Isn’t this a bit racist?

Professional Footballers' Association
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Annoyingly (and bizarrely) I can’t find reference to the story I heard on BBC 5 Live on their website anywhere. Partly because the search facility on the BBC News website is complete crap.

Anyway… the story in question. Apparently there is talk about forcing through some kind of legislation to make football league clubs interview at least a handful of black candidates when the position of manager becomes available. This announcement comes from the PFA who are a little peeved that there are only two “home-grown” black managers working anywhere in the football league.

While I’m 100% for equality, isn’t this a pointless exercise? There are many reasons why black players may not progress into management when they finish their playing careers, but is employer racism really one of them? And is forcing clubs to interview them really going to help when there’s nothing forcing them to employ a black manager anyway? Surely if they’ve decided on one or two candidates (who may happen to be white), interviewing a third who they’ve already decided isn’t in the running is a waste of everyone’s time.

I don’t have figures to hand, but at any one point in time how many players are employed in the football league? And of them how many – regardless of race, nationality, colour, whatever – go into management? I’m thinking a tiny percentage. Now it may be that 25% of players (number off the top of my head) are black, so some would expect that 25% of managers would also be black. But any player is just a human being with their own aspirations and preferences.

A large number of ex-players don’t go into management because they don’t want to. Simple as that. There are other things out there for them. Punditry is one, or simply retiring and enjoying life with their families now they have the time. Management is hugely stressful so surely isn’t going to suit everyone.

As a Newcastle supporter, we’ve had two black managers in fairly recent years. Ruud Gullit didn’t make any friends, but not because of his colour. On the other hand, we went mental when the board flung Chris Hughton out on his ear and hired one of the club owner’s little toadies in his place. Nobody cared about their background, just on the results they could give us.

Simply, I want my club to hire the best man for the job. I’m sure every fan wants the same, regardless of what team they follow. Why should we be aiming for a certain percentage of people of different colour in the role, when it’s completely irrelevant. Experience, drive, education, ability to lead… these are individual qualities all completely unrelated to skin colour.

By forcing clubs to interview black candidates, the PFA would surely be breaking discrimination law by showing favouritism? If there is racism endemic in the hiring process, then by all means lets tackle it. But this isn’t going to do it. A candidate for a job has to sell themselves and a sensible employer will look at what is best for their business. If a candidate is in the interview seat because someone told the boss that they had to interview them (and not because of an impressive CV), then they’re hardly likely to be given the job.

In the worst case, this kind of thing inflames racism. It gives the “white power” numpties more ammunition to use by claiming that favouritism is being shown to the people they want to cause problems for. If a black manager gets appointed, questions will immediately be raised – is he the best for the job, or did they just hire him to bring the number of black managers up in line with what the PFA want?

Stupid idea, stupid policy.

Remember, the aim is for equality. I just, personally, don’t see how that can be achieved by giving anyone an unfair advantage.

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Amateur Transplants and Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

douglas adams inspired "Hitch hikers guid...
I think he would have approved

A rather unusual pairing and an unusual week for me in that I didn’t go to the cinema. Instead, I caught two live performances – both part of the Glasgow Comedy Festival.

Amateur Transplants

“Someone’s trying to sing harmony. Don’t.”

The simple way to find out if anyone knows this pair of disgusting, tasteless, swearing southerners is to point them to the YouTube video for “London Underground”. As well as that minor online hit, the pair (Adam Kay and Suman Biswas) have done a handful of albums and a live DVD, the proceeds from all of which go towards the Macmillan Cancer Nurses charity.

They’re excellent to see live, but only if your sense of humour finds the gutter to be familiar territory. Fortunately, Gill and I both still think farts are amusing so it made for a good evening. I had seen them at the Edinburgh Fringe a few months ago, and the set wasn’t hugely different. However, the two guys perform so well and the material is so damn funny I just didn’t care.

Half the fun was watching my other half convulse in laughter to songs she’d send her kids to bed early with no dinner for if they came home singing them. It’s great to see an audience genuinely enjoy a live performance so much and I don’t think anyone leaving felt they’d not had their money’s worth.

The Hitch-Hikers’s Guide to the Galaxy – live on stage

“Life? Don’t talk to me about life.”

There have been a handful of stage adaptations of Douglas Adams‘ most famous work, and they’ve met with varying degrees of success. I was informed of this one by ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha’s Dave Haddock, and we caught up for a beer with a fellow ZZ9-er before walking to the Kingshorn Theatre (a converted church) for a bum-numbing 2 1/2 hour performance.

The show is only for the comedy festival and put on by the Strathclyde University drama and radio societies. In the interests of reducing stress in those reading this review who may have a connection with the performance, I will first of all state that I really enjoyed it. Any and all faults I pick up in the following paragraphs are minor! It’s very rare that I get to see something on stage where I’m so familiar with the source material.

While there are several versions of the Guide, the radio one has been used for this show and it’s a very close adaptation with only some brief editing of content to shorten the running time slightly. Indeed, the show is split into 6 parts (with an interval between 3 and 4) with the “can our heroes escape?” and “last week, we left our heroes…” speeches intact.

The cast numbers around 15 people, including those doing live special effects. Almost everyone has at least two parts, including the narrator who also voices a tannoy system at one point. I’m afraid I didn’t get any names, but I think the Guide/narrator is unusual in that the part is played by a woman. In the original radio series, LPs, TV series and movie the part has always been played by a man.

Our narrator, I discovered in the bar afterwards when  met her, is a real fan of the series and was actually very nervous as she’d spotted our little crew in the audience. Obviously, we’d know if she cocked up. So she freaked a bit and was berating herself over a drink for stumbling over a few lines. She really didn’t need to as she did incredibly well. For the majority of the show, if I’m correct, she wasn’t even referring to her script (which all of the actors carry with them). Impressive given the volume of dialogue.

The show is unusual in its presentation. It’s partly like watching a radio show being edited in that everyone has that script in their hand, and plays multiple parts. It’s like a traditional play in that they do wear costumes (basic ones) and perform physically. There are also very few props (a stick, some chairs and the scripts themselves). It also works very well and is hugely enjoyable to watch, although on occasion the background sound did make it a little hard to heard the actors.

It did seem that the later acts (“fits”) weren’t as well rehearsed as earlier ones, and there were a couple of lines fluffed. In fairness, it’s nigh on three hours of work and the scenes where things weren’t completely perfect were generally full of complex dialogue or involved a fair bit of action as well.

If I had to pick out individual performances, I’d have to focus on those who played Ford (absolutely superb), Arthur (never once looked at his script), Marvin (amongst other parts, but he was brilliant as the paranoid android), Slartibartfast (probably the most consistently good actor of the group over all his parts from Slarti to the captain of the B Ark by way of Milliways’ waiter and ending as a caveman), and the Guide herself. This isn’t to belittle the others at all. A superb cast and all deserve full credit.

They were all a joy to talk to in the bar afterwards, as well. I wish them all the best of luck with the rest of the performances and highly recommend anyone with an interest in HHG to grab a ticket if they can make it. You can pick them up from TicketSoup. It’s a bugger to find them on there so here’s a direct link.

 

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The Lincoln Lawyer

It’s Sunday night, I should be working so that means it must be time for… a film review!

The Lincoln Lawyer

“There is no client as scary as an innocent man.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Unethical defence lawyer defends dodgy character who’s even more dodgy that he first seems. Conflict of conscience occurs.

Another non-original work from Hollywood, but this one at least based on a novel by a decent author (Michael Connelly) which has undergone a very good transition to the big screen. I’ve not read this novel, but I’m sure I’ve read something by Connelly in the past and enjoyed it. On the strength of this film, I’d step back and read some more.

Matthew McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a lawyer who will happily defend any lowlife as long as he gets paid for it. He’s good, too. A smart guy who just happens to be working at the wrong end of the systems, or at least so his ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) thinks.

An associate of Haller’s passes him a case which should hopefully set him up. Defending a very rich young real-estate broker (Ryan Phillippe), accused of battering a young woman. He certainly seems innocent and his story adds up, plus he comes from a decent background. But things start to get complicated once Haller and his investigator friend Frank (William H. Macy) start digging.

The plot does have some nice unexpected twists, and a couple of false finishes just to keep you on your toes. Haller demonstrates his smarts early on, and his pre-planning in certain scenes is hidden from the audience until it’s revealed as part of the story. There are enough characters to push the story along and allow character development without swamping things, and the family aspect with the ex-wife is enough to flesh things out without it becoming a family drama instead.

Good performances, great story, snappy dialogue. Excellent courtroom drama and worth the trip out to see it.

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Limitless (preview screening)

Courtesy of Cineworld and Momentum Pictures, I managed to blag a free preview ticket to see Limitless this evening. A shame I couldn’t find anyone to join me as I had two tickets!

Limitless

“It’s FDA approved.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell – Down and out author starts taking mind improvement drugs and rockets in popularity… but with consequences.

You know a studio is confident about  film when they offer advance tickets to the buying public, in much the same way that you know a film’s going to stink more than one of my farts if they don’t even have a press screening in time for reviews to get out before the release date. Momentum have every right to be happy with Limitless. It’s very enjoyable indeed.

Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra (thankfully Shia LaBeouf had to drop out as he injured himself – a small price to pay to have him replaced), a struggling writer who’s view of deadlines is somewhat lackadaisical. Out wandering the streets one day, he bumps into his ex-wife’s brother (Johnny Whitworth) who used to deal drugs. He’s now on the straight and narrow, and offers Eddie a taster of a new “smart drug” which allows a person to harness every synapse in their brain.

Morra very quickly becomes quite a success with his new discovery, and seeks out more of the drug. However, the bro-in-law wasn’t quite as above-board as he claimed and our hero finds himself in quite a troubling situation… while at the same time riding high in the world of finance.

His boss in the office is played wonderfully by class-act Robert De Niro, while the girlfriend rôle is handled well by the rather pretty Abbie Cornish. Cooper himself is excellent as the alternately smart/snappy then down/knackered central character. The dialogue is quick in places and the story fairly original.

As well as a novel plot, the movie is filmed very well and sequences linking scenes are imaginatively done with some funky special effects that genuinely add to the experience. It’s also got a wonderful dark streak of humour running through it. One scene near the end had the woman next to me chewing her knuckles and very close to covering her eyes!

I can also say that this is the first film I’ve seen in a long time where I was disappointed when the credits rolled. Not because it was pants, but the exact opposite – I’d love to see what happened next. It ends well, but there was scope for the story to continue. It’s very rare for a movie to achieve what Limitless did. Leave the audience wanting more.

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How to Destroy an Education System (by The Scottish Parliament, aged 11¾)

For those who are unaware, I am an NQT – “Newly Qualified Teacher“. Courtesy of the excellent system in Scotland, this means I get a fast track to full certification by being placed on a full year teaching experience on a wage slightly below that of a more experienced member of staff. I don’t get 100% “contact time” (that is, time in class with pupils) as this gives me time to generate lesson plans, practice with resources and equipment available to me, and explore other areas of the profession to help me become as good a teacher as possible.

I work in a system whereby the head of the department I am in is a certified and experienced teacher in that subject. Although I am contracted to a 35-hour week, I work significantly more hours than that. This is normal.

Believe it or not, if teachers wish to work to those exact contracted hours it is classed as industrial action and a ballot must be taken by a union before it can be done. Yes, seriously. It is industrial action to work within the limits of our agreed contract of employment. I believe we are the only profession for whom this is the case – please correct me if I’m wrong.

A few years ago, teachers agreed to a pay freeze due to financial issues. Shortly after that, inflation spiralled so that teachers are effectively worse off than they were when they agreed the freeze. Such is life. This kind of thing happens to people who sign onto tracker mortgages and the like. It’s a gamble, to some extent.

Teachers must also, as part of their employment agreement as public servants, pay into the pension pot. This isn’t the goldmine many people think it is, especially if a teacher doesn’t rise above being a regular member of staff. Senior staff, head teachers and so on may well see a nice return at the end of their career (and in most cases have flipping well earned it), but the rest of us will be lucky to get something half-decent. Again, do note – we can’t opt out of this to the best of my knowledge.

There’s a great scheme currently running called the Chartered Teacher Scheme. This enables teachers who are particularly invested in their profession to focus on certain topics and develop them. Think of it as a PhD for teachers (not accurate, but you get the idea). It brings them to the peak of their profession and encourages them to help improve other teachers in the process.

You may not be aware, but teachers teach teachers. A lot of the time when your kids aren’t in school, we are. Brushing up on techniques, covering new material, adjusting to new legislation and being taught by people such as these Chartered Teachers.

In the meantime, we’re also undergoing the single largest curricular change in Scottish education for decades with the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) which you may have heard of. This is a massive change to the way children are both taught and assessed. We have to adjust our ways of teaching, change how we record and present their educational records, develop new resources (absolutely none are provided by the people who’ve created this curriculum) and so forth.

What the Scottish Parliament is planning to do

1) To address a one-year budgetary framework, teachers are being asked to accept a two year pay freeze. Also permanent changes to their conditions of service. One of these is an increase in their pension contributions to at least 3.2% of their income. Remember, this is not a pension that can be opted out of. In addition, the return on this investment is lower than was promised years ago. Yes, that’s right – we’re being forced to pay more to receive less.

2) Supply teachers are being smacked in the face with a maximum 27.5 hour week for the first 8 days of any engagement – at Scale Point 1 on the pay scale (the lowest). Therefore any supply teacher who can’t get a nice long- or medium-term placement will never be paid at their deserved rate, and will never work a 35-hour week. Well, they will – they just won’t be paid beyond 27.5. A supply teacher at the top of the scale will suffer a 35% loss in earnings. And this isn’t taking into account the additional pension contributions mentioned previously. Expect this to cause a lot of people to drop out of the profession, particularly in rural areas where supply work is sparse as it is.

3) The Chartered Teacher Scheme is either being frozen or withdrawn completely, removing the best avenue for creating absolutely top-end teachers.

4) NQTs will be expected to work nearer 100% contact time, resulting in far less time to learn about being a teacher and generate good lesson plans. Essentially, it’s a way of getting cheap labour. NQTs are paid less than fully fledged staff and part of justifying that is that they work fewer hours (usually around 70%) while still devoting all of their non-contact time to self-improvement. The new legislation will mean they have to work virtually full time while still trying to find time for Continued Professional Development. Alternatively, those CPD sessions currently provided may be removed thus meaning that NQTs will be less effective in the medium term.

5) Sick pay will be reduced by 10% for each and every day of absence. This affects supply teachers, probationers (NQTs), those on maternity leave… you name it.

6) £81 million will be cut from the Teachers Pay Bill – a cut of 3.4%. In comparison, local authority grant settlements are being cut by 2.6%.

7) Within my area at least, a decision has been made to change from the existing Principle Teacher / Head of Department scheme to a “Faculty” one. This, basically, removes a fair number of senior staff and thus lowers the overall pay packet for teachers. It also means that the head of a Faculty could have no experience whatsoever in teaching the subjects they are overseeing. Do you honestly think it would make sense to have a Home Economics teacher overseeing Computing, Geography or P.E.? Of course it doesn’t.

This last point is a real bone of contention. The council have stated that there is no evidence that the current model is better. Or at least no financial evidence. In other words, they’re only bothered about the money, not about the effect on education. To turn their statement on its head, however, is to say that there’s also no evidence that their new Faculty model is of any educational benefit.

For some wonderful quotes from the … I shall be polite and say “individual” heading this motion, please read this article courtesy of the Edinburgh Evening News.

At a time when we’re undergoing such massive curricular changes, we need experienced staff in charge of departments in which they have a background. It’s simply plain common sense. Something obviously lacking from the council members trying to save a few bucks so they can continue to claim underwear from Marks & Spencer and five star hotel rooms should they get snowed in next December.

To sum up

Absolutely every single decision being made at both council and government level is to the detriment of the Scottish education system. I agree we’re in a time of dire financial straits. However, the only way we’re going to get out of it is to produce good, hard workers. Skilled individuals who can grab our businesses and industries and pull them back up on their feet.

How the hell these idiot politicians expect us to do that with paltry resources, disillusioned staff, chaotic organisation and change seemingly for the sake of it is beyond me.

Parents – who would you trust most to tell you what is best for your children’s ongoing education? Politicians who think with only their egos and their bank balances, or teachers who decided to do this job despite knowing they would be working in one of the most stressful careers currently going? That they would be paid for a 35-hour week despite regularly working in excess of 50 (sometimes far, far more), in a career where the words of one spiteful child can have them flung from a job until a court battle gets them reinstated? That they are fully aware that discipline in schools is nigh-on impossible to maintain due to nanny state regulations?

Would you trust someone who is part of the system, who was trained in it, works in it and believe in it? Or would you believe someone who’s job revolves around appearing to do something so they don’t get voted out for appearing ineffective? Someone who has decided to tackle a working environment in which they themselves have absolutely no prior professional experience?

Frankly, expecting these councillors and MPs to make these decisions makes as much sense as asking a schoolteacher to perform an appendectomy on your youngest.

We’re good, but we’re not that good. We wouldn’t have a clue what we were doing. But at least we’d have the balls to admit it.

 

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