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Episode 2013: the imperial system strikes back

Small boy with a measuring tape and pencil

The imperial measurement system is not just still alive – it may be staging a comeback, according to reports. Should school children be taught to use both imperial and metric measurements?

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is apparently making plans to reintroduce the teaching of imperial units in schools. The draft curriculum for England is set to teach pupils how to convert between imperial and metric

I can see some logic for doing this in maths classes; the interview for my first job in a DIY chain had questions on converting feet into centimetres. My customers were a real mix of imperial and metric users, but I don’t recall imperial being taught at school. My knowledge was probably more down to my ruler using both measurements – it was a 12″ one with a rather odd 31cm on the other side.

So, should we just ditch imperial and spend time teaching kids about something else? JD Baines told us on our last imperial vs metric debate:

‘Few teachers now understand imperial, whereas in schools in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s decimal was taught in schools alongside imperial. One was taught the conversion factors as well, which were “simplified” on the official decimalisation on the UK – thus one could not go to a timber yard and get 50mm x 100mm – it was still 2″×4″. (50mm x 100mm is actually smaller!).’

Wavechange offered an alternative solution:

‘I am happy for kids to learn about imperial measures – but it should be in history classes.’

Your thoughts on the imperial march

When we last had a conversation about measurement systems, almost half of the voters in our poll thought we should ditch imperial units altogether, while a third thought we should keep our current mix. Over a fifth preferred a return to imperial. Some of the comments showed hard lines on the debate. Seares was ready to go metric; ‘It’s about bloody time.’

While David Ramsay spoke for imperial users:

‘NOOOOOOOOOO. I will refuse to use anything other than imperial and will ask for all purchases to be measured accordingly.’

John Knox was equally emphatic:

‘Imperial all the way! I still do everything pretty much in imperial. You know that the jars of jam and honey, etc. you buy are a pound in weight in the supermarket despite them putting the diabolical French measurements on instead.

‘A pint of milk is still a pint of milk and same for beer! We also know our quarter-pounder and half-pounder burgers!’

Popular abroad, the metric system is

The UK is not the only place to have converted from imperial to metric. Michael Glass offered a viewpoint from a country far, far away:

‘As an Australian I find all this angst about metrication quite appalling. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and a whole lot of other countries changed without all this fuss and bother.’

Seares thinks we should go Dutch:

‘I’m in Holland – there doesn’t seem to be any problem here with metric, and they still have their own culture (and cheese). Why would we alone in our island lose our ‘nationality’ or ‘history’ or whatever if we used the system most other countries do?’

Finally, Swanseasteve pointed out that Sandringham listed its size in hectares:

‘If metric values are good enough for the Queen they’re good enough for us!’

What are your thoughts? Is the proposed move to teach imperial putting the best foot forward or taking us back by miles?

Should imperial measurements be taught in schools?

No, it's time to go fully metric (51%, 287 Votes)

Yes, they are helpful for daily life (38%, 215 Votes)

Only if they are taught in history lessons (11%, 60 Votes)

Total Voters: 566

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Peter Hargreaves says:
30 April 2013

Author: Peter Hargreaves
W J G, Your Comment:

“The mixed measurement situation is divisive. It diivides this country, and arguably more than any other country, it divides the community, society, and the nation. It is unneeded, unwanted, and makes this country look backward, instead of forward, it makes this country weaker not stronger.
The popularity of Imperial measures only occurs, because people are given a choice”

Sorry wjg; but who’s talking about a mixed measurement system here, you need to know when to get the best out of each measurement system, which to a large extent is influenced by each individuals profession and hobbies, which I have already mentioned in earlier comments. In the last paragraph you mention that imperial measures only occur because people are given a choice. This is precisely what governments are elected for, to address the needs of the electorate. Most British people want to retain use of imperial measurements in certain situations. Speaking to the younger generation coming out of schools, colleges and universities they prefer to use imperial measurements when relating to the natural world. These are intelligent, articulate young people who are making an informed choice. But as I have said before they prefer metric when the topics of science and engineering are mentioned. To say that this makes our country weaker and backward is nonsense. Most of our international trade is conducted in metric anyway. The medical profession, post office, paper industry and printing industry to name a few. Crucially all health and safety legislation is in metric, which is in line with European directives. It is an easy option to blame government. Most people in this country are not really interested in this debate and would be both surprised by your comments and amused.

Finally, I wonder how many people actually order their petrol by the litre. Most people I know will say “twenty or thirty pounds worth of petrol please”. Whereas previously they would have said “ten gallons of petrol please”. So much for the popularity of the metric system.


Peter – you claim “This is precisely what governments are elected for, to address the needs of the electorate.”

Oh come on now! If that was true, we’d have capital punishment back, all immigrants would be rounded up and deported, and we’d not have been involved in recent wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. No – the government is elected to run the country as best it can for the country’s general benefit. What that means does depend on what party/parties get elected. But individual peoples’ whims are not likely to get taken seriously into account once they’re up and running.

Then, later “I wonder how many people actually order their petrol by the litre.”

Dunno about you, but I’ve never seen anyone “order petrol”. It’s all self-serve these days. You get out and put whatever you want into your tank. I typically put about 30 litres into mine on a fill. Others might put in £50’s worth or whatever. It’s up to them, but they never actually “order” it.

Stimpy says:
2 May 2013


You honestly and purposely put 30 (or any other number) litres in? I have never seen that. So you would slow down the pump at – say – 27 litres and dribble the rest needed for 30? Then you pay the obscure/un-round-able cash? Wow – there’s commitment. Gimme gallons and I would’t do that.

My methods are

1) create intercourse betwixt car and ‘liquid gold machine’ pump. Grip the handle to start the fill. Check out the weather. Check out the girl at pump ‘2’. Check out the teenager with a Lambo. Then “CLUNK”. Stop. Wiggle. Holster. Cry at the numbers next to ‘£’ – then drive away or walk to the pay part.

2) “I’m in a hurry” – so I splosh 20 quid in – without accuracy – pay – drive to the urgency.

3) ..is abroad. The hire car contract states that you must leave the car with the key under the carpet with the same level petrol as when you picked it up. So I drive to the garage – put in a fiver’s worth, pay, then swear profusely as you beg the needle to move a bit more up – tapping it gently then hoping the hire company doesn’t notice.

I’ve only heard of another person who actually states/delivers a perfect ‘X’ litres – but he was slightly unhinged.

Here’s a tip. If you drive a diesel car look at the pump. If there is a black button (unmarked) above or under the holster then push it. The delivery is then in ‘Lorry-mode’. Only do this if you know your car can accept high speed dispensing.


When I fill my fuel can for the lawnmower, I put in exactly 10 litres. When the supermarket offers five or ten pence off per litre, I put in an exact number of litres.



“You honestly and purposely put 30 (or any other number) litres in? I have never seen that.”

Well, now you’ve heard of it, even if you haven’t seen it. Yes I do that regularly. 30L is a half a tank. For a while I was monitoring my fuel usage and round numbers of litres just made the sums come out looking neater. Turned out I was using 8.5L/100km in the end which is roughly what the car manual said I should expect, so nothing much wrong with the engine there….

“So you would slow down the pump at – say – 27 litres and dribble the rest needed for 30? Then you pay the obscure/un-round-able cash?”

Yeah – you just hand over your card and they debit what you’ve spent. It doesn’t matter what that amount is, as such.

“Wow – there’s commitment. Gimme gallons and I would’t do that.”

What, filling up with gallons is somehow different?? It’s just fuel, dude. Put in a given amount of fuel, or a given value of fuel or brim your tank or randomly put some fuel in – the units that count up on the pump have nothing to do with it!

Stimpy says:
4 May 2013


Well you’ve just proved to me that there are all sorts out there. I literally know of no-one who uses capacity of a fuel tank (which will have redial fuel in it) and then put a perfect number of decimally spot on litres to join an unknown quantity of ‘left overs’ in the tank.

Please forgive me for saying ‘odd’.

Stimpy says:
4 May 2013


Wow – that’s just – well – “weird” ! Do you engage in Chemistry or something?

I’m sorry to tell you that 30L is only half a tank if you completely use up all your petrol. Oh PLEASE don’t tell me you use recovery trucks so you can retain accuracy? No way!

And then you use the data to generate a statistic that almost no-one will understand.

If you REALLY wanted to know info in modern UK speak you should-

1 – go to petrol station
2 – fill up untill it goes ‘clunk’
3 – reset your mileometer and do a load of driving
4 – do number ‘2’ again but keep note of the litre things and your mileage
5 – go to browser and ask ‘mpg from x litres and Y miles’ and you’ll get the mpg

Using the refill method does away with ‘reserve’ or unused petrol (unless you use a truck etc).

To your gallons remark about my gallons remark – it’s quite simple… The single overiding factor that is most important to almost every car driver is the numbers next to “£”. Nothing more/nothing less. Even if it was gallons (unless I wanted to make up a daft story that elevates the word “gallons” to more than a legal data requirement (unless, again, I was checking the mpg/

You lot are causing sparks in my brain box and as such cannot go near a petrol station!




I don’t measure the amount of fuel every time I fill up, though I do every time I fill up fuel cans, simply because over-filling can cause leakage. In the past, I used to lug around 20 litre cans of red diesel for various purposes, and invariably filled them with the exact amount of fuel, which is very easy.

I’ve been described as a ‘maniac’ on Which? Conversation, so calling me ‘odd’ is very restrained. Perhaps you should re-read all your pos