Charlie Chaplin it’s clear that this is not an ordinary place. There are surrealist paintings on the walls, a stone fountain and half a dozen cellophane butterflies in the lobby, and an inflatable batman on the stairs. After that it starts to get weird. I could describe it in more detail but I'd rather just include the poem that I wrote about it at the time. At first glance it's a piece of random gibberish. Only those in the know will realise that it's no more and no less than a simple and accurate description.

Hotel Trinidad

Cellophane butterflies above the stone fountain;
Dismembered dolls fill the cabinet.
Reaching for sanity's climbing a mountain,
But we can't leave the valley quite yet.

Arms, legs and heads on a separate shelf -
Where did the torsos all go ?
Charlie Chaplin in cardboard admiring himself
It's clear there's something we don't know.

The inflatable Batman who stands on the stairs,
Wobbling with each passing breeze,
Is surrounded by cupboards that might just be coffins.
This psychotic place is diseased.

Torsos and fish net painted red white and blue;
A bowling ball stands on a plate;
A wraught iron pedastal supports one pink shoe;
Under the water a smiling cold face.

Rows of tights filled with sand have been nailed to a board
Above glass jars full of debris and dust.
A rocking horse body is missing its head
It seems a betrayal of trust.

How did we get here ? I can't be quite sure.
When will we leave ? I don't know.
Through the cracks in the mirror I watch my reflection
And realise there's no hurry to go.

And lest anyone doubt the truth of the claim that this is a descriptive poem, here is the photographic evidence...

Saturday, 21 June 2008

So what were we testing?

Time for another rant about education, I think.

This week I was invigilating another exam, this time an ESOL writing exam, and I was thinking about how we test our students and whether the exams effectively (or even ineffectively) test what they claim to be testing.

Because I've been teaching an intermediate class who have been learning English for a couple of years that's what was particularly on my mind.

I was considering specifically the reading, rather than the writing exam. It's divided into three tasks.

The first of these is a form filling task. The more astute will notice straight away that this is more of a writing task, and indeed it is duplicated on the writing exam. It is meant to show that they can understand the instructions on a form. Now, there are any number of criticisms that I could level at the design of the task and the marking scheme, but I'd rather focus on whether such a task can ever achieve its aim, because I don't think it can.

Lets consider a typical form as used in these exams. First of all it doesn't correspond to the real world because the forms are designed for the exam and isn't complicated enough to be a real form. Nevertheless it is a form and it does have questions.

Typically the first few questions are Name; Address; Postcode; Telephone; e-mail. If there are any instructions accompanying them, they will be "Complete the form in capital letters" or "Complete the form in BLUE or BLACK ink". As often as not there are no instructions.

Now the second of these is going to be automatic. The students have already been told to complete the whole exam in blue or black ink. They can't fail that one. What about the other instruction? Well, I have had students whose sole knowledge of English was how to write their name, address and telephone number. They couldn't recognize them or read them but the could nonetheless write them. It's just about the first thing anyone learning English learns to do. The know that if they see "NAME" then they have to write a particular word. It isn't knowledge, it's more of a Pavlovian response.

As an aside, I once had a student who would take ages to write her name. Upon investigation I found that she didn't actually know the letters, she had learned to do it as a kind of drawing. It could have been anything. She wasn't writing, she was making a picture from memory of something she had seen.

Nevertheless, they do this so often that it ceases to be a meaningful test of anything. Incidentally the marking schemes – regardless of the instruction – usually says "Capital letters are used appropriately, for proper nouns etc." As they know that forms are usually filled in in capitals they can't get this wrong.

What about the rest of the form? Well, that depends on the specific exam being used, but it will typically include tick boxes (no understanding required – see a set of boxes, tick one), circle or delete questions (fifty-fifty whether they get that right), and a few boxes where they have to fill in other details (and that does indeed require them to understand three or four words – but usually very common ones).

And that's it. Not an adequate test of anything related to reading, in my view.
What about the other questions then?

These are based around reading texts. So far so good. They frequently have unfamiliar language in odd contexts but it's certainly arguable that the skill of reading includes coping with that. My main concern is the kinds of questions that are asked. While there are a few that are content based, (What time does the centre open on Saturday? List two of the dangers mentioned in the text.) most of the marks come from things that are analytical. They don't test understanding of the text, they test your ability to interpret points of view and write opinions based on your interpretation. Typically they include things like

How would you describe the language in the text?

What is the purpose of the text?

Do you think this text is friendly or unfriendly? Give examples from the text.

Why did Mr Smith write this letter to you?

One of my favourites, and a I'm paraphrasing a little to avoid mentioning the specific board, is something along the lines of "Give reasons why you think the loyalty card is a good scheme."

For that one, I once had a student say that he didn't think it was a good scheme. The mark scheme listed the answers that were acceptable – all "good" things taken from the leaflet. I marked it correct when he said it wasn't because it was to make him buy things he didn't want – in my view a far better answer than ANY of the ones I was supposed to accept. I even wrote on the paper why I had accepted it in case anyone queried it.

These questions are entirely subjective but it's worse than that. The answers are proscribed. You could write whole essays on them but that's not what's required.

Take the first one.

How would you describe the language in the text?

Think of a text and decide how you would answer it. Sorry you got that wrong. The correct answer should be friendly but formal, or perhaps friendly but businesslike.

Those are the answers on the mark scheme. Answering that question has nothing at all to do with reading and everything to do with having been taught what the exam requires. I could teach that you always write friendly but formal and they would be right 99% of the time without reading the text.

And that's the problem. This type of question doesn't encourage reading. It discourages it. Teachers can't just teach the students to read they have to teach students how to pass the exam. They have to be taught a list of possible answers (usually only two or three) and a strategy for picking one of them. I'm sorry but I don't consider that to be teaching English at all. At best, it's teaching exam technique. At worst, it's teaching a cheat's technique of how to maximise your chances of a pass without being able to read.

The student's aren't stupid and they pick up on it. I've frequently had students ask me why we have to keep on doing exam practice when they would rather be learning English. It seems that about a third of the year is spent on nothing else. The students resent it. I resent it and nobody benefits.

Give me a couple of days and I could produce a far superior set of exams on my own that would test everything they were supposed to be testing. Of course I'd never be able to get them recognised by the educational establishment and the Government but that just reveals what the purpose of exams really is, doesn't it.

(And later I may rant for a while about writing exams.)

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

So tell me again - how did you become a teacher?

I'm sitting here ostensibly invigilating a writing exam but there are only five students scattered around a very large room so that it isn't exactly an onerous task. What it has done is set me thinking again - most things do nowadays - about how I fell into teaching in the first place. To really appreciate it you need to understand a little of the background, a little of what went before. To follow my life path you need to go back to my secondary school days. I was one of those academic kids who was pretty good at every subject that didn't involve getting changed into shorts, running about and taking showers. Geography? A breeze. History? No sweat. French and German? Well maybe not so good, but still OK. Science? Done and dusted. But the two subjects that I actually excelled at were English and Maths. Of the two I preferred English but teachers being teachers they decided for me that my career path would be better served by doing two maths A-levels and Physics. (There was also General Studies but that was a kind of free gift A-level that could just as easily have been given away with a box of Coco-Pops for all the effort that was involved in passing it.)
So, I did those A-levels and having passed them ended up doing a maths degree at University. This involved pure maths, applied maths and computer studies. I can with hand on heart say that not only do I remember nothing about pure or applied maths beyond the title of one module - the theory of unsolvable problems - I have never, since the day that I walked out clutching my degree certificate, had cause to use one single thing that I learned in either of them. Computers on the other hand became my profession, de facto if not exactly chosen. And I was good at it. I progressed steadily, got more and more money, did the job. I also hated it. Fast forward to the death of my mother. It's wonderful how the death of someone close to you focuses the mind on what's important about life. It focused mine on getting out and seeing some of the world and so that’s what I did for almost two years. I travelled. Approaching the end of my travels with dear old Blighty looming on the horizon along with the prospect of needing to work for a living again, I found myself in China.I had been travelling across the country, having entered it along the Karakorum Highway from Pakistan.
I'm a big fan of China. Whenever any of my students want to know my favourite country it's the first answer that I give. I had intermittently been giving some thought to what I could do when I got home and while my conclusions were not yet resolved the one thing I did know was that I didn't want to go back into IT. At the back of my mind there had been an idea of maybe going into teaching. Resisting this impulse was the memory of my sole experience of the profession to date. I had, in the middle of my travels, briefly returned home and applied for an IT job at a local college. I didn't get it but I was offered a job teaching IT, After a great deal of thought I had taken it. And after one day I had quit it. I had no idea how to teach and no idea what to teach and the kids knew more than I did anyway. It was a nightmare. The worst day of my working life.
Against that I did feel that I might be able to make a better job of teaching English. After all IT was what I did but English was what I loved. Still I hadn't made a decision. And then I arrived in Kunming. Kunming is a fairly ordinary industrial town in central China. There isn't anything especially bad about it, nor anything especially good. On my first day there I wandered around looking for an internet cafe. It didn't take me very long to find one, a comfortable place with a row of fairly old computers and a slow connection but with nice coffee, soft chairs and decent snacks. It was full of Chinese teenagers. I settled down and started to check my e-mail.
I'd been there about ten minutes when a smiling girl, aged about seventeen came in with a pile of leaflets. At first I took no notice, but she looked around and spotting me as the only non-Chinese face came straight towards me. She held out a leaflet. I glanced at it. Printed at the top it said in large friendly letters "FREE BEER". Anyone who says the Chinese don't understand western culture doesn't know what he's talking about. Those two words together would motivate almost any Englishman. I read further. It was an invitation to any native English speakers to join the "Kunming English Club" in one of the local hotels where, in exchange for conversation, beer would be provided. I took the leaflet. She looked very happy.
"Flee be-ah" she said and went off in search of more Europeans.

Later in the evening I set off to look for the hotel. It was in a part of the city that I hadn't so far explored, down by the river. Here the buildings were older and more traditional and it was rather more pleasant than the areas that I had seen before. I soon found the hotel and went in. There was a large group of Chinese gathered there in the reception, male and female, almost all in their late teens and early twenties. One was a little older and it was he who approached. He introduced himself as a local high school teacher and thanked me for coming along. As he escorted me into the bar, a younger man came rushing up with a glass of beer. It seemed that there was indeed flee be-ah.

And so I spent the next few hours drinking a couple of beers and talking to the students of the Kunming English Club about all kinds of things - the royal family, English weather, rock music, sport (about which I know even less than I know about the royal family), what I thought about China, where I had been in the world, whether it is true that all Englishmen wear bowler hats and carry umbrellas. That kind of thing.

Belatedly I looked at my watch and realised that I had been there for more than three hours and it was alrady after ten, so I had to take my leave. They kept on thanking me - I had been the only native speaker there - out of the door and all the way along the road. And when I turned to head towards the hotel they stood waving.
So far I had had nothing to eat since a small lunch and was now worried that I wouldn't find anywhere still open. I ran back up the road towards my hotel and towards the tiny restaurant where I had had that lunch. The owner was just locking up. Somehow I managed, without any common language, to persuade her to open again and cook me a meal 0f chicken and rice. This is one of the reasons I like China so much. It's full of people who are friendly and helpful.

As I ate - watched by the owner - I reflected on the experience of the night and realised that I had had a great time. I'd had a real sense of doing something useful and positive for someone and, I discovered, my decision to teach when I got home had crystallised.

What remains is trivial. I got home. I took a CELTA course with the intention of teaching abroad. CELTA is a Certificate of English Language Teaching for Adults and is a qualification for teaching EFL. Circumstances meant that I took a job in the UK and I'm still doing it. And I'm still getting the same sense of doing something positive for people, a sense that I never had in all the time that I worked in IT.

So, that's how I fell into teaching, and I can honestly say that of all the jobs that I've had, it's the only one that ever gave me this particular satisfaction.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

More Death In the Afternoon

Please don't recoil in horror, but I once went to a bullfight. Circumstances had left me temporarily stranded in Quito. I'd been supposed to travel down into Ecuador from Columbia by road but there was too much criminal activity and both the Foreign Office and my insurance company weren't too keen on the idea. So, I'd flown – bypassing that section of my trip and arriving several weeks early. As I'd already planned a three week stop over I now had rather more time there than was necessary.

There are worse places to get stranded than Quito. The city is divided into four bands. There are the southern suburbs which are residential and of little interest to the traveller; the old city where you can wander around taking an endless stream of gorgeous pictures; the business district where the only reason for my regular visits was the chance for Spanish Lessons and superb full English breakfasts at the British Council. In between the business district and the old city is the new city where all the backpackers hang out and there is a restaurant and bar every dozen yards.

I'd found a decent cheap hotel, checked out the best places to eat and drink and – best of all – discovered the Reina Victoria. This was a reasonable facsimile of an English pub complete with bitter and stout to complement the ubiquitous South American Lager and a dart board. It was at the time being managed by an ex-pat American, Captain Ron The Captain was a good host who had taken to South American life with an almost Hemmingway-esque zest.

Given the grimness inherent in living hotels the pub was where I spent a lot of my free time and so I got to have many long chats with mein host. Around town I had seen posters for "Dia de Quito". The Captain explained them to me. It was the annual five day bull-fighting festival that celebrates the founding of the city. He was, it transpired, a keen aficionado. He had tickets for every day. Not only that, he had extra tickets for each day as he liked to take guests along. He invited me to accompany him on day one but I was unconvinced. He did his best to persuade me. He talked of the essential nobility of it all. He explained what a great honour it was for the bull. Bulls that had put on a good show were, he told me, cheered from the ring. I couldn't help noticing that cheered or not they would still be quite dead.

In the end though he persuaded me and, on a hot bright afternoon we set off by taxi for the bull ring. The streets and buildings were all still covered with a light dusting of ash from the recent eruption of the Guagua Pichincha Volcano which towers menacingly above the city.

The Captain looked like a character from a novel. He was wearing a cream coloured suit and a wide-brimmed Fedora. A wineskin on a narrow leather strap was hanging from his shoulder, pulling creases into his jacket. I'd made an effort myself, putting on a long sleeved shirt to go with the jeans I'd been wearing for six months.

We had to leave the taxi about half a mile from the bull ring – the crush of people and traffic being too severe to continue by road. The approach was like a carnival. Hat salesmen had their wares spread out on the road. Salesmen with buckets of flowers and broad smiles worked the crowd on foot. The avenue approach was lined with rows of astonishingly beautiful young women scantily garbed in red and black handing out free cigars and cigarettes.

Inside we took our places on the narrow stone seats. At the Captain's suggestion I had bought a cushion from one of the kids near the gate. It was, I discovered, a wise investment. I sat and surveyed the crowd. It was an eclectic mix. There were family groups with everyone from the babe-in-arms to the wizened old grandmother. Teenage boys sat with their arms around their seductively costumed girlfriends. Besuited businessmen sat side by side with fat old men in vests pouring streams of wine from wineskins with practised accuracy into the perfect ‘O’ of their tilted mouths. Gangs of teenagers laughed raucously at jokes which though I didn’t understand the language were clearly obscene. Elegant ladies dressed as if for a night at the theatre stepped gracefully to their seats and took out their opera glasses. There was not one empty seat in the arena.

The proceedings got under way with colourful carnival of flower decked carts parading around the ring. It was loud and lively and buoyant. I found myself enjoying the afternoon. That soon changed when the bull fighting itself began.

There were six fights on the program and they all followed a broadly similar pattern even though two of them were fought from horseback. The bull is first of all goaded by toreadors to enrage it and put it into a fighting mood, it is then weakened by sticking barbs into the neck muscles which make it drop it’s head both restricting its view and making it look more dramatic. Then after some time taunting it with a cape to make the spectacle entertaining for the crowd the matador takes a sharp sword and stabs it down between the shoulder blades and through the heart to kill the bull. There is a theoretical chance that the bull might harm the human participants but I saw no sign of it progressing to a reality. The first gouts of blood falling in the sand and staining the black hide of the bull with their sticky ichor had my stomach churning but it passed quickly. Sure enough as the first bull was dragged from the arena, unceremoniously hauled by a chain around its hind legs the crowd were on their feet whooping and hollering and stamping their feet. Only once was the pattern broken, in the last fight, and there we got to see what was for me the most significant and telling moment in the nature of the game. The last bull wouldn’t play. It stood to one side of the ring and resisted all attempts to goad it into a fight. Numerous barbs stabbed into its flesh simply made it cower away even more. As more and more of it’s once white coat became a gory crimson it stopped even backing away and simply stood there as if it knew the inevitable outcome and refused to give anyone the satisfaction of performing. Finally, in disgust, the Matador stabbed it and it dropped instantly to the ground. The spectacle had reminded me of nothing as much as the sight of playground bullies taunting the fat kid at school. The crowd, as predicted, booed their disapproval.

Later, over dinner, the Captain quizzed me about my impressions. As he had paid for everything – beer, wine and this meal included – it seemed to be monumentally ungrateful to be completely dismissive of what I'd seen. I tried not to offend him by mumbling something vaguely non-committal about recognising the skill of the participants but not approving of the activity. He didn't seem too crestfallen by my admission. After all he had four more days to make converts to his "sport".

For my part I never wanted to encounter it again but though it had confirmed all my prejudices I could now, at least, argue against it from a stand point of knowledge rather than ignorance. And if I tell myself that often enough I expect that I may, one day, come to believe it.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Beer and Cheese

There are many things that I miss when I'm travelling. They range from important emotional stuff like family and friends, through vague conceptual stuff like stability and comfort right down to trivial day-to-day stuff like beer and cheese.

Hang on a minute. Beer and cheese? Where can you go in the world where you can't get beer and cheese? I could point out that while cheese is available everywhere there are rather a lot of places where you can't get beer – at least not without a concomitant risk of imprisonment. Nevertheless that's not what I meant. I like my beer and cheese. I can wander down to my fridge now, open the door and find half a dozen different cheeses. I can turn around, open the cupboard under the worktop and find thirty bottles of beer from a dozen different breweries. And that's what I meant. Of course I can get beer and cheese but it isn't what I call beer and cheese. Now in most of Europe I can get pretty good beer. It isn't always to my taste but it has to be said that it's a proper quality product. Increasingly it's also possible in the United States to get some excellent beer if you look in the right places. The trouble is that travelling around the world you rapidly realise that in most places beer is synonymous with that yellow fizzy stuff promoted by brewers of mass market lagers. It doesn't matter whether you are in China or Chile, Nepal or Nigeria – if you buy beer you get something that is fizzy, yellow and quite unpalatable but with a local label on the bottle.

I was holding forth on this very subject last week when I spent a couple of sessions at the thirty-third Wolverhampton Beer Festival where I could drink from a large selection of excellent brews. When I am unable to get anything decent I will drink the stuff that most countries insist on describing as "beer" but it's with reluctance. It reminded me of when I was travelling around South America with my friend Manu. He's Belgian and also likes beer, albeit the Belgian varieties rather than the English ones. We'd run the bar on the truck for a while although we'd given that job over to someone else by the time we were really into the trip – it's something of a thankless task. Stock it with decent stuff and people don't like to pay the prices, stock it with cheap stuff and people complain about the quality. The quality of the beer we had been forced to drink was, at best, poor but we had a couple of days stopover in Santiago where people left the group and new people joined and we had discovered from the guide books that there were a number of bars where European bottled beers were to be had.

As we drove into Santiago it struck me as a large, modern city with a certain European style about it. It was filled with crowds and traffic and noise and bustle and didn’t look at first glance anything unusual. The buildings all looked like insurance offices apart from the one sprouting a roof full of satellite dishes and microwave transmitters which looked like - and was - a telecom tower. We arrived on a day as hot as any I had seen and checked into our rooms at the Youth Hostel, a marvellous modern building with superb facilities. Until this trip I had never really considered hostelling as an option but when I travel again it’s certainly something I shall think about. All of the hostels I stayed in - probably about four or five of them - were splendid places which not only had all the facilities you could want but were filled to bursting with English speaking backpackers.

For the next few days we explored Santiago - the trip changeovers always provide an opportunity for a longer break – and I realised that in at least one important respect my first impressions were quite wrong. Away from the main road that led in and out of the city it was quite unusual. It still had a very European look to it but on the streets away from that insurance office architecture it was extremely pretty and photogenic. The extensive pedestrian sections were broken up with plenty of civic parks and wide palm lined squares. The modern glass high rise buildings formed a backdrop to the much older colonial style ones so that the city managed to simultaneously have both the obvious European look to it and a subtler Mediterranean veneer. The more I saw of it the more I liked it. In spite of the promise of our researches the downtown area had something of a dearth of good bars - I spent an hour searching before a friendly shoe shiner abandoned his stand and led me down into the bowels of a building to the strange and deserted Bar Ingles. On the other hand a metro ride out it’s hard to find anything but bars. As you wander through the Provedencia district it is as if it has been designed as ‘Pubs of the World’ theme by someone who has formed his ideas by visiting Disneyland. There is the ersatz Australiana of Boomerang where nothing other than the names of the cocktails and a gigantic neon boomerang is noticeably antipodean. Just along the street is the similarly imitation Irishness of Brannigans, all green neon lights, plastic shamrock and waiters in green velvet waistcoats that a leprechaun would be ashamed to wear. Half a mile away the British entry in the bad taste stakes is The Phone Box is a British pub which surprisingly lacks the tackiness of most of the others. Manu and I had sought it out intentionally and we sat down outside and considered both the food menu and the beer menu. If it didn’t really look much like a British pub then it hardly mattered as they had at least made an effort with the food and drink. It offered a range of English bottled beers from Old Speckled Hen to Ruddles County and typical English menu including Steak and Kidney Pie and Cod and Chips. It also had a similar range of European bottled beers.

Manu and I had been bickering, in a rather friendly way, for months about which beer was better – British or Belgian. I bought a bottle of Ruddles County and set it in front of him. He, by turn, handed me a bottle of a Belgian beer to try. I forget the name but he assured me it was one of his personal favourites. I sipped at it. It was fine. Sweet and a little strong but vastly better than anything I'd had in recent weeks. I often find that European beers, for me, leave a slight medicianal taste in the mouth and this one did. Nevertheless I drank it though with a little less pleasure than I would have got from the County. From the cautious way he was drinking it Manu's thoughts about the British beer were clearly similar. Almost at the same instant we realised that this situation was a little foolish and silently exchanged glasses. We didn't argue about beer again for the rest of the trip.

Age Banding: A REALLY bad idea

This blog isn't meant to be the usual kind of blog and certainly isn't meant to be a showcase for anyone's views but there is something going on at the moment that I feel so strongly about that I am going to make an entry about it. Please forgive me if this is not what you were expecting to see. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

What is happening to cause me to veer away from the norm? It's this. Publishers are proposing a system for children's books where new books will have a large number printed on the cover identifying the age of the reader the book is intended for. This, a moment's thought should reveal, is a monumentally stupid idea. All children develop at their own pace. Some find reading easy. Some find it difficult. Some are in between. The proposal will disempower and disenfranchise all but the in-betweens. Parents of a six-year-old whose reading is particularly advanced will be put off buying books that are labelled "10". The six-year-old himself will be discouraged from stretching his efforts by the labelling.
Worse than that though is the other way around where a child is finding reading difficult. Imagine being a thirteen-year-old in a class of thirteen-year-olds, but struggling with your reading. What do you do? Try to read the books labelled "13" and be put off reading for the rest of your life or read the ones labelled "10" and suffer the ridicule of your classmates because, let's face it, children can be cruel and that's what would happen.

When I started school at the age of five, I already had a reading age closer to ten. My mother had been teaching me to read virtually since I had uttered my first "Mama". I would have hated been given books with a big "5" on them.

Another point I have not seen made relates to my own work. I am, as you probably realise, an ESL and EFL teacher. Mostly my students are adults but sometimes they are teenagers. I often recommend specific children's books to them as a way to develop their English. These books are always for a lower age and I select them by their content and language level. I use extracts from them in class.
I cannot imagine for one moment that a fifteen-year-old Polish or Czech student is going to be very likely to read a book labelled boldly for kids four or five years younger.

Even the publishers' reasoning that it will help parents choose suitable books and therefore potentially increase their sales doesn't hold water. Misinformation is not the same thing as information. Locking parents into rigid modes of thought about what is and isn't suitable for children at a particular age will discourage them from experimenting with other books. Sensible parents will ignore the advice. Very sensible ones will start buying older books or second hand books that do not carry the banding.
Sales of new books will fall not rise.

Everyone's a loser.

There is an on line petition against this. It has been signed already by many children's authors, illustrators and booksellers as well as by teachers, librarians and parents. If anyone else feels as strongly as I do about this, the petition can be found here.

I urge everyone from the UK to consider signing it.

Thank you for listening. We now return you to your regular program.