A big tick or a red cross for the teacher’s strike?

The National Union of Teachers is planning a strike in England and Wales on 10 July because apparently the government is failing to make progress on a long-running dispute over pay, pensions and workload. Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT said “For teachers, performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload of 60 hours a week is unsustainable.”

In the UK there is a legal right to strike – and some would call it a human right to strike. It stems from the recognition of collective bargaining in the late 1940’s and is supposed to be act as a deterrent to prevent “bully boy” tactics by employers. Which all sounds very reasonable and logical. However what happened in the 1970’s showed that it could also be used by “bully boy” trade unions to get their own way as short-sighted union officials nearly bought this country to its knees.

In the mid 90’s I used to work for a company that had historically strong trade unions. One Saturday morning, I needed a trailer to be moved away from a loading bay to be parked in the yard. Just 1 trailer that would have taken 15 minutes to move. I asked the team of 4 shunt drivers whether anyone fancied the overtime only for my attention to be drawn to the union agreement. It stated that any weekend overtime needed to be offered to the entire shunt crew rather than any individual as it wasn’t fair to favour any one over the others and any employee turning up for weekend work would be paid a minimum of 8 hours at double time. So for 15 minutes work I would need to pay 4 people the equivalent of 16 hours pay each – in other words 15 minutes of work would cost the company 64 hours of pay. And by the way – no one other than the shunt drivers was allowed to carry out that work so we couldn’t bring anyone else in to do it either. My hands were tied and there was nothing I could do. I was so annoyed, I decided to have none of them in and leave the trailer where it was until the following week – it caused me a lot more work to re-jig the schedule but there was no way the union was going to blackmail me.

At the end of the day, the unions can hold massive power. A power that a company simply can’t compete with. That sort of power needs respect – by those who are against it but more importantly those who have it.

My example showed an agreement that was designed to “protect” the employee, but simply created a division between employees and management. An agreement that elevated workers rights far beyond what was sensible or appropriate. An agreement so inefficient that it could only lead to the demise of the company and instead of talking about overtime, we’d eventually be talking about redundancies – especially in a global economy. As with most things, the problem is people. In order to be an effective trade union you need to balance the long-term benefit of both the company and the employee. To recognise when the company is being too demanding, but to also recognise when the company needs to make changes to survive and prosper. To do that effectively, you need to have sat in the Management seat and had the experience of taking a company forward. Trade Unionists who have not been Managers are recipes for disaster.

Similarly, however management need to recognise the importance of their employees. Without the employees a company is nothing. How can a Manager who has never had experience working in the conditions experienced by some of the employees possibly understand their needs. Managers who have no experience of doing – on the streets, in the factory, in the yard – are a recipe for disaster.

So let’s move on to the teachers. To remove labour from our schools is significant. There is little more important than education and depriving children of something so fundamentally important is concerning. So surely it must be the last resort – well I mean surely it must be the last resort since the previous last resort strike in March.

But does the NUT have a legitimate cause? I know there are other issues at play but let’s look at the 3 points mentioned by Christine Blower – performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload of 60 hours a week.

  • Performance related pay: The idea to reward better performance sounds great but it all comes down to measurement, subjectivity and mitigating factors.  More often than not, employers measure the wrong things, often in a subjective way, without taking into account the circumstances.  So rather than be productive, they can actually de-motivate.  Teaching is about enabling each child to reach their potential and there are a whole range of factors at play.   It is pointless and hugely subjective to measure a teachers based on the results of the children. Is a teacher with pupils achieving A* grades performing better than one achieving B?   Is a teacher with a class where 99% achieve A*-B better than a teacher with 50% A*-B ?  No – we have no way of knowing because we don’t understand the influencing factors outside the control of the teacher.   Performance related pay can only be divisive for teachers.
  • Working until 68 for a full pension:  The truth of the matter is we’re living longer and there is already a massive public sector pension deficit.   No-one likes the idea of working longer for the same pension but you have to be living on Mars not to realise things can’t go on as they are.   Private sector pensions have been severely hit over the last few years with the removal of final salary schemes, greater employee contributions and an increase in pensionable age.   Many companies (massive household names) have huge pension deficits that they are trying to fund and many will go out of business as a result.   At the end of the day it’s basic  maths – what’s paid in vs what needs to be paid out – and if the payments out are greater than the payments in then we have a problem.  That’s exactly where we are and as a result, I have absolutely no sympathy for teachers on this issue. Teachers need to accept that everyone will face the same issue and given that their pension schemes are already far better than many they should be very grateful.
  • heavy workload for 60 hours a week:  A nominal school day is between say 9 and 4 so potentially it’s a 7 hour day times 5 days per week which equates to 35 hours per week.  So that figure of 60 hours would suggest every teacher is doing 25 hours extra per week or potentially 5 hours per night – which does sound rather a lot of marking, class preparation, extra curricular activities,  report writing etc.   Whilst many in the private sector are equally flogged, if teachers are really working 60 hours per week, then it is too much.  It’s too much because it would appear that our teachers, who’ve been trained to teach, are in fact spending almost as much time not teaching as they are teaching.  However to strike about this seems almost counter-intuitive.  The teachers will now have less days to cram in the same amount of work – assuming they’ll still follow the curriculum.   It would be better instead to concentrate on removing the non value adding tasks – and there are many in our schools – and making others more efficient.  I know the NUT and it’s members are probably up in arms throwing tantrums by the dozen because of the suggestion they are not 100% efficient – but none of us are and occasionally we can all do with re-pointing.

So there is only 1 point that is a justified grievance.  Performance related pay is a nonsense.  But is it really so serious that the only way out is a strike?   I think not!  The real motive behind this strike are not the issues of debate but a jostling for power and that sort of strike takes us back to the dark days of the 70’s and is an abuse of the right.  The NUT flexing it’s muscles against the unpopular Michael Gove who has the audacity to attempt to change a system that in all honesty doesn’t work as well as it needs to in the modern world.  He might not be right in some of what he’s trying to do, but the NUT are plain wrong.

Teaching is a difficult job and in our blame culture they are at the coal face when it comes to looking for excuses.   It’s not made any easier when the people supposed to represent them pursue a self interested agenda – and when you consider the hundreds of pounds the teachers pay for the privilege it’s almost laughable.

Perhaps children should go on strike to protest about teachers going on strike – then we’d really have something interesting on our hands.

How can state education steal the private marketplace ?

Why would any parent want to spend money on education when it is available free down the road? I mean would they spend £20 on a Big Mac when they could get one exactly the same for £2 down the road? I very much doubt it.  Whilst there are many people who suggest that state education is every bit as good as private, you have to conclude that the private parents believe there is a different product on offer to justify the cost.

Unfortunately in most cases those supporting state education fail to understand or grasp the significance of the major differences such as:   Education standards, aspirations, like-minds, facilities, links with other organisations such as Universities and networking.   The value of each differs between schools and the emphasis parents place on it but like it or not without them people wouldn’t pay for private education.

Education standards is usually where the argument centres and for many people it is the most important criteria. Does it mean better teachers? Not necessarily. I’m certain there are many equally capable, if not more capable teachers working in the state sector. Is it results ? Yes. For many private schools, if they are unable to demonstrate that their average results are better than the state competition then they will struggle to attract the best fee paying customers unless some of the other “differences” are more valued.  To maintain those higher standards, they either need to select the most able pupils in the first place or make sure that those who do come are pushed to the appropriate standards over the years.

This raises two interesting points. Firstly the idea of selection based on ability. This principle was actually led by the state school system and was called Grammar schools. Grammar schools were able to group together similarly able pupils, regardless of their social background in an attempt to provide an education more suited to their needs and create greater opportunity. Where I live there are still a few Grammar schools that are doing fantastically well and as a result, all the private schools are second choice – and we’re talking about some famous names in private schools. Parents will not pay if the free option is as good.

Secondly, how is it possible to raise academic standards to a higher level when the teachers are no better? This is an area that is consistently neglected when it comes to raising academic standards. Government and various education think tanks are constantly banging on about the need to measure and improve the teachers – if it’s not working let’s blame the teachers. That’s simply passing the buck because it isn’t populist to tackle the real issues. Where a private school has an advantage is that the parents have a vested interest in the outcome and that changes the behaviour of both teachers and pupils – as my former boss put it “they have skin in the game”. It gives the teachers the tools needed for control and it gives the pupils two taskmasters. If your parents are paying for your education you will put in some effort, but if you’re results don’t live up to expectations you will be told to try harder not just by the teacher, but by the parents as well. If your parents are paying for your education and they hear you’re misbehaving or not paying attention in class, you will hear about it under “I’ve not been working hard all these years to try to give you the best start in life for you to mess about with your idiot friends. Knuckle down or we’ll look at the local state school” – and the idea of losing your friends and starting again carries some weight.

A Department of Education report in 2010 confirmed that “parental engagement has a large and positive impact on children’s learning” and this followed a report by Professor Charles Deforges, OBE in 2003 that stated “In the primary age range the impact caused by different levels of parental involvement is much bigger than differences associated with variations in the quality of schools. The scale of the impact is evident across all social classes and all ethnic groups.”

Following closely on the heels of educational standards are like-minds and aspirations. If the primary motive for the parents sending their children to private school is to achieve a certain standard then already you have people with similar aspirations. Parents who’ve been through the same process, struggled with the same decisions and who value education similarly.

Private schools come with parental engagement of a sort already established. State schools simply don’t have that. It doesn’t mean that a child can’t do well in a state school, however the probability is lower. You only need a few disruptive children to hold back a class, but if the parents aren’t sufficiently motivated to play their part in resolving the problem then the teacher loses the tools needed to do the job. The more committed pupils can still achieve their potential, hopefully with the support of their parents to do that, but in the worst case a domino effect ensues and disruption spreads.

Facilities are often raised as being a key differentiator. The wealth of the private school enabling better sporting facilities, more IT equipment, better field trips. I’m quite sure that’s true when comparing many private schools with state. However, it seems to be a point raised more by the pro-state backers, that the private school parent doesn’t place much emphasis on it. I’ve heard plenty of parents comment on how good the facilities are at a school, but never heard of any allowing it to heavily influence their decisions.

And on to the final differentiator and possibly the most misunderstood. Networking and links to other organisations. “The old school tie” is often derided in the world of business and politics. Just by attending a certain school, opportunities open up for you. Some private schools, the elite famous private schools, are less about education and more about networking. Making sure you become friends with people or families of influence so that as you climb the ladder, it’s less about what you know and more about who. Despite the denials to the contrary – I mean everyone wants to believe they are there on merit rather than favours – it is absolutely 100% true.

However, before people march to the Capitol in protest, it is worth considering that the behaviour is not unusual. It would not be unusual for someone raised through the state system to help their friends’ careers, given the chance. Networking and nepotism exists at all levels of society. The key difference is the fact that the networking at the more elite private schools tends to play out at the more influential end of society where the financial rewards are greatest. In that context money buys influence which buys opportunity. But is it the principle of nepotism or jealousy of the rewards at the top that cause us most difficulty? I doubt we’d get too worked up if Lord Sainsbury was giving his old mate Earl Smyth a position on the checkout at the local store, but if he becomes the MD, we might be a little more upset. So I suggest it’s the latter.

Where does all that leave us. Money provides choice and if a parent chooses to spend on education then that is surely their right. It is no different to being free to choose what clothes to buy, where to go on holiday or whether to go to the match on Saturday. It’s your money, you’ve earned it and you can spend it as you see fit.   So why do people draw the line at education (and health).

Is it that health and education are fundamental entitlements that should be available to everyone?  Well they are available to everyone by virtue of the NHS and State schools. So then it must be that it’s not fair for some people to receive “better” than others. Is that based on sound ideology or as above, is it simply jealousy of the  “it’s not fair because I can’t afford it” type. If you break down the ideological argument you can only conclude that no-one should have choice in anything. You simply can’t apply freedom of choice to some things and not to others, purely because you don’t like it. If someone sees a market, is prepared to supply it with a product that people are prepared to pay for then it has to be allowed. I have fairly moderate outgoings because I can’t afford anything much different, but I don’t pretend that high-end spending should be banned.

If you were to ask me whether I think private schools should be allowed then absolutely YES – freedom of choice is a fundamental part of our society and it is a backward step every time we try to erode it – especially with petty jealousy.

If you asked me whether we should need private schools then my answer would be NO. The market for private schools exists largely because of the weaknesses in the state system. If you want to see less private schools then you shouldn’t spend your time attacking them – you should spend your time raising the standards of state schools to reduce the differences highlighted above.

Personally I would like to see selection return to state schools so that we can put like-minded, aspirational children together. Let them be great regardless of their social background – let them flourish and mix with people more likely to push them. I’m not just talking about identifying only the top, putting them together and throwing out the rest. I also want to see streaming going down through all the levels so that pupils are with similarly able and like-minded others and the curriculum and teaching methods can be adjusted according to their needs. When parents start to realise that their child can reach their potential in a state school, many will not even look at a private school.

We need to provide state school teachers with the tools needed to do the job. They are there to teach – not to act as councillors or parents. Stop expecting too much from them and get rid of the ridiculous measurements that simply promote averageness rather than excellence. Encourage better parental engagement. I’m not talking about attending a school fund-raiser. I’m talking about the parent making sure their child knows that a free education is a privilege and not a right. That they are expected to try their best and to behave in school and if they don’t the teacher has the absolute right to discipline them without parental comeback. Make a parent’s evening as much about the what the parents are doing to help as it is about reviewing the child’s performance.

Finally – just accept that nepotism exists at all levels of society. If it happens at the bottom then it will happen at the top and like it or not, you will never get rid of it. However it would be appropriate to break the monopoly of the elite private schools because that level of power amongst such a small number of people is a dangerous thing. Unfortunately, that will take generations to achieve but as with the argument above, it will never be done by attacking the elite. It will be done by raising the influence of other schools. If you want more influence to come from state schools then you must improve the standards within those schools to give the top Universities and employers a better reason to take more students from them. As state school improve, so more influencers will come from them and so the nepotism will spread.

If you have anything to add, then please feel free to comment

Football – troubled or triumphant ?

I love football. The skill, the unpredictability, the atmosphere and the drama all combined to cook up a viewing feast.

The first World Cup I ever watched was Argentina in 1978. I thought Peru were fantastic with their red striped tops and ability to leather it into the top corner at any moment. Then there was Scotland chasing an improbable margin of victory against Holland, being given hope by the glory of Archie Gemmell dancing through the Holland defence, only for Holland to snatch it back with an arrow like strike moments later. However the single most vivid memory was the white streamers and ticker tape pouring from the stands when Argentina played. It was just amazing and I’d never seen anything like it. I’m sure if it happened today it would be acclaimed by a brand of bog roll, but anyway I was hooked.

So roll forward to Brazil and I think we are witnessing the best World Cup ever – well certainly the best since 1978 which is as far back as I can muster. Surely the only conclusion is that football has scored a massive triumph – the games have been great, the stadia made it on time, the predicted riots haven’t materialised, even the USA fans have watched in massive numbers and all in all there’s been a party atmosphere. What could be better?

Well I have a feeling that the beautiful game is in danger of imploding. FIFA, that self-appointed body of unaccountables are constantly viewed with suspicion and their awards to Russia and Qatar have done little to improve that image. I only hope the “independent” investigation will lead to positive changes, although I’m not overly optimistic. But that’s not the cause of my main concern.

It is what’s happening on the pitch that is alarming. A few examples: First game – Neymar swings an elbow at Modric but stays on the field so that he can score the equalizer. Then Brazil are awarded the most ridiculous penalty you have ever seen. A short time later Croatia are denied a perfectly legitimate equalising goal. Next game is Mexico and they are denied not one, but two legitimate goals because they were deemed to be offside. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dubious decisions from the officials. But these decisions are massive because they are changing the results of games. Just the couple mentioned above would have meant Mexico topped the group and who knows whether Brazil would have even qualified?

Add to that the fact that in most games we have to watch players diving or rolling on the floor with a level of play acting that would make an Oscar winner feel proud. The likes of Thomas Muller apparently needing emergency surgery having been shot by Pepe’s finger tips only to make a miraculous recovery the moment Pepe decided to shove his forehead a little too close. And don’t get me started on the holding and pushing on a corner or free kick into the box, with the France vs Ecuador game taking the art of penalty box wrestling to a whole new level. It reminded me of a player I grew up with, who went on to represent England a few years ago, telling me how, at his club, they were taught how to dive and how to pull shirts. Alarming but true.

So putting it in simple, easy to understand language the players are cheating and what’s really sad is they are getting away with it. The results of games no longer provide us with the answer to “Who is the best football team?”. Instead the question now is “Who can get most of the decisions in their favour?”

The most notorious player of the last 2 World Cups will be Luis Suarez. In South Africa in 2010 he handled the ball to prevent a certain goal. A goal that would have put an African team into their ever semi-final. Although he was subsequently sent off, Ghana missed the penalty and eventually went on to lose the match. An act that changed the result of the game. In 2014, as we all know, he decided to satisfy his hunger by taking a nibble on Chiellini before throwing himself to the ground as if fortunate to still retain a head on his shoulders after receiving such a ferocious elbow to the cheek. Italy were down to 10 men and Uruguay scented blood – quite literally in some cases – but the score was 0-0 and that was enough to see Italy progress. At that moment, Suarez should have been sent off, which would have evened up the numbers and probably subdued Uruguay without their talismanic striker, putting Italy on the front foot. But it didn’t happen and shortly afterwards Uruguay scored and Italy went out. Again a decision that probably changed the result of the game.

I’d also like to add that whilst I’m disappointed by his behaviour – clearly he needs some help – I am disgusted by the “support” expressed by some leading figures who are portraying Suarez is the victim. Disrespectful to the game that made them and morally void for every young kid looking for their role models to show them the way.

To be honest I’m fed up of it. I want to see the best football team win in the right way – that doesn’t mean that we don’t get shocks and lesser teams can’t cause an upset – it’s simply a desire to see results based on playing within the rules. Not too much to ask for is it? After all we have a game, we have the rules and it’s just a question of seeing them implemented properly. What makes it worse is the fact that the solution is there – right in front of us every time we turn on the TV.

I don’t blame referees. They can’t possibly see everything on the pitch and get it right first time all the time. I agree they could be better, but expecting a perfect game is like asking for an iced lolly not to melt in the desert. The answer is using a video referee. We all know what’s gone on because we can see it on a TV replay. So why can’t the officials use that to help them?

Ah, in come the old-fashioned “it will slow the game down” brigade. What a load of old tripe. How long do you think it was between the moment Suarez bit Chiellini before the game resumed? How long before did the game stop before the Neymar fired in the penalty? Enough time for a video review? Of course – I’d seen the replay so many times, I was bored stiff by the time play resumed. In many cases it would actually speed up the game. I’m not suggesting it is used for everything, but exactly as they do in rugby, the referee calls for assistance as and when needed and the big calls are always right.

Even more important, if players realised they can’t get away with it, they won’t try it on in the first place. Before we know it, referees will be respected rather than abused and diving, pulling, pushing and biting will be a thing of the past because there is no longer any advantage to be gained.

For football to be triumphant, the authorities must follow the lead of several other major sports – if they don’t I fear football will become increasingly troubled.

Population and house prices – is there a link Sherlock?

According to The Office for National Statistics estimated there were 64.1 million people in the UK in June 2013, a rise of 0.63% on the previous year. That equates to a population growth of more than 400,000 which apparently is more than any other country in the EU and it’s a rate that will soon take the UK to over 70 million.

So where’s all that increase coming from. Apparently just over half was down to natural change – births minus deaths – while net migration represented 46% of the rise and interestingly more than a quarter of all births came from immigrant mothers. A quarter of the UK population growth was in London.

At the same time we appear to be caught up in another housing boom. The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney warned of “deep structural problems” in the British housing market stemming from a shortage of fresh stock. It is most chronic in the South East where Savills estimates a shortage well into the hundred thousands. Co-incidentally last week official figures showed annual house price rising at around 9.9% pa – with London showing a near 19% rise.

And so the conversation concerning the Great House Price Inflation Robbery began:

Holmes begins, “Dr Watson, there is nothing like first hand evidence. We have a growing population, largely driven by immigration or the offspring of immigration. We have a shortage of houses which I deduce must have something to do with the fact that we have more people to house – I would surmise that should the population remain flat then there would be no material increase number of houses.”
Dr Watson steps in, “With you so far Holmes old chap, although perhaps I could add to your last point to acknowledge the role of the single parent family in all this. Apparently nearly 25% of households are now single parent – a number which has trebled over the last 4 decades.”
Back to Holmes, “Good point Watson and it is clear there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. So we would need a small increase in new homes to account for those people who can longer bring themselves to share the same living space with their family.”
Watson “Absolutely old chap. And a damned shame it is too! Then there is also the need to build houses that are replacements for those that are no longer fit for purpose.”
Holmes again, “Another point well made, my dear Dr Watson. However, having gathered these facts and smoked several pipes over them, trying to separate those which were crucial from others which were merely incidental. I concluded them as merely incidental compared to population increase as the leading culprit in this dastardly robbery.”
Holmes went on, “I confess to knowing no earthly reason why the leaders of our great nation do not appear to make the glaringly obvious connection between immigration and the increase in population that so violently contributes to the housing shortage and consequent bubble. Surely any man not blinded by the need of the populist vote could conclude the same and then react accordingly.”
Dr Watson exhales slowly before adding, “All very well old chap. But more people, means more “needs” to be satisfied which ultimately means more jobs and more spending. The connection may well have been made Holmes, but it’s a turkey voting for Christmas like move for any politician to stifle what little growth there may be in the economy. I’ve even heard some comment that the infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and transport, can’t take the added load, only to be informed by those of a certain persuasion, that investment in infrastructure will in itself create more jobs and make the government more appealing to voters.”
Holmes responds swiftly “I think that you know me well enough, Watson, to understand that I am by no means a nervous man. At the same time, it is stupidity rather than courage to refuse to recognize danger when it is close upon you. This reminds me of the curious incident of the dog in the night-time”
Dr Watson inquires “But the dog did nothing at night-time”
Holmes again “That was the curious incident! Here we have a government with an apparent need to demonstrate growth to the voting public. Growth is a curious beast. Its variances means little on the streets, but as a headline it symbolises prosperity and has become a battle cry to rally the troops. In a country getting close to the edge of all it can consume without losing it’s buttons and popping it’s shirt, the only way to maintain the illusion of growth is to grow the population. I imagine you will find a very different per capita picture from that promoted by our government of the day – something which the common man fails to grasp. In the short-term such rapid population growth will lead to house price inflation and it can also fuel anti-immigration sentiment as shown by the results for that Moriarty like creature and his UKIP party – but they are merely bumps in the road. More serious are the possible long-term effects of such an approach. A national debt of £1.4tn growing at over £5k per second simply cannot stomach the increased public spending required to grow the infrastructure needed to maintain a harmonious community – and that figure does not even include the alarming pension deficit. The night-time is fast approaching, Watson – decisions need to be made quickly to reduce the debt and ensure harmony on our streets is maintained – but if the dog doesn’t raise itself into action, it may be a long time before the light returns”

With that, Watson poured himself a quick tipple and changed the subject to why England seem incapable of winning the World Cup

Are teachers right to feel undervalued ?

Two-thirds of teachers feel undervalued, says OECD study as reported http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27985795.

It’s a fair point. They get up every day ready to be in school between 8 & 9 am, apart from the 13 plus weeks of the year when it’s the school holidays, obviously. They sit through a good few hours of lessons trying to pass on wisdom to an audience that might rather be playing on the X-box. Often with the inclusion of the odd little Jonny, who, despite being English, is more likely to become the US president than sit still without misbehaving for a whole lesson. They endure a tortuous lunch hour when they’ve either got to marshal the tear-aways in the playground or sit huddled together with other similarly worn down dreamers in the staffroom. Then between 3 & 4 pm the dark clouds part and a ray of light enters the room as the little rascals drift away, scruffier than when they arrived, and preparations begin to repeat the exercise all over again tomorrow. In between times there might be the added bonus of an extra curricular activity and a bit of homework to be getting on with.

All that and not a word of thanks from anyone.  The only recognition comes when poor little Jonny’s parents introduce themselves and him as the victims of teacher bullying – the fact that he might have stuck chewing gum in a class mate’s hair and sworn at the teacher trying to break up the ensuing fight is little more than a neglected detail.

Sounds to me like they’ve got a point.  As Aristotle proclaimed, “Learning is an ornament in prosperity, a refuge in adversity, and a provision in old age.”  Surely if there is nothing more important than education, then there is nothing more important than the providers of education!

Hold on – let’s take a step back to provide some balance.   I get up at 06:45 to make it to the office at 07:30 each day – that’s when I’m in the office and not travelling.  I sift through a raft of about 50 emails.  A few trying to sell to me, several we’d refer to as “arse covering” and then maybe 1 or 2 of any actual value.   Then the meetings start from around 09:00 and go right through to the end of the day, with odd gaps here and there.  I grab a sandwich for lunch which I eat during a meeting, much to the annoyance of the presenter, who recognises my attention is more focused on the misery of the slightly damp bread rather than his navel gazing analysis.   Then everything starts to wind down and I head for the exit at around 5:30pm so that I can get back home for 6:00pm.   A quick bite to eat, some time with the children and the it’s onto looking through the actions that I’ve picked up during the day and adding them to the growing list that I should have completed yesterday.   Then before I know it the alarm’s bleeping and we’re off again.

To be fair, every month the cycle is broken by a trip or two and as I’m sure you appreciate, travel is an absolute luxury.  It’s usually by plane, which means waking at 05:00 to get to the airport for 06:00, so that I can wait around in discomfort for a good couple of hours.  Then a squeeze into a seat that was surely modelled by primary school children and off we go.  Mid-way through I’ll be provided with some sort of cold sandwich, which provides little benefit other than passing the time, before the man in front decides I need to study his male pattern baldness in more detail by reclining his seat.  I’ve so far avoided the temptation to provide it with a Benny Hill like slap, but I won’t be able to resist forever.  After a few hours of being bumped around and losing any feeling in my legs, we endure a slightly nerve-wracking landing.  Then it’s off to stand in a clearance queue before the “will it/won’t it turn up” conundrum of the baggage carousel.   I’ll always remember standing at a UK airport, hearing an announcement stating that one of the baggage trucks hadn’t made it to the plane, so half the bags were left on the departure runway.  Shouts of “Come on my bag!” as if watching the Derby, echoed through the hall.

Feeling relieved, bags in hand, it’s off to the taxi rank for a journey of unspeakable horror with a driver of suicidal tendencies – this applies especially in European and South American countries and maybe others I’m yet to visit.  I suppose the clue is in the missing seat belts and cracked windscreen, but his car is next in line and you get what you’re given.   At the hotel, a quick beer to relax before checking out the room service – it’s seldom much fun sitting Billy-no-mates in a restaurant on your own.   Then crank up the PC and attempt to log onto the email server through the hotel’s exorbitantly priced internet service.   As the emails download at pre-broadband speed the TV goes on and you flick through a good 50 channels to find the only 2 that speak your language.  After the second news re-run, you flick through again – surely there is something you missed.  In the end it comes down to your language but boring, some irrelevant sport that you’re not the faintest bit interested in, or music.   The music goes on and you start working through all those emails that you’d have got to at 07:30 had you stayed in the office, only now it’s 8pm in the evening.   Lights off at around 11pm and a quick review of the day shows very little achieved apart from being a long way from home.   All that and not a word of thanks – and I only get a few weeks holiday a year, which I can only take when the Company allows me and the prices are through the roof.

I feel undervalued.   Why is no-one writing about me?

Perhaps the truth is that most employees feel undervalued to some extent.  They feel that they work too hard and make too many sacrifices without so much as a by your leave.    It might not be perfect, but unfortunately, that’s life and the recognition comes in the form of a pay check.

Do I value what teachers do? Yes  Do I think they are undervalued? Yes  Do I think they deserve greater recognition?  No more than the vast majority of those being paid to do a job.

What now for England

The dream is over for at least another few years – consigned to an early flight home post the Italian slump against Costa Rica.

Tom Sheen’s Independent report http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/worldcup/england-out-of-the-2014-world-cup-what-next-for-the-23-men-in-roy-hodgsons-squad-9553856.html  attempts to look at individual players and whether they should stay or go.  To be honest, there’s not a lot to disagree with – getting rid of anyone approaching the end of their careers makes a bit of sense – but getting rid of Danny Welbeck shows a major lack of understanding of what he was asked to do and what he’s capable of.   In the whole article and in particular that very comment about Welbeck, Sheen highlighted what’s wrong with British football and football journalists.

Football is a team game and this World Cup, more than any other I’ve seen, shows what’s possible if you get the right blend.  Look how the likes of Costa Rica, Chile, USA, Algeria & even Australia have performed.  Yet we always focus on the individuals and not the collective.

England have played ok so far – certainly better than 2010 in South Africa when pulling your own toenails out seemed preferable to watching the team’s struggles.   England has the players to make a good impression on any tournament and the constant suggestion otherwise is ridiculous – would Clint Dempsey, Brian Ruiz, Tim Cahill, Medel – all heroes for their countries get into an England squad – not a chance.   It’s the  blend that hasn’t been right and that goes right back to every tournament since 1970.

Here’s an example.   In 1966 England had a great striker by the name of Jimmy Greaves.  Scored for fun.  First name on the team sheet and all that.  But did he play in the Final ? No !  For the good of the overall team he was left out.  A very hard decision for Ramsey to make, but he put the team before the individual and the rest is history.   Scroll forward to 2014 and Daniel Sturridge.  A gifted player who is regarded as the most natural finisher in the England team.  Yet a player known to be “team” challenged as shown with his struggles at Man City and Chelsea – his relative success at Liverpool owes much to the selfless players around him.  All of a sudden he has become a first choice pick, yet England have never scored more than one goal from open play when he has started (the only game we scored more came with 2 central defenders scoring from corners).   Yes he’ll score the odd goal (over the last 12 months pre-tournament he’d scored the same number of England goals as Danny Welbeck) but the team will suffer because of the way he plays.  I’m certain we’d be talking about progression to the next round if Lambert had been playing instead – I’m not saying he’s a better player, but he’d make the team into a better team.

So what next for Roy.    Set out the style that will get the most out of our best players – attacking football, high tempo, loads of energy and closing the opposition down quickly – a bit like the Premiership really. Then pick the best team to make that happen. If that means a few better individuals suffer for the good of the team then so be it.   He’ll need to be brace, but success will soon follow

Competition for children – good or bad ?

An article on BBC website this morning http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-27928066 prompted this post. A slightly daft bit report by Ofsted in my view – pupils at private schools to excel at some sports where financial support is needed to make progress – genius. However, there were a couple of interesting points within it. “The majority of state school heads said competitive sport was optional. Only 13% said they expected all students to take part. The report finds that in the most successful schools, both state and private, heads recognise that competitive sport can help build an ethos and boost grades.”

There have been many debates on whether being competitive is good or bad for children. As you can see from some of the comments on the BBC article. The “it’s good” vote say that life is a competitive, children need to be prepared for the real world and it’s wrong to wrap children in cotton wool. The “it’s bad” vote say that not all children want to take part in competitive sport and it can result in a feeling of exclusion if they aren’t good enough.

Is either view right? I suspect as with most things, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

There is no doubt life is competitive. Exams and qualifications, getting into higher education, getting a job, finding a partner, buying a house, getting a good deal, making a complaint, getting fit, sticking to a diet, inventing time travel …… Whether you are competing with yourself or competing with others, life is competitive.

Spurred on by that intro, I hear the “it’s good” voters cry out for more competition. We need to know who’s won, who’s lost, whether we’re moving up or down the league tables. Is that the way forward ?

A quick dart into the history of 100m sprint tells you plenty about competitive sports. Not one of the runners in the 1980 Olympic 100m final would have made the London final in 2012 and most wouldn’t have even made the semi’s. There is no doubt that competition leads to improvement and evolution is fundamentally about pushing the boundaries further. If everyone around you is achieving better results, then your results will be dragged up. It might not be that you ultimately, win, but consciously or sub-consciously you will try harder to be in the game.

So what’s the issue – competitive sports for all. However let’s go back to the “it’s bad” vote and consider the person who isn’t gifted in an event. Let’s use the Olympics again and look at a swimming Sydney 2000 when Eric Moussambani swam 1m 52s for 100m freestyle compared to the World Record of 48 seconds at the time. As he came down the final 20m the commentators were suggesting he might not make it and would need to grab the lane rope. Fortunately, he survived and received a massive ovation when he finally arrived. Now Eric achieved fame and notoriety for his efforts – after all it was the Olympics and isn’t it as much about taking part.

But how would that have gone down at the local High School? If the teacher didn’t make Eric feel bad enough by shouting all sorts of “encouragement” his way, then you’d be fairly sure the other classmates would plug the gap. And I bet Eric’s confidence might suffer post race and he’s unlikely to be the coolest kid in school anymore. So if you’re no good, why bother if the result might be no better than ridicule ?

It’s a fair point but it’s interesting how the Olympic story is one of triumph against adversity and standing ovations. Yet the High School equivalent is utter misery. But clearly it’s not the competitive sport that’s the issue – it’s the same 100m swimming in both – it is the surroundings and how winning and losing is positioned.

What we shouldn’t do is remove the competition. Eric might be weak at swimming, but great at art or maths or writing. Samantha, who is poor at writing is a great sprinter. Why should she be denied her opportunity to shine. Surely by the same token as the “it’s bad” voters use for competitive sport, writing should be removed from the curriculum.

I am a big supporter of competitive sports and indeed competition in general and it should absolutely be part of education – and I don’t think it should just relate to sports. I recently played a new board game called PLYT with my children. It’s about numeracy but it’s very different from other games I’ve played – firstly because I could actually play properly without pretending to have the mental age of a 7 yr old and secondly because it is competitive. If I’d have told them “here’s an educational game about numeracy” there is no way they’d have played, but it was great and the children loved it – they just wanted to compete, to try to win and to see me and their mum having as much difficulty as they were. As with the 100m sprinting, the more they played, the better they were and they kept pushing the boundaries. Brilliant !

What we have to deal with, however is making sure that people know how to win and lose with right attitude. That in itself is education. We want children at the High School to look at Eric and cheer, applaud and make him feel great about making it to the line regardless of his position. Then maybe Eric might be encouraged rather than discouraged and perhaps next time he’ll clock a couple of seconds quicker – that’s progress and he’s now competing with himself as well as the others.

Winning is great and it does inspire people to push themselves harder so they can be successful. However, it’s not only about winning. It’s about wanting to have a go, wanting to join in with the others and most importantly feeling happy when you’ve done it. But it is the society around you that will determine that most important element – how you feel afterwards.

So let’s promote competition but at the same time let’s educate society on how to treat winners and losers rather than pretend they don’t exist.