Category Archives: State schools

Happiness Pill Revisited


Some weeks ago I advocated the development and use of a happiness pill. Priority was to be given to our children and then progressively to all citizens in constant contact with them: parents,  other relatives and teachers and so on. I do not think David Cameron was among my readers because if he had he would not have committed himself to a happiness index.

Philosphically, an index is a difficult and complex concept  which seeks to codify incompatibles. It advances a simple proposition, first given us by Aristotle, that ‘happiness is the sole aim of life which consumes all others’. Well, yes BUT no. Consider the sadist. His joy and contentment is gained by acts of painful cruelty against others. And  the masochist, who is entirely miserable unless the subject of pain and ignominy. Is public policy to embrace both their needs? The miser wishes to hide and store his valuable resources while  the  adventurous  entreneur is stifled by lack of capital. The bully needs victims, the abuser the vulnerable, and the paedophile hunts the innocent. Are they all to be led onto the purple pathway to joy?

Consider the Puritan. What is the purpose of life? To do my duty, love God and my neighbour? Well, yes, but does that cover the arduous tasks of caring for those suffering from dementia or mental illness? Can performing the tasks involved for a 7 day, 24 hour, service to the afflicted bring human happiness to you?

My proposal for the national adoption of a happiness pill solves these problems. Everyone who takes a pink tablet will be happy. The sadist will not need his victims; the pressure of homework will be eased by jokes and pleasantries; while the male abuser does not need the alchohol his batteries are fueled on and takes joy in sharing the housework and doing the washing up. It is a universal remedy to a universal problem: unhappiness. No one on a pill a day will ever be unhappy.

Those housewives suffering from memory loss as a result of daily dosages of valium need have no fear. The happiness pill will not be toxic or addictive, and there will be no side effects. There will be many important benefits:  days lost from work caused by  depressive illnesses and boredom will be minimised. Even the most demanding and tedious of work tasks will be performed by happy and grateful workers. Output will rise and taxes fall. We shall have more leisure time and children will skip happily to school with completed homework in their satchells. Are you feeling happier now?

I can sense that our Dave remains hesitant. Dave, isn’t it true that on some days you are not happy at all and on other days you start happy and become miserable. If happiness is so important to you forget the nonsense of the index and take one pink tablet at breakfast with a glass of water every day. We shall be with you, Dave. And as we all know, because you have told us, we are all in this together. Cheers, down the hatch!

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Filed under BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Disability Allownce, Guardian, Happiness, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, Politics, State schools

Pupil Premium: the road to hell


Nick Clegg in a thoughtful and well-organised speech has released some details about the  intoduction of the long-covetted Lib Dem Pupil Premium. As stated the aim is to help disadvantaged pupils by providing 15 hours of teaching from the age of two and at various stages of their education. It is a worthy aim in itself but as we know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As stated the policy might be expected to assist 20 percent of the 1.1 milion children who at the present time enjoy free school meals.

In his analysis Clegg makes a startling and misconceived identification of disadvantage with poverty. Is it true that all children whose families are poor are disadvantaged? Are all the disadvantaged poor? Do all poor children take free school meals? And would special teaching of the poor, as so defined, tackle the problem.

Clegg does not pose and answer these questions. So I will step in  and help him. No not all poor children are disadvantaged. We can all think of good homes and successful children from homes with limited income. I come from just such a home. But my parents were aspirational and willing to work at the difficult art of encouraging children. Not all homes are like this and many with greater resources succeed in making a mess of family life and their children’s progress. Not all poor children take school meals. Many parents prefer to us their imagination and the money they have available to provide lunches for their children. Disadvantaged children come from any family breakdown you care to mention.

The evidence on the usefulness of pre-school education is mixed. I am inclined to think it a good thing or rather to give it the benefit of the doubt BUT it is easy to quote many studies that show the opposite. Again everything depends on the kind of family they come from and what they might be learning and experiencing if they were not at school.

Of course, limited resources makes things difficult for many families. If we accept that this is a deadweight on the shoulders of the poor the solution is to ensure that ALL these families have more resources after tax. If you believe that children should have nursery education from the age of two THEN the state  should provide it for them. If you believe that disadvantaged children should be spotted early and helped then nurseries and schools should have the resources to teach in small classes and provide a high-quality pastoral care that reaches back to work with families in their homes.

If then you agree with the analysis what is needed? No cuts in educational provision, no scaling back on Sure Start, smaller classes, good teachers and organised pastoral care. What you do not want is Coaltion cuts in the education budget. Crocodile tears evoke no sympathy with me. Move over Cleggie and let the the misadventure of the Coalition grind to an end.

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Filed under BBC, Big society, Child poverty, Education, George Osborne, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, Nick Clegg, Politics, Schools, State schools

The Universal Pink


This is not a an indulgent fantasy of a lost musical past. My subject is universality that magic solution that binds us one to another in a decent society: not a Big Society nor a Little Britain  but one which believes in the solidarity of its citizens, brother to brother, neighbour to neighbour. A decent universal state pension fairly earned by those who have worked and those of us who have stayed at home to care for children is just such a universal benefit so too in a National Health Service and Care for the Elderly. Speaking personally I have always believed that a free at the point of use education system came into the same category. I benefitted from such a free education system. No one in my family had enjoyed the benefits of a university education until my sister broke the mould and became one of the first women to be accepted by Barts for a medical degree. On her application form she had to list the occupation of her father: she wrote ‘Labourer’ Imagine this same wonderful individual  today. She comes home from her clerical work and anounces to her astonished parent that she intends to become a doctor. ‘Oh, that’s good dear and how much will it cost.’ ‘Well if you help me with day to day expenses and we are talking of the medical fees alone,  I shall run up a debt of over £100,000 pounds but I will not have to repay it at once. I can take a very long time to pay it off – maybe 20 years by which time it may well be twice the original debt perhaps £200,000.’ A long silence. ‘Look dear, my heart is with you, really it is. I would like to help you with this. I shall think very carefully about it because, of course, I have the duty to do so. But I can’t encourage you. All my life I have avoided debt. It is a dreadful thing I can assure you. (Ask David Cameron if you don’t believe me!) I think the answer will be no. What you might do is to approach charitable organisations. I’m sure there  are some who would wish to help you. But darling think on it how could you do such a thing?’

 What is a human life worth to us? Everything or nothing? Why stop at university education? There is more money to be made for loans to get children through school. Why should this be free? Why should we citizens pay for courses on needlework, cooking and carpentry to name but a few unnecessary courses. And why five days a week? Why not a shift system which would enable children to limit school to three days a week? Why not distance learning using standardised subject modules? After all most children spend more time at their computers playing silly games than they spend in a classroom. Just imagine the savings in public expenditure?

‘Don’t be silly’, I hear you saying, ‘there must be some service that are universally provided. ‘But not many AND not provided at my expense.’  ‘Well dear, you do not have children. This issue of education does not concern you, does it? Why should you pay for the education of those do-nothing children from the Council estate?’ Why indeed?

‘You should pay madam because you gain from the universal pink. We are one of you and, like it or not, we are one of you.’

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I Am Mr Average: 2


A short time ago, you kindly asked me to tell readers how I was getting on in these trouble economic times , and my views on the Coalition. I was chosen because I approximated to an average man: suburban semi, wife and two children, average wage and so on. Not that anyone is really average, but you know what I mean. Our family was managing quite well despite my wife losing her part-time job. My wage had been frozen but thanks to lower mortgage payments we were coping financially. I have this little habit, I hope you don’t mind, of saying I have good news and bad news, what would you like to hear first. (She, who must be obeyed,  gets mad at this and tells me to get on with it). Here is the good news: my wife has got a temporary job for the next four months. She is working on agency terms which give her lower pay and fewer rights. I see now why Labour was making a fuss about these agency conditions. They should have done more. And the bad news? I’ve lost my job. Quite suddenly and brutally one Friday afternoon after the company had altered its redundancy terms for the worse. Now I am on Job Seekers Allowance and quite a hassle that turns out to be. I have to go into town every Friday and report for duty so to speak. I have applied for over 50 jobs and have never had an interview. I expect that you might think me a loafer But you would be wrong. Of course I want a job, I would give my right arm for one.

I expect some of you will be fearful of losing your job and want to know what my familyis doing now. Well, I was entitled to a Mortage Holiday period of four months and this is now coming to an end. We have used our modest savings to keep going but they are running out. I don’t know what to do next. I hear some of you grumbling away and muttering things like get on your bike, move to East Grinstead, become a doctor – and things like that. All I can say is good luck to you mate if that is your strategy.

But it is not all doom and gloom. I see more of Wayne these days. We are despondent for him. He was to get a brand new school but the works have been cancelled and the staff demoralised. We can’t afford a tutor so I have stepped in and help him with his homework. I have to read up from his textbooks and the clue to my success is to keep one chapter ahead of him. It has drawn us closer together. I help my wife with the shopping so I really do know the price of bread and  all the cheaper options now. Test me if you like.

And looking forward? Well as you know I am a Tory and will find it hard not to vote so next May. However, if this Coalition lasts, and I expect it will, and if  you press me for an opinion,  I shall have to tell you that I do not think I will vote.

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Outsourcing the Future.


This is a missive from sunny Cornwall (Well this is an overstatement. As I look out of the window. I can see it is about to rain. Hey ho, said Rolly and all that.) This is an age of outsourcing. It is no longer necessary for employers to give people permanent contracts, plum pensions and other employment rights?  That is much too expensive for us all. Answer: employ agency staff, limit future obligations, lower wage costs, bring down prices, sell more. You know it is the smart thing to do! Why limit these benefits to the private sector? In the Big Society we can extend them all, every single one of these  benefits to public servants! Yes, servants that is how we think of them. They are there to serve you – me too of course. I have a number of my own. Come to think of it there are cuts to be made made there. Get costs down, that’s the message. (I should get a picute of an ancient woman leaving my place with an old suitcase’.  Just think of the cuts (I prefer to think benefits) we can make in the public service . You know it makes sense!

Smart changes like this are  always resisted. Just think of the difficulties Margaret Thatcher had to face. All those phony demonstrations for the chance to work, lower mortgage costs, opposition to the Poll Tax etc.etc. You know what I mean! The poor woman had to arrange for a war in the Falklands to win them round. (Good thought that, I should capture it in my notebook. A national day of rejoicing at our victory. We Brits love that sort of thing.)

I must not digress. This is  important. Here are some questions. Do you wish all those wheel chair johnnies to get into employment, quieter Council estates because everyone is working, good schools for  responsible children in fee paying schools? Of course you do. Do you want everyone employed at pay rates the nation can afford? Lower costs and taxes? Of course you do? You know it makes sense?

Well the Coalition with the support of the Lib Dems will give you all these things. We cannot pretend that the transition to our low cost, responsible, Big Society, where you are in control,  can be achieved without some pain and opposition. There are always some people who will not go along with the majority. Please do not be put off by demonstrations, strikes and riots from doing the right thing. We are all in this together and without your support, it will not happen. As someone said ( I really must identify the sourc of this quote), ‘In your heart you know I’m right.’ Come to think about it I might drop this. certainly at a ‘public’ meeting. Some smart Alec might say. ‘Good advice from the heartless.’ You have to think about this you know. The world is full of smart Alec’s, believe me.

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Trust State Education


I was educated at each stage in the state education system. It is my belief that the Tory inclination  to seek diversity in schools is prompted always  by, to my way of thinking, unworthy motives. They wish the state system to mirror their own fee-paying private schooling: to reproduce throughout the land a series of little Etons, Winchesters and Westminsters – they are all different you know! These fine schools, it is felt,  shoud be replicated throughout the land: independance of governance, the very best teachers (no third class graduates acceptable here) , supportive parents (no one from sink council estates need apply), selective entry systems to weed out the tidy and dutiful from the insubordinate (no dirty nails in this school) – you know the sort of thing. It is easy to make fun of it. I shall resist the temptation.

There is no good reason that I can think of for discouraging private education BUT every reason to discourage its growth by penalising state schools. The Advanced Level examination results underline the success of the last administration in improving education  standards throughout the country and signal an end to disparagement of its achievements. We on the left should be proud of these dramatic improvements in our schools. Over the coming weeks the extent of the cutbacks in school budgets will become clearer. Forget the Coalition’s fine words and announcements of good intentions. Our schools are facing hard times. Their future development will be  frozen and money  will be ciphoned off to finance the so-called Free Schools: capital funds which would have continued the modernisation of our  state schools and revenues that would otherwise be available to them are to be diverted to an expansion of school places in areas that do not need them. These rightwing, and doctrinaire attacks on state education,  are periodic and underhand; they occur whenever an opportunity presents itself. The Coalition knows that it dare not tell the whole truth about its intentions for the public does not support them. What the vast mass of the Britsh public want are fine state schools in their neighbourhoods and available free to everyone. This aspiration, which is constant and true, cannot be rejected by any government whatever its hue. But the public  can be deceived. We are deceived.

As I write the dispiriting contest for the Labour Party leadership rambles on in a welter of explanations and justifications for the past. Please wake up as soon as you can. The public knows that Labour is their education spokesman and the best guarantee of a high-class education for all. Speak to them, please. Speak to them now in unequivable  terms: hands off our state schools.

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