Monday, 17 December 2012

Power and wealth attracts the corruptible

Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect all who seek it.
FRANK HERBERT, Chapterhouse: Dune

When I worked with education in South Africa on behalf of a UK charity I was able to bring resources that were not readily available to Heads and teachers there. Over a five year period I managed to secure computers, software and much more for schools that were still struggling to provide books in classrooms and feed their learners. £1million of resource that included science labs for township schools and connections with wealthier partner schools in England. 

As part of the deal I often escorted British Headteachers on tours to SA. I asked colleagues in Cape Town and Gauteng to host visits, put on a show at the school etc. Because what we were offering these schools was so valuable to them it was sometimes easy to forget that this power may have forced them to change their timetables and adapt to fit around us. 

On my return to the UK I often felt very guilty about the power we had because of the wealth we also had. I hope I used this primarily for the benefit of the learners in the SA schools. But the contrast between my situation and theirs was based on the finances available to me.

I feel the Coalition government has completely lost sight of the people their power affects. Their comfortable situation, their money, their personal resources have blinded them to the plight and the wishes of the people they were elected to serve.

While most politicians I believe really do want to serve their community, sadly for many, the exercise of power has become the only ambition they have. 

Power gradually extirpates for the mind every humane and gentle virtue.
EDMUND BURKE, A Vindication of Natural Society

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The well bred seem intent on spreading poverty wider and further.

I have only felt really hungry over an extended period of time once in my life.

At College, near the end of term and determined not to ask my parents for any more support, I spent three weeks surviving. My diet consisted of “bread and spread” and little else. I didn’t feel healthy, I didn’t feel able to participate in College life and I felt continually depressed. But it wasn’t cold outside, I had no dependents and I had mates who occasionally bought me a beer. I also had a point to make.

When I was teaching in an inner city school in the seventies, I often came across kids who came to school starving. Many bought a bag of crisps on the way in or came with nothing in their stomachs and waited for free lunch for their first meal of the day. Many of us had a packet of biscuit bars that we used to give these kids so they had something to eat at morning break. Not a large group of students but too big to institute a feeding programme of "bread and spread" but enough to worry about especially during the Winter months. This "teacher charity" is on the rise again.

The next time I encountered real and long term hunger was while I worked for a charity in South Africa. The country is a real land of contrasts. I worked with schools seeking to develop the use of technology in the 21st century. Some of the schools in our network were seemingly modelled on Eton with playing fields, bell towers and refectories. The majority I went into were hacked out of township wastelands.

One I had much to do with was a school where both educators and learners generally spoke isiXhosa at home, but had to teach for the most part, in English. Most of the staff could converse in Afrikaans too. Yet the majority of the kids were on province sponsored feeding programmes. “Bread and spread” (generally jam) was handed out at the end of the day and that was the meal they looked forward to. Kids who came well dressed in their school uniforms, you could see were hungry before they went back to their “shacks”.

This situation was hammered home to me many times. I took the school’s drum and dance group to the Commonwealth Education Ministers Conference where they performed for the well fed and self satisfied representatives. Afterwards the Venue provided each of the 30 kids with a packed lunch. To a UK kid nothing special but the individually wrapped sandwiches, chocolate biscuits etc etc was heaven for this group.

On another occasion (see earlier blog) I spoke at an Indaba at the school celebrating their new IT Lab. We cooked a meal for all the participants and the local community and school. This meal of chicken, pap and steamed bread was more than just an event for the kids it was vital sustenance. It took me a long time to realise that the staff too were often short of decent food.

You sometimes see in UK restaurants the option to take home a “doggie bag” of leftover food. Eat in SA and leftover food is often handed out to the street kids or parking watchmen.

So when the Tories sneer at the poor in the UK and say nobody is starving, I am simply horrified that we can actually see foodbanks in our cities and the hungry children back in our schools.

They have already downgraded the Labour government's commitment to eradicate child poverty in 2020 by announcing new non-income indicators of poverty. They are planning to stop monitoring child poverty.

I never thought we would be discussing the problems of hunger amongst our people

The well bred seem intent on spreading poverty wider and further.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Boy Bloggers, Tory Think Tanks & an Absence of Expertise

I have been blocked by only a few people in my four years on Twitter. One thought he spoke for the left in the Independent and although I only made one comment criticising his casual rudeness about isiXhosa, I was blocked.(see an earlier blog)

Another speaks for whatever right wing hurrah is the current obsession and really does write, speak and tweet like a privileged school kid emerging from his darkened room. 

I think both stopped the link because I disagreed with them and said so. Both enjoyed the thrill of being little heroes to their respective followers and while dispensing criticism was their game they hated it when an argument was made that didn't fit their perception.

Then there is Toby Young, @toadmeister. Not only is his opinion sought on everything on the basis that he thinks he knows everything, but our government gave permission for him start a school and inflict himself on children! It was almost a badge of honour to be blocked by him.

I think blocking has to be used for a definite reason. Usually because of offensiveness or persistent unpleasantness. Unfollowing seems to me to be the right course of action in most cases.

I follow many people who have views I radically disagree with, but that seems to me to be the point. Hear an argument, dispute it when you can but still engage. Clearly, there might be exceptions. I don't follow anyone who blatantly supports racist organisations for example.

There are however, people on Twitter, (and most are male) who seem intent on becoming their own version of mini-celebrities. Unfortunately this medium and the news media encourage them by giving them access to speak about subjects they have no expertise in, only prejudices about.

These boy bloggers often delight in a series of throwaway insults to get attention. Sadly this is sometimes as prevalent on the Left as the Right. As a teacher, it reminds me of the playground behaviour of the loudest kids who can't argue a point successfully so end up shouting insults. I sometimes wish Twitter could be more like a staffroom conversation rather than the one behind the bike sheds.

To be frank many of the supposedly political bloggers are far more interested in building a media presence than arguing a point constructively. Tweet enough rudeness, blog enough rubbish and say you belong to a ThinkTank or a "political blog"  and #SkyNews and #BBCNews seems happy to invite you on. You can then spout crap to millions of viewers who don't know your "claim to expertise" is based on nothing but writing awfulness on awful websites.

So. I offer you a new ThinkTank from the comfort of my Basingstoke Sofa. It is available for comment on any and all topics especially education.

But like @MrHarryCole and his pub bore friends I will talk at length about anything. I may not know anything about the subject, but I will be happy to splutter cliche, nod enthusiastically and claim my appearance fee.

Isn't that what think tanks are for? Contact me at....

Thursday, 2 August 2012

WRESTLING YETIS : 3 generations: 3 "jobs for life"

When my father retired at the age of 60 from a lifetime of work, he pretty soon got bored. He had worked for the AA before volunteering for the army at the outbreak of war in 1939. After time in North Africa and Italy he returned to the UK and passed the entrance exams for the Civil Service Commission. He spent the next 30+ years working on projects to do with Careers and Training in the Civil Service. My mother did a variety of jobs, but usually in retail, and part time. At the age of 60 he had his works pension but no state one yet. Living in a Council House they could afford to live reasonably but not lavishly. The problem was he was bored, so he walked into an admin work agency and walked out with a new job the same day. A temporary post led to a permanent one at the age of 61. He stayed there for 6 years using the same skills as he had learnt in the Civil Service. He never had a problem finding a job where he could demonstrate loyalty and hard work.

I worked in various jobs (office, school caretaking etc) before going to a Teacher Training College. With certificate in hand, I went straight into a Comprehensive on the Old Kent Road in London and stayed there for 17 years. Classroom teacher, head of department, senior manager progression. My loyalty was to the school and the community it served. A tough environment but a rewarding one. I didn't apply for another job outside until I had been there for 15 years. I moved on to another school's senior management team in a leafier part of the world and then worked for an Education Charity which received a major part of its funding from Labour Government programmes. After a few years there I got involved in work with African schools which became my personal "mission" and made me feel both valued and valuable. I raised in three years almost £1m from companies and trusts to be used to develop skills in African classrooms. Funding for my post ran out and I was threatened with redundancy but transferred into a new project that was totally dependent on government funding. With the emergence of the Coalition this project was scrapped and within 3 months I was made redundant.

After a lifetime of showing commitment, enthusiasm and loyalty, plus a bank of skills based on global experience of education, fundraising and media work, I had high expectations of finding a job quickly. 2 years later I have no full time job and although my days of consultancy continue I am now certain that I value being part of a team. Having to constantly "sell" myself for every job is frankly depressing. 

I grew up in an environment where demonstrating commitment and loyalty were seen as a crucial part of the job. In today's workplace the individual who is forced to re-imagine and sell themself repeatedly.

My son left University in 2010 with a First Class Honours Degree. When he started his course in Film Studies he knew that full time permanent jobs were not the norm in the creative industries but he expected to earn enough to develop and hone his skills and his career. Within a few weeks of gaining power the Coalition scrapped the UK Film Council which was the source of hope for many hoping to work in British Film and also a major contributor to the economic health of the nation.. Much of the work of the Arts Council has been reduced or scrapped too.

He has had many successes with film and theatre projects (see below) but paid work is very limited. Arts employers offer unpaid internships or expenses only jobs, so wthout comfortably off parents this field is closed to many youngsters. The Job Centres are arranged to find poorly paid and temporary jobs. He has only managed to claim Job Seekers Allowance for a few weeks in the last year because every time he does something to further his career, he is not "available for work" and has to come off.

A great example of this is he was shortlisted (and then won) a film competition on "Conservation of Water". The American company organising this paid for him to attend the event in Los Angeles and a few other industry related days. This was a great opportunity to make links with film makers and funders and develop his skills. Because he was not "available for work" for a week he lost several weeks JSA. Absurd.

But the biggest loss for him is the inability to join the "contributing society". He is not part of a team. Like me he is not able to demonstrate and learn loyalty and commitment. His only priority in work is himself and the desperation he feels about being able to start on the road. He left University with massive debt but nowhere near what the next generation of students are going to face.

They will have no sense of belonging to anything, no sense of being part of a team, no hope and no choices. Any job will do. And they are not able to start the long journey to a pension or buy a property.

My father worked and served all his life and had the opportunity to continue contributing until late in his sixties, using the skills and ideas he learnt and developed at work.

I worked in jobs where loyalty and commitment were important and my skill set was immense, but before I have reached sixty I am out on a limb, feeling I have lots more still to offer but nowhere to show that.

My son can't even start on that route, and he has yet to feel that commitment to anything other than himself is worthwhile. In his early twenties- but he can't get a worthwhile job and seems to have no hope of finding one. I think the film he wrote and directed "Wrestling Yetis" sums up how important it is to feel enthusiastic about the your job and your future.

Wrestling Yetis

Fun and Games IUOW Competion Winner 2011 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

ICT Questions for School Governors. What do we now teach? ICT, Computing, Computer Studies, Computer Science?

1. BYOD Is there a Bring Your Own Device school policy? 
2. Social media a. Is there a school Social Media policy? b. Is the school community encouraged to be involved? 

3. How is Twitter etc used by the School to communicate with stakeholders? 

4. Who runs the accounts?

5. Cross curricular and whole school use of ICT How is this reported to parents and encouraged in departments? old but still relevant

a. Have learners expressed an interest in coding/programming in class?  
b. Is there after school activity for advanced computing available? 
c. How will it be included in the more general “ICT” curriculum? 
d. Are staff sufficiently skilled? 

7. Hardware acquisition.
a. Is there a school policy regarding new types of devices? e.g. Tablets, IWBs, Raspberry Pi, (small single board computer) etc?
b. Is there a replacement and upgrade policy in place?  

8. How will Computing, Computer Studies or Computer Science be introduced to School Curriculum as a standalone subject? Don’t Call It "Computer Science" If We Really Mean "Computer Programming"  

 9. How does ICT Training take place?
a. For department use
b. For social media
c. For Internet Literacy
d. For e-safety 

10. Are all staff fully aware of and acting in compliance with Data Protection Act? 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Gove : Secretary of State for Academies and Free Schools

As the wordle of his Jan 4th 2012 speech shows, Gove no longer cares about the majority of kids in state schools. He seems to see his role as simply to promote one form of governance. He has insulted teachers, leaders and governors in schools struggling to create good opportunities for their learners in LA supported schools.

He is the true ideologue. Those of us arguing for a comprehensive system and curriculum are not the "idealogues" that the DfE tweeted about earlier today.

me (sort of...)

me (sort of...)