Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Has the Educational "Berlin Wall" Received A Fatal Blow?

The long overdue scrutiny of Ofsted is happening now amidst a great deal of 'smoke-and-mirrors' political activity. It is irresponsible for the comfortably-off older generation to play politics with the education of our young. If Ofsted had been doing its job properly, we would not be dealing with the sorry results of the OECD findings. Therefore, it is entirely proper that new leadership be sought for Ofsted. Competent leadership at Ofsted is part of the business of returning Education in this country to the very high standards of the past. Competent environmental management might have mitigated the dreadful scenes of flood devastation we are all witnessing. We can no longer rely on the many unaccountable and expensive Quangos that supposedly run things for us. These highly paid professionals are more concerned with "looking good" rather than "being good". Whether in Educational or Environmental management, at the moment, success seems to measured not by results, but by the persuasiveness of the rhetoric.

Michael Gove's plans for State Schools are idealistic; we need idealism, vision and courage to take on the advocates of the "low, one-size-fits-all curriculum and let's socially engineer University intake" ideology. That we still have top-class Universities shows the resilience of past high standards, as even our best Universities have been under pressure to select students based on perceived potential "poor thing she/he comes from a disadvantaged background" rather than actual achievement. If Michael Gove's plan comes to fruition, in future, it will allow all selections for University candidates to once more be based upon true merit and achievement rather than on nebulous judgements flowing from SAQ profiles that accompany UCCAS applications.

Longer school hours, more academic content in the curriculum, removal of soft wishy-washy subjects, a broad-based baccalaureate-type selection of subjects and a range of extra-curricular activities for all students is, I believe, the tried and tested way to ensure all young people in this country benefit from this country's first-world status. It isn't trendy I know, but other successful countries know that this solid approach works. The return to tried and tested maintenance of our rivers by dredging may not have the glamour of the trendy "let's preserve our wildlife", but it just may save livelihoods and homes by increasing the capacity of our waterways.

The question remains whether Mr Gove's vision can ever be implemented. As I look at the army of flood victims and weary volunteers who are doing their best in these dire circumstances, they remind me of concerned (pushy?) parents who have struggled over the years against a tide of low expectations and the contrary winds of professional indifference. These parents are just like flood victims trying to do their best for their families. The desire to survive and succeed cannot come from the top alone, no matter how well-intentioned. Ultimately, the job only gets done because individuals (salaried or not) simply roll up their sleeves and get on with the job.

PS Talking of salaries, on the 13th of March 2014, The Times Health Correspondent, Chris Smyth, has written a seriously depressing article about an NHS chief (HR manager) who has quit the NHS but will continue to get £310,000/- for the next two years from the NHS whilst also drawing a salary as an "organisational development consultant (whatever does that mean?)" to the University of Leeds. Her area of expertise is apparently HR, training, leadership development and communication which she is passionate about. Heaven help the poor put-upon conned taxpayer, who I am certain, in a crisis, will not be able to call upon these "passionate" over-valued individuals, paid huge double salaries to do public sector non-jobs.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Public Service, Social Work, Charity & Goodness

I have been recently informed that people who make charitable donations are not "good" but only give to charity to avoid tax. This point of view was made known to me, during a lunch party last week, by a fully paid-up member of the Labour Party. The previous day, while having dinner with two young adults of ambivalent political inclinations, I was amused by their unfettered admiration for another individual who worked with autistic people and is paid handsomely by the government to do so, describing that individual as "good".

Is it possible that there is a general confusion about "goodness"? It is my understanding that when people give to Charity, they no longer have the use of that money for their own needs. This often means that they do without something; if the donation is small, it may be the sacrifice of a mere bar of chocolate. If the donation is big, it may mean doing without a holiday abroad. In contrast, when a person works with autistic people and receives a good salary for it, as this activity has entailed no sacrifice and indeed has been remunerated, it is clearly not an act of charity.

I believe that those who make sacrifices for others in Charity giving, have a greater claim to the description "good" than those who work for a salary in an area of public service that helps others. After all, if an individual has an inclination for working with the handicapped, the ill and the disadvantaged and does so at no sacrifice to themselves, then they are in fact doubly rewarded in finding a suitable niche and being well-paid to enjoy that niche. They cannot possibly be described as "good" as they are no different from any other person in the work-force and they are consumers of public wealth rather than the creators of public wealth.

Contrast this with creators of public wealth who regularly give to Charity; any excess money left over to such individuals can only be taxed up to a maximum of 45%. If these individuals choose not to give to Charity, then the 55% still remains available for personal consumption and enjoyment once 45% has been surrendered to the taxman/woman. Please also note that wealth creation happens in the private sector, with all the stresses of risk-taking and fearfully long hours of work; this is in stark contrast to the comfort and security of the wealth-consuming public sector

My blog-posts are usually about educational and academic matters. Could it be a sign of a defective education (might it be a subtle form of brain-washing?) when the fundamental differences between the true goodness of Charity-giving and shrewdness of well-paid employment in the "caring" part of the Public sector get confused? To go back to my starting point, all the three individuals who have prompted this blog are highly educated. I find worrying that, despite being so well-educated they may be mistaking shrewdness for goodness.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The New "Boy" Network in Academia

I think that there is a network in operation in this country, which I call the New "Boy" Network. "Boy" is in inverted commas because it is really a network of men and women. Having duly railed, ranted and stood against the Old Boy Network of "toffs" and public school gentlemen for decades, we now have, in its place, a much more pernicious network which I believe is willing to be anti-meritocratic in order to achieve certain social engineering ends. It is my observation, (and here, I will be delighted to be proved wrong), this network exercises freely, the last allowable form of political incorrectness, where it is acceptable to discriminate against people who have the appearance of coming from a certain so-called "posh" background. In a bizarre reversal of snobbery, such so-called "posh" individuals are the new social lepers and the very whiff of this background is sufficient to exclude the individual.

My blog-posts are invariably linked to academia and I specifically write about University academia. The proliferation of professors and senior academics in the last decade or so, draws candidates exclusively from the New "Boy" Network pool. Having sat on interview committees, I recall being embarrassed by the after-interview banter amongst those of us on the interview board, where I noted the impolite and scornful comments, the distaste, the clear prejudice and resentment that automatically eliminated people (men and women) who came across as "posh". Whether these people possessed the requisite qualifications or not, the moment they presented themselves and opened their mouths, speaking with what used to be called RP, there was not the slightest chance that these so-called "posh" people would be allowed to move onto the next stage of the application process.

In any true meritocracy, there will be a spread of ability amongst people of all backgrounds. It is logical then to expect that the recognition and reward of true meritocracy ought to lead inevitably to diversity in all organizations. It is my observation, however, that this diversity is no longer found in Academia. I have anecdotal evidence that certain other Public Service professions also suffer from this lack of diversity.

It is significant that Public Sector organizations have quantities of information and vast resources ploughed into Equality and Diversity Policies and Dignity at Work Protocols. Is it possible that the existence of these policies and protocols allows an organization to convince itself that it is in reality practising Equality and Diversity and showing Dignity to all? I feel that when an organization needs vast quantities of documentation to set out in detail what constitutes discrimination, and how to exercise fair-play, such an organization has conceded that it is, in fact, made up collectively, of people who are not merely immoral ((i.e. possessing a defective moral compass) but in fact amoral (i.e. possessing no moral compass at all).

The end result of the parochial and sometimes vengeful conduct of the New "Boy" Network, is that, this country as a whole, will lose out rapidly in the international race, relative to other countries who are hungry for global success. This will happen because, although a little of this sort of New "Boy" Network mentality can be safely absorbed throughout the country, once the subverted motives in candidate selection reaches a certain critical mass, (and I believe we are at that point now in Academic and Educational establishments in this country), we have set in motion, events that will lead to a downward spiral away from excellence throughout the whole country.

When uber highly-paid public servants, occupying the highest offices in our academic institutions, respond resentfully, with depressing regularity, in a "Pavlovian" fashion (recall Pavlov's dog experiment) to the sound of an RP accent, I cannot help wondering whether there is any point to Education in a moral vacuum. If the Old Boy Network was accused of cronyism and the much more destructive New "Boy" Network is most certainly guilty of both anti-meritocracy and cronyism, what are we going to do? Should we not be concerned about the urgent need to dismantle the New "Boy" Network for the greater good of this country's global academic standing?