Someone’s out of touch

Photograph of a conker in it's shell, partiall...
I may disappoint you

I just read a story on the BBC News where the Chairman of the Independent Schools Association warns that children are living in a virtual prison, not being prepared enough for adult life. He cites many things – and I’ll actually agree with him, up to a point.

He points out that kids aren’t getting out enough. They’re not enjoying the traditional games and experiences that people my age an upwards did. These include, mending bike tyres (actually, I’ve never done this – eek), playing conkers and so forth. They’re not experiencing such things as disappointment when they lose at things.


I seem to recall that conkers has been banned in some schools on Health and Safety grounds. As have many other games (Rik will tell you of his experiences on this blog post). As for disappointment, don’t forget that newspapers around the country have in the past been ordered not to publish the results of children’s football matches if the scores are too “embarassing”.

Yes, the guy’s right – children are failing to experience a lot of things. But isn’t it our fault that this is so? Society as a whole? We’re protecting them far too much, from things that they shouldn’t be protected from.

However, I’d not blame schools. They’re covering their own arses due to ridiculous Health and Safety legislation and idiot parents who want to wrap their children in soft bubbles and release them into the real world when they’re eighteen.

Along with coating them in disinfectant every time they sneeze and dressing them in nothing but hypoallergenic crap, we’re destroying their immune systems, their emotional development and – courtesy of the ridiculous syllabuses – their intellectual skills.

No, I’m not a parent. But I have enough friends who are and enough cousins and the like of school age to know that these complaints are widespread.

Can’t we just let kids be kids?

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Teacher knows best?

A teacher writing on a blackboard.
The next SoS for Education?

Maybe I’m thinking outside of the box here, but surely the people who know education best are those entrenched in it? The front line. The actual teachers and head teachers.

Instead, policy is set by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, formerly one half of the Secretary of State for Education. This position is currently held by one Edward Balls, who’s an economist. Not a teacher. He never has been – as far as I can discover – involved in the teaching profession other than by being a student.

So, given the decline in educational standards that’s pervaded our system for the last dozen-or-so years, what on earth makes him think he’s right in what he does and that teachers shouldn’t be listened to when they’re discussing their own profession? I’m not saying teachers aren’t as good, or as dedicated. I’m saying the infrastructure they’re forced to work within is screwed and makes their jobs far harder than they should be.

The current news story is one of the two main teaching unions deciding to boycott SATs exams for 11 year-olds next year. From their professional point of view, the exams are a waste of time and serve only to feed league tables – something our current government loves and has adopted for many of the public services.

Thing is, I agree with them. Exams are fine in certain circumstances but when trying to prove the worth of a school they’re utterly pointless. It’s easy to train someone monkey-fashion to pass exams, especially 11 year-old children. Instead of being taught about a subject, teachers are forced to teach them how to pass a certain set of exams. This narrows the educational spectrum massively and serves no purpose for the children whatsoever.

All you have to do is look back to the 60s when we had an educational system to be proud of. Exams were hard. I defy anyone to compare a 1965 O-level in maths and the 2009 GCSE equivalent and tell me that they’ve not become easier. Leaving aside the Imperial system used back then (I admit that would make things more difficult in itself) but the breadth and depth of the subject matter is far greater in the older papers than the current ones.

In a bid to make our schools seem better, we’re making things easier for children. Seriously, what is the point in ensuring that 30% pass with A-grades (or whatever the figure is) if we’re managing that by lowering the standards? Part of the reason we have to lower the standards is that teachers currently have to waste so much time coaching children through exams every other year.

We already live in a society where children (and adults) are handed things on a platter. By making schooling easier, we’re ensuring the production of generations which feel they don’t have to work that hard – if at all – to achieve what they want. Generations that’ll settle for what they can get with minimum effort.

No wonder the country’s in a complete mess. If something’s worth having, you have to work for it.

Now, I just want to make it clear that my criticism here is not levelled at teaching staff or the pupils themselves. It’s at the system, and at the government(s) that have created this system. As with much of our social infrastructure, the whole thing needs torn down and redesigned. Remember that old “back to basics” promise we were given? Why can’t we have that?

And isn’t one of the most basic things taking a person from within an organisation and promoting them to the top – simply as they have a lifetime of experience from which to draw? So how’s about making an ex-head teacher the next Secretary for Education?

Or is that too much like common sense?

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My manifesto

Palace of Westminster in London

OK, we all say things like “If I was in charge…”, or “this government’s ****, because…” so here’s a run-down of my thoughts and what I’d do about it if anyone was stupid enough to vote for me. I doubt I’ll ever try to become an MP, mainly as I can’t be arsed with my private life being torn apart by the press, but it’s nice to have ideas.

1. Speed cameras. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely “anti” the things. I just think they should be better used, and nobody can get round the fact that a large number are simply revenue-generators that don’t have any effect on driving at all. I want transparency on these things. If they’re not somewhere that’s statistically an accident blackspot where the accidents were hugely speed-related, take them down. Recalibrate them to 20mph and pop them back up around schools and playgrounds to enforce the mandatory 20mph limit I’d enforce on such areas.

2. Human rights. I’d remove the UK from whatever Human Rights agreement we have and draft a new one. The essentials would be the same, but I’d insert some caveats which relate to some of the following points.

3. Personal protection. If you enter someone’s property without their permission, it’s a safe assumption you’re there to rob or harm them. As such, you have violated their rights as set out in the document I’d draft in section 2. And as such, you have forfeit your own rights. They can do that the hell they want to you with no fear of legal recourse. Club ’em, shoot ’em, beat them unconscious and call the police, bury them in the garden. I don’t care.

4. Arrest. On arrest, jail time in custody will be reasonable as far as comfort goes. Our law states – and will continue to state – that you’re innocent until proven otherwise. As such, you’ll be kept captive but in reasonable comfort. That is, no more than two to a cell; a fair amount of space to move; exercise; decent food; and so forth. Bail will be very hard to get as too many people on bail have screwed that one for you in the past. Sorry, deal with it. If convicted, you’re in the same situation as the guy in number 3. You’ve committed a crime, so your human rights are forfeit. You breach the rules, you pay the price. If the jails are packed, tough ****. Four to a cell. Five. Sharing beds. Crapping in buckets you have to clean out yourself. Don’t like it? Don’t commit a crime.

5. Jails. In fairness, there does come a point where physical limits cause problems. So if you’re in jail, expect to do some work… building a new one, if we need them. Learn how to plumb, build walls and so on for the next generation of scum.

6. Sentences. Life = life. 20 years = 20 years. A system may be worked out for prisoners showing exceptional effort to improve themselves. Rewards, personal freedoms and so on. The likes of entertainment, exercise, improved food, education… all will need to be earned not expected. Reductions in sentences likewise will be earned by the remarkable few.

7. Courts in favour of the innocent, not the guilty. Likewise the police. Do something wrong, expect to get punished for it. Act like a ****** in front of a policemen, expect to get led away by the ear or bashed on the head. Assault a policeman, expect to be taken into a dark room and have the **** kicked out of you. These people are there to protect you. Assault fire fighters, and your own home becomes blacklisted for protection. They’ll turn up and douse the adjoining houses, but yours will be left to burn. Any house insurance you have becomes null and void. Likewise for abusing health care staff – remember that thing about losing human rights? You go right to the bottom of the queue. In extreme cases, so does your whole household. If they have a problem with that they’re welcome to officially ostracise you.

8. Recompense. Miscarriages of justice do happen. In which case the innocent party should be refurbished with accommodation and a job similar to that when they went away. Education to bring them up to speed in their line of work (if relevant) provided. Compensation equal to lost earnings based on current income at time of conviction paid in full. And so forth. No charges for “rent” due to the cell space they took up, as seems to be current regulation.

9. No more excessive suing. Sorry, but it’s been abused far too much. If you can’t walk 100 yards without tripping over a paving stone, you can’t blame the council. Stay at home, you clumsy sod. Tripped over your own child in Tesco and thinking of suing them for your sprained wrist? Better idea – buy some books on parenting. All attempts to sue anyone will be looked over by a tightly controlled body. Anything remotely frivolous will be thrown back at you and you’ll be fined proportionately. Fair do’s suing a builder who signed off on your supporting wall which then collapsed and destroyed your kitchen – that was their fault. But if there’s a sign telling you not to touch something… and you do… and it hurts… that was your fault. We wouldn’t need big bloody fences if people like you would take responsibility for your own actions. Learn to.

10. Bye-bye benefits. There are jobs out there. Dole-scroungers are just too damn lazy to do them. I appreciate in some cases, taking a job can effectively cost money in the lost benefits as a person is now employed. However, I always thought that if you turned work down you lost your benefits anyway. Well, that’s how it would go under my rule. If you’re offered a job on minimum wage and turn it down, then you’ll be living in thin air. If other people can manage it, then you can. If you have to ditch your SkyPlus and cut down to 1 fag a week instead of 2 packs a day then deal with it. It’s called budgeting. Want more money? Work harder, learn more and get a better job.

11. Schools and the schooling system will be run by people with an educational background, not some tosser who thinks they know better. It’s a simple system of democracy and promotion. Start as a teacher, work up to head, regional overseer and cabinet position. The exact same for the police, health service, military defence of the nation and so forth. Isn’t it just common sense that the best person to oversee people is someone with hands-on experience?

12. Immigration. I heartily welcome people of other cultures and backgrounds. I don’t care if you’re rich or poor. All I ask is that you speak one of our national languages at least passably (and sensibly choose to live somewhere that understands you – moving to Glasgow and speaking Welsh is not much use to yourself or anyone else), are able to support yourself when you arrive and are prepared to work for a living. I don’t care if this involves sweeping streets or performing neurosurgery. Work, integrate, make friends, feel welcome.

I think that’s it for now. There are a few smaller points, and hopefully some benefits from the above that would become apparent over time. A reduction in bureaucracy would make the government more open and people would therefore trust them more. Improvements in police power and more severe (and likely) punishments would reduce crime. This would increase property prices and quality of life.

Then there’s the abolition of cash handouts to the chain-smoking dole-scrounging lot. Less cash out means more in the coffers. More workers = more income tax. Therefore tax could be reduced in other areas, such as on fuel or as VAT, or that ridiculous bloody inheritance tax. Frankly, I see it as the only way to get us out of this money “hole” the nation’s in at the moment. We just have to stop giving free cash out to people who don’t bloody deserve it. It’s simple, but we have to stop being soft on wasters who are taking is for a ride.

I’m also fully aware that it’s never as simple as having a list of things you want to do. Other people don’t agree (either because they have a valid point you didn’t think of or – more usually – they’re an idiot who just has to be awkward to keep themselves in a job) or things just don’t work out.

Thing is, I love my country. But in the last 30 years or so it’s gone to ****. And the only way to turn it around is to do something radical. Like step back a few years and use some bloody common sense. Is that too much to ask?