Gerry’s News Digest 190: Postal votes, English schools, Body on the Moor Pt 2 (7th October, 2016)

Hi, this is Gerry, and this is my News Digest for Friday 7th October 2016. Today I’m going to answer a question about postal voting [1], tell you about schools in England and what the government wants to do with them. And then there’s Part 2 of the “The Body on the Moor” mystery.


Some time ago, Käthi, a News Digest listener, asked me a question about postal votes in the UK. Do we have them? And what about online voting? After all, sending something by post is a very old-fashioned way to communicate. In today’s world wouldn’t it be easier if people could vote in referendums or in elections in their own homes without having to go and visit a voting station [2], usually in the local school? At the moment we have no provision for [3] online voting but it is possible to vote by post. You have to apply for a postal vote sometime before the date of an election or referendum. You receive your voting papers and you have to make sure that your vote arrives before 10pm [4] on the day of the election or referendum. Certain categories of people can, alternatively [5], apply to vote by proxy [6], which means you allow somebody else to vote for you. This is only for people who, for example, are going to be away on the day of the election, or who are disabled and cannot go out to vote. And you can only act as proxy for one other person.

Although there are many people who use a postal vote, there are some doubts about these votes. If there are ever questions about the validity [7] of elections in this country, it’s usually a question about the postal votes. Why? We need to go back to look at the history of the struggle for universal suffrage [8]. There were always two issues: one was the fight for equality [9] – the right for everybody, rich and poor, white and black, Protestant and Catholic, men and women, to have one vote each – and the second was the right to vote in private [10] so that you could vote differently from your landlord [11], your boss, your neighbour, your priest, your father, your husband, etc. That’s why we vote in secret. But what happens if somebody with a large family or with a lot of influence within the community wants to boost [12] the vote for a particular party. It’s OK to talk to people in your group and try to persuade them to vote for the party that you support, but if they have postal votes it’s not OK if you stand over them [13] while they actually make their mark on the ballot paper [14] before putting it in the post. There are similar risks applying to online voting, and there are other security issues. Could the vote be hacked? I’d think it’s probably easier to manipulate an electronic vote than it is a physical vote involving the counting of thousands of pieces of paper. But I’m sure that sooner or later an online system will be developed. Before that, the British Parliament might look at its own voting methods. Do you know that every time British MPs vote they have to leave the chamber [15] and go through special lobbies [16] (one for the Yes votes, one for the No votes) where they are physically counted. They do this for each vote.


One of the laws that MPs will be voting on sometime soon, we are told, is going to be about education in England. Mrs May’s new government wants to see more new schools of what sounds like a traditional kind. Let me give you the background, as simply as I can. In the 1950s and 1960s Britain had a selective [17] state school system [18]. At the age of 10 or 11 all children had to take English, arithmetic [19] and IQ [20] tests. This set of tests was called the 11+. If you passed you could go to a “grammar school”. If you failed, you went to a “secondary modern school”, or in some areas they also had what they called “technical schools”, which specialised in preparing children for technically skilled jobs. In some areas, 10% of children went to grammar schools, in others maybe 40%. It varied a lot. Only children in grammar schools had the chance to do exams, and only grammar school children could go on to university or other training colleges. In the 1970s the system began to change. No more selection at 11. All children went on to the same schools, and these were called “comprehensive schools”. In comprehensive schools all children had, in theory, the chance to do exams and go on to study something or get a good job afterwards. The criticism was that it was more difficult to teach the most academic children to the same level as in the specialised grammar schools. By the 1990s there were a lot of schools, especially in the big cities, which were not very good and which had very poor results. So these schools began to be closed down and replaced by “academy schools”. Academies were paid for by the government, but they were run by private companies. Generally speaking these schools have been successful, and now some of the best schools in the country according to official inspectors and exam results are now academies in Central London – in areas which used to have very bad schools in the past. In the last few years there are now also “free schools”. These, again, are private schools paid for by the government. But while academy schools are often part of a chain of schools, free schools are independent schools started by groups of parents or teachers in order to provide a different kind of education. Some of these free schools are “faith [21] schools”. They may be Roman Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Protestant, etc. So today we still have some areas of England with grammar schools, we have publicly supported church schools, we have areas with comprehensive schools and we have the newer academies and free schools, and of course there are lots of private schools where parents pay. It’s a complex picture.

The new government has I think two main policy objectives [22]. It wants to raise standards in schools – to make them better – and it wants to please parents, because remember that parents have the right to choose schools for their children here, depending on what’s available. The Prime Minister seems to want to make parents’ wishes her main priority, and she wants to bring back grammar schools and allow more schools to select their pupils by ability. Parents want this, she says. She also supports faith schools. Mr Cameron introduced a policy which required [23] a faith school to reserve half of its places to children from outside that faith. This policy was never popular with the Roman Catholic schools which then didn’t have enough places for all the Catholic children who wanted them. The political questions now are: Is selection really popular with parents? What about parents whose children are rejected [24]? Does selection actually raise standards in a general sense? How many children in today’s world need an academic education? And what about the others? In today’s world is it good in educational terms or in social terms to have children of different faiths being educated separately? There are many different opinions.


And now it’s time to continue with our story “The Body on the Moor”. Last time, I explained how the body of a man was found up on Saddleworth Moor. He wasn’t dressed for a hike [25] in the hills, and the body was sort of carefully arranged by the path. It was as if this place had been carefully chosen. So who was he? Well, this is where the mystery really starts because this man had no form of identity on him – nothing. He had no phone, no wallet, no credit cards, no papers, no unusual clothing. There was nothing to help the police find out who this man was. And in the months that followed there was no report of a missing person that matched this body. And why was he on Saddleworth Moor? Saddleworth Moor has a bit of history, and people immediately began to remember the story of the Moors Murders. In the early 1960s a man and a woman murdered a series of children from the Manchester area and some of the bodies of these children were buried on Saddleworth Moor. So did this man have some connection with that horrible story? There was also a plane crash on the moor in 1949 which killed 24 passengers and crew leaving only 8 survivors. But so far no connection has been found between our body and these two previous events. What the police did next, however, was to try and trace [26] the route that the man had taken to the moor. Where had he come from? How did he get there? Had anybody seen him or talked to him? Next time I’ll tell you what they found out.


If you want to send me any questions or comments about the show you can write to me via the website: Or use Twitter: my Twitter address is @Gerrypod. Remember that you can listen to me via the PodClub app, and that you can access the vocabulary learning programme also via the app. I’ll be back on November 4th. Till then, thanks for listening, and take care!

[1] postal voting: when you choose the person you like in an election or the answer you like in a referendum by post (or by mail as the American say – not email!)
[2] voting station: a place where you go to vote
[3] to have/make provision for something: to allow something, to make something possible
[4] NB Voting always stops at 22:00 in the UK.
[5] alternatively: as another possibility
[6] proxy: a person who has the permission or authority to do something for you
[7] validity: here: acceptability, trustworthiness (when talking about a vote)
[8] suffrage: the right to vote
[9] equality: the same rights for everybody
[10] in private: where nobody can see or hear you
[11] landlord: the person who owns the house and land that other people live in
[12] to boost: to increase, to make bigger
[13] to stand over somebody: to watch somebody and check what they are doing
[14] ballot: election, a vote to see what people want
[15] chamber: here: the room where the MPs discuss things
[16] lobby: a small(er) room outside the main room
[17] selective school system: a system where children are chosen (through testing) for different types of school
[18] state school: a school that is owned by the government (NB In America these are called public schools, but in the UK a public school is actually a private school! Very confusing!)
[19] arithmetic: the part of mathematics that involves basic calculations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division)
[20] NB IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient
[21] faith: a religious belief, a religion
[22] objective: aim
[23] to require: (when talking about a law, for example) to make (something) obligatory
[24] to reject: to refuse
[25] hike: walk, trek
[26] to trace: to find, to follow


Sr. Raphaela 25-10-2016 14:51
Hi Gerry
Thanks for your news – it’ll be interesting to follow the vote about education in Britain. Because it seems that Mrs May’s new government is going to strike out in a new direction! Maybe it’s a good way, why not!
I’m looking forward to your next podcasts – lots of greetings from Switzerland! Sr. Raphaela
Käthi 17-10-2016 18:24
Hi Gerry!
Thank you very much for your answer to my question about postal votes and for all your other interesting informations.
It seems to me that the English school system is as complicated as in Switzerland. It's really a "complex picture".
Best regards,