Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Buses, Tories and Thatcher

Unfortunately, lots of them come along at the same time

All the right wing tweeters getting upset about the lack of respect for Thatcher reminded me of one change she helped to instigate that I noted with sadness in the 80's. Her "children" Cameron and Osborne have continued implementing such wonderful policies as destroying the public sector, privatising anything that moves and casting another generation onto the slag heap.

But it made me think of one very practical example I lived through of how Thatcher's "grand ideas" completely changed one small but important aspect of our society.

In the 80's I was commuting into Waterloo, then taking two buses to get to the school I taught in, on the Old Kent Road.

When I started doing those journeys every bus had a driver and a conductor. As the Tory cuts took effect I saw the progressively deteriorating effect on travel in London. It may be apocryphal, but the Thatcher quote about only failures needing to take a bus, seemed to be evident in their transport policies.

"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure"

Slowly the friendly conductor, who helped on board the old, the infirm and the young parents with kids, was got rid of. It took longer at each stop because no-one was there to direct and the driver had to take the fares, creating long hold ups of cars behind the bus. Pretty soon the drivers alone in their cabs got frightened of the passengers and heavy duty plastic screen were put in between them and the people getting on. Queues and travel in London got slower.

Once that minimal contact between driver and passenger was eliminated with tickets bought before getting on, the driver became dramatically more distant. Old people who might have been helped by a conductor, now got thrown around as driving became more erratic and less connected to the people in the bus. I saw the service deteriorate around me.

In other words buses became much less of a service to the people who used them. Important people didn't need them anyway.

So much of what happened under Thatcher was the elimination of care and public service. It's all happening again.

"One man's overstaffing is another man's care and attention"

The public sector is again being dismantled. The teams that have grown to support the people they serve are being broken up, individuals made redundant. Things that matter to ordinary people are being scrapped because the "important" ones, the millionaires in cabinet have no need for them.

That's the way it is. Let's face it, when you next get on a bus how likely is it that George Osborne will be sitting next to you. His oyster card will only be used to buy the oysters to accompany his champagne.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Time for the Shadow Secretary of State for Education to leave the shadows

Those of us who believe that Michael Gove is effectively destroying the life chances of the majority of learners in this country, have a hard job ahead.

Most education professionals believe that almost all of his "reforms" on governance, on exams, on teaching, on the curriculum,  etc etc only serve to return state education to the inequities of the 50s and 60s.

Most of us believe that the underlying intention of them all is to privatise schooling and to remove any democratic and local involvement. 

Yet, when the BBC's Daily Politics show did a "half term report" on the Government, the contributors gave Gove full marks, "an unqualified success." None of these people were educators, few had ever experienced state education. Like the majority of media presenters and commentators they are products of the private schools and send their children to these elite institutions too.

When I heard Stephen Twigg, the almost supine Shadow Education Secretary, speak at an event, I was amazed by his approach. He is a good speaker, showing all the hallmarks of a career politician. But what he actually said was nothing more than anodyne and apple pie. He used good trigger words, "fairness" "justice" and "transparency". But what he really had to say was that most of Gove's "reforms" would be left untouched.

We could do with a bit of help from the Labour spokesman. Anyone who follows him on Twitter, @StephenTwigg, will see that he seems to go to a lot of picnics but rarely tweets about education. In fact, unlike most politicians, he rarely replies to tweets addressed to him.

Has anyone actually told him he is the Shadow Secretary of State for Education?
Do a picture search for Stephen Twigg on Google and you get as many of Michael Portillo as Stephen himself. Was unseating Thatcherite Mick the last thing he did?

When the BBC thinks Toby Young is an expert on education, when discussion in the media is led by those with no experience of state education and when the Labour Party Education spokesman is really just Mr Govelite, those of us in education have a long and steep road to rescue education in 2015. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

Frank discussion not playground brawl

I have written here many times about the lack of basic courtesy that is often Twitter's hallmark.

I have been guilty many times. I have so enjoyed making fun of Danny (Beaker) Alexander. So many times in fact that I feel perhaps I should be paying him royalties. I am afraid I have also let my spite go to extremes when the nonsense of Govian education policy bites us once again. So because I don't know these people personally, I have been rude but hopefully not offensive?

Trouble is, once you meet people here, or at least talk to them in thoughts bigger than 140 characters, it becomes harder to be merely rude at their expense. It's that basic courtesy thing. Also just because you disagree on politics doesn't mean you won't share a love for John Martyn, Western Cape Pinotage or Anne Tyler.

So I have talked at length with some politicians, bloggers and educationists whose views on the Tory road to the future I violently disagree with. Isn't it better to state your view, correct theirs where you can but continue the conversation?

I love finding the slightly acidic quote or picture that backs up my gut feelings and gets others looking and commenting too.

I also feel we all need to be aware of criticism and adapt our own comments and views when someone takes the trouble to point out mistakes, or misinterpretations. Sometimes we should just keep quiet.

Recently lots of people were tweeting about something Churchill is supposed to have said re. the Arts. You know the one - "What then are we fighting for?" Trouble is I used that a long time ago and many people came back and told me that this was one of those myths we all like to pass on. Didn't jump up and correct because the underlying thought resonated, Tory Arts cuts are counter-productive.

Bit like the myth that I still repeat even though people tell me it is apocryphal. The one about the Tory Cabinet minister forced to travel on London Underground for the very first time? The story goes that he asked his secretary to book him into the Dining Car. Works, because we all feel that the cabinet millionaires just aren't aware of what ordinary people experience. And no, it wasn't Boris Johnson.

So, I want to listen, be amused, be engaged and occasionally be corrected. And like almost everyone else on Twitter, I want to be loved too.

But the people who go out of their way to insult and criticise without explanation of their own views should simply be blocked.

Twitter is an amazing medium for ordinary people who do not have access to a newspaper column, radio programme or TV spot. When I comment on the work of an author, directly to that author via Twitter, I am privileged if they respond. Even more so when they are interested enough in what I say to follow me here.

When a politician responds I can be blunt but I don't agree with insults just to provoke that response. 

As an ex teacher, and someone who has worked within education all my life, I prefer the staffroom discussion to the playground brawl.

me (sort of...)

me (sort of...)