Children Should Take Exams on a Computer

Traditional Education

Education Regulator Recommends all Exam should be taken on a Computer

Isabel Nisbet, the chief executive of Ofqual (catchy title, a no doubt with a handsome pay packet and pension to boot), has announced that in this modern techno era all children should take their exams on a computer.

Hurray for Technology?

Surely this is a good thing. In the 21st Century with the kids spending so much time online then this is a sign of how advanced we have become and will help propel our children to the forefront of their global generation?

Er no – probably not

As one would hope and expect teachers unions and many others are aghast at the prospect, given the inevitable opportunity for cheating, plagiarism and all the other likely outcomes. In addition of course the general poor quality of literacy which we seem unable to overcome is hardly likely to be enhanced by auto spell checks and corrections. Likewise whilst using the internet for reasearch is obviously a great tool, the resulting tendency to just take the answer as whatever google decides to shove up as it’s number 1 results hardly helps develop an analytical and questioning mind…

What else?

More importantly for me is the simple fact that technology is moving at such a pace that by the time the government has agreed this is a great idea, equipped (at a cost of billions no doubt) every school with locked down pcs and laptops then a) most the of them will already be out of date compared to what most of the “techno savvy” generation are using at home and b) there will be all sorts of ways around the lock down to wirelessly transmit “helping hands” to assist the really technically savvy to basically cheat.

So to avoid the mistake of a “beta max moment”, or  even worse asking kids used to using handheld and games consoles to do their exams on the equivalent of an Amstrad word processor (remember how funky they were at the time??) or a typewriter, why not just stick to what works best.

There really is no substitution for a blank sheet of paper and a pen or pencil…

Just a thought…

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Teaching Assistants in Cumbria

Cumbria Teaching Assistants

Single Status for Cumbria Teaching Assistants

One of few the laudable legacies from the last government was the objective of ensuring equal pay across equivalent jobs and genders. This was enshrined in the “Single Status” legislation. As ever the devil has been very much in the detail and all the councils across England have spent the last few years trying to navigate their  way through the process in the hope of implementing it in such a way that they achieve fairness and avoid too many law suits.

In Cumbria in the  area of Education this process is nearing it’s conclusion. Unfortunately right now it is looking like an the proverbial impending train wreck. The main issue is regarding the pay for Teachin Assistants in schools. In summary historically many of these hard working and invaluable people have been paid on the same basis as teachers – in other words on a 52 week a year contract with the same holiday entitlement. Under the new legisaltion and classification they have been told they must now shift to a term time only contract with in fact more hours and less holidays.

All very practical given the current climate you might think, and of course putting them in line with other clerical and support staff in schools and elsewhere in the public sector. However in reality for certain levels of teaching assistants in Cumbria (so called “Senior Teaching Assistants”) what this currently means in terms of salary is a drop of in the region of 30% in their basic level of pay. Even for the coalition this is a ludicrous and overly harsh cut and surely one which is likely to provoke more protest, outrage and legal action than a more moderate approach.

But surely this is fair?

Well actually on several levels one can happily argue that this change to their working practices is both unfair and possibly illegal. For a start these people all have current contracts that entitle them to the same hours and holidays as teachers. Given the level of responsibility many of them undertake and the work involved this seems utterly sensible. They joined the profession on this basis so how “fair” (or indeed legal) is for the council to suddenly drasticaly alter their contract. Also given the increasing reliance on teaching assistants in classrooms then there is even more reason to treat them as “junior” teachers rather than grade them at a lower level than school janitors (which they are btw – nothing against janitors but you get the point).

So what’s the answer?

So in my humble opinion either you change the contracts for all staff in schools, ie including teachers, to be term time only (now that really will get people out on the streets), or you leave the teaching assistants as they are. Or if you do want to change it, change it for new teaching assistants and leave the existing ones on their current contracts. This is what other councils have sensibly decided to do.

Either way to introduce a policy which by default reduces the salary of a large percentage of the overworked and seemingly undervalued 3,500 teaching assistants in Cumbria by 30% at a stroke is obviously a nonsense – so come on Cumbria – sort it out…..

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Windermere Man Chases Youths with Axe

justice in cumbria

Windermere Man Chases Wife Covered in Tomato Ketchup with Axe To Scare Local Youths

A random story from the Lake District if ever there were one. Basically a young couple had had enough of youths parking up in a lay by near their house and making a nuisance of themselves. Numerous complaints to the police have as usual resulted in nothing happening. So one night when they decided to get their own back. Woman douses her self in ketchup, man grabs axe and chases her along the lay by. Woman bangs on car window, youths won’t let her in. Woman runs into the night. Man with axe bangs on car window. Youths won’t let him in either and then decide it’s time to move on. As they drive off man and woman laugh and wave them goodbye.

So job done one might have thought. No harm done, and all being well the youths won’t be venturing back there for a while. End of story. Er no. Not in 2011 Britain. Now the man is in court charged with “possessing an axe in a public place” and “using behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress”. You couldn’t make it up, I swear….

Right or Wrong?

Well of course we shouldn’t be encouraging people to take the law into their own hands and if you don’t crack down on people running around with axes where does it stop? Conversely the police had managed to do precisely nothing about the continual anti-social behaviour of the youths, and as far as one knows no harm had been done to them at all – and if the 19 year olds of today can basically do what they like where and then claim anyone trying to stop them is causing them “alarm or distress” then it’s time to once again look at whose side the law is actually on!

The Solution

By all accounts the process so far has caused undue stress to the couple involved, who have had to cancel wedding plans due to their various court appearances. By all means caution them for running around in public with an axe, but to even consider a custodial sentence is an outrage. Meanwhile what is being done about the “problem youths” who created the situation in the first place, and the police who failed to act on the various requests for help. Why absolutely nothing of course. So here’s the answer. Caution the man, sack the police for not doing their job, and put the youths on a community project to help give them something to do instead of loitering with menace and intent, and of course they should also be punished for failing to help the woman in the first place……

Just a thought…

More on this in The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

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The Haves and the Have Lots

Money Money MoneyThe Haves and the Have Lots

Plenty of things to keep me otherwise occupied over the last few weeks but a few stories this week have dragged me back to the online soapbox. The first was a little piece earlier in the week about the Bank of England’s “Guvner” Mervyn Merlin King and the other was the transfer of Fernando Torres to Chelsea. An unlikely combination you might think so let me let loose..

Public Sector Have a Lots

So first Mr King. Responsible job being the Governor of the Bank of England. Lots of pressure – think of all those letters he needs to write to young George explaining why once again inflation is a little higher than targeted. Then there’s those interminable meetings of the MPC where there is much uhmming and arring about interest rates with the conclusion much, much later that they should stay exactly where they are (ie we don’t have one) just in case it upsets someone (other than savers of course who don’t count). Well cynicism aside it is a bog job so deserves a reasonable wage. £302,885 a year to be precise. Not a bad whack. But being the public sector that’s not the best bit. As with my previous diatribes on pay at the BBC, and Public Sector Pensions in general, the best bit is the golden, jewel encrusted pension that comes with it. So while we are being asked to tighten our belts, prepare for grim times ahead, and expect nothing from the state in our retirement, “Merlin’s” pension pot was quietly being topped up with another £1.4m. This gives him a pot now worth in the region of £5.36 million – which apparently will entitle him to £198,200 a year. How on earth is the poor bloke meant to exist on such a measly sum. Surely us taxpayers should be aiming to work harder and pay more tax to allow public “servants” like Merlin to live in their dotage in the custom that our hard work has already allowed them to become accustomed to. Er no. Not at all actually. As a (sometimes) hard working taxpayer I would argue strongly that on even a fraction of the salary Merlin currently receives he should be able to put enough aside to look after his own pension provision, and as with MPs, top Civil Servants, BBC management and all other “servants of the people” their ridiculous and gargantuan pension pots should be first in line for the chop when the country is in a whole, and in fact forever more in the future. “But we wouldn’t attract high calibre people without good pensions..”. Whatever happened to the notion of public service (that and a large fat salary). These people should be more than happy to a) work for less and b) forgo much of their ridiculous packages at any time, but especially when they are the very ones telling us to “tighten our belts”. The hypocrisy of it would be funny if it wasn’t so damned annoying and outrageously wrong.

So what of Mr Torres. Well as one or the few Chelsea fans in the Lake District I’m not sure I would agree with either his worth or his skill levels. However time will tell. What I won’t argue with is that ultimately however bad for the game it may be that Roman and his ilk can drive up the transfer prices, and however wrong it may be that young blokes get paid millions for running around a field once or twice a week with dodgy haircuts, at least none of their wages are funded by our taxes (at least not directly!). So if Chelsea want to pay that money out and Roman wants his bank balance to suffer accordingly then so be it.

The Problem

The problem is that our public sector masters almost universally seem to see themselves as part of the footballing/silverscreen/small screen “celeb” culture and expect the salaries and trapping to match. One only has to take one look at Uncle Vince in his funky fedora to see that the guy has totally lost touch with humanity…

The Answer

As always the answer is simple and satisfying. Cease immediately all final salary pension schemes for all public sector employees earning over a certain threshold (say £100k, probably a lot lower). Make all fo them take an immediate and compulsory 25% pay cut. And if they don’t like it they can go out and fend for themselves in the real world like the rest of us. It will certainly challenge them to ask whether they are working for the “public good” or to line their own pockets…

Just a thought…

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Join Hughs Fish Fight


Join the Fish Fight Campaign Now

For those of you who missed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s programmes on Channel 4 this week I urge you to join the “Fish Fight” campaign right now. In summary Hugh is campaigning for a change to the current nonsensical EU Fishing Policy which sees half of all fish caught in the North Sea thrown back dead into the sea (so called “discard”). This is due to the absurd quota systems in operation which mean that our fishermen must only land their alloted quotas of each type of fish, and any excess must be thrown away.

The sensible and sustainable option seems to be simply to remove the quotas and instead go for a limit on the time at seas allowed. Discard as a concept should also be outlawed. However as always all is not as simple as it should be, especially where the EU is concerned, so right now the main thing is to simply get your voice heard and register your interest, which you can do at Hugh’s website

In addition to changing the Common Fisheries Policy the campaign also aims to change the eating habits of the nation away from the staples of cod, haddock and salmon to a more diverse set of sustainable fish. Having watched the way Salmon are “farmed” I can safely say I for one won’t be rushing to buy one next time I’m out shopping.

Anyway no more to be said here – check out the website and get involved in whatever way you can!

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Ski Rep Rant

Top of Pleney Lift in Morzine

A Quick Rant about Ski Reps

Have just returned from a great skiing holiday in Morzine in France. Superb resort, snow conditions good (until it rained!), and fantastic hotel half way up the slopes (The Hotel Viking). So all good except for the reps from our tour company.

Being somewhat long in the tooth I remember skiing holidays from twenty plus years ago where the chalet staff and ski reps were youngsters on a gap year with more interest in their own skiing and social life than the interests of their clients. At the time this didn’t matter so much and seemed quite quaint. Now I’m a grumpy old man on family skiing holidays my expectations and requirements are somewhat higher.

How it all began

Having waited 20 minutes in the coach at Geneva for some non-existent members of our group (they had cancelled a week before so were unlikely to arrive any time soon as we pointed out to our rep) we had done our duty and purchased passes and lessons on the coach to “save time” at our resort. Our suspicions should have been aroused by the fact our rep didn’t actually know much about our resort as he was from another one.

Anyway having spent the afternoon in the resort safe in the knowledge our passes would appear at 08:00 the next morning as agreed, and with that smugness that comes with knowing we wouldn’t be languishing in the queue for passes we partied the night away.

The next morning we awoke to bright sunshine, perfect skiing conditions, but no rep. An hour later a slightly bleary eyed person arrived with a beaney pulled firmly over their head and deposited itself on the first available seat in the hotel reception. Surely this could not be our rep? Er Yes. So did she have our passes? Er No. Why not? Well we had been quoted the wrong price on the coach and so needed to pay more money now for the passes. Not great but OK, here’s the money. So where’s the pass. Well she has to call her manager in town, he’ll buy them and bring them up to the hotel. When. Soon. Hmmmm. In the meantime we have 30 minutes to ferry our kids to ski school, including a ride down in a cable car – with no lift pass. Any suggestions? No. Could you escort us? No. Do you actually have any useful function to perform as a human being let alone as a holiday rep. Not really.

Apologies for the rant but it helps me if no-one else to let loose. Suffice to say we sorted it out ourselves in the end. As you might expect they managed to cock up the return leg as well and we ended up being delivered late back to Geneva airport and only just managed to make it onto our flight.

Still awaiting a response from the tour company on how this all came to pass. I assume part of their staff training is “never say sorry for anything otherwise you might admit liability”. Sad. Still you live and learn. Never ever use that company again….

On a more positive note I can thoroughly recommend Morzine and our hotel. Fantastic!

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Student Tuition Fee Carnage


Votes and Violence Don’t Mix

So the Coalition has “won” its vote on increasing Student Tuition fees in England to up to £9000 a year. Once again the police seemed unprepared for the level of protest, even allowing dear old Charles and Camilla to be attacked in their car. Obviously any level of violent protest is wrong, especially about something like this. However the level of frustration and anger felt by many regarding this increase is utterly understandable.

Why does it cost £9000 anyway?

My first question is why fees would need to be increased to a level like £9k. Surely along with every other institution universities and colleges need to implement efficiencies and savings in the current climate. It seems very strange that the cost of tuition fees alone should ever have to reach a level which is far more than that required for school children in the state sector, who of course have real “full time” education. So my first response to Uncle Vince and the boys would be “what are you doing to ensure Universities review their costs along with every other public institution?”

University Education is not right for all

The elephant in the room on this debate seems to be the notion, promoting by New Labour, that everyone should go to college and get a degree. Whilst this is an admirable aim, it has no real basis in reality and has led to an increase in places (and costs) and of course an increase in comedy degree courses with all the scorn and cynicism they attract. There is nothing wrong with leaving school and going straight into a job, and 3 more years of “study”, especially in a nebulous area of the “academic” sphere, in all likelihood adds little to some students armoury for a future career. So let’s be realistic about how many school leavers can and should go on to higher education. Obviously those not going to college need to have a real job to go to and this is where Government time, energy and focus should be going.

Student Debt is no joke

For those who do go on to further education the level of debt they already rack up is no laughing matter, and this situation will only make it far worse. The inevitable result will be to put off those from less wealthy backgrounds, and hence restrict the “social mobility” and “opportunity” all governments purport to promote. It is outrageous that students north of the border can somehow remain funded when English students are saddled with increasingly large debts. The argument that not all tax payers should subsidise university education for the few is also fatuous. Why not say healthy people should not have to pay taxes for the NHS or working people should not have to pay taxes to pay for DSS (or whatever it’s called these days) claimants – now that’s not such a bad idea.. Anyway you get the point. Proper university education for those that are suited to it, doing courses that benefit all, is a good thing for society as a whole, and should rightly therefore be subsidised by all.

So what next?

Well the coalition has I think been shocked by the level of dissent and unrest. Typically Ed VeryBland has offered absolutely no alternative – stating only that he thinks it’s a “bad idea” but stating that he is unable to say that he would reverse the decision. If something’s that wrong mate then you change it, and find the money to do so. Anyway my only hope is that Uncle Vince and the boys will see sense at some point and focus on the dealing with the elephant of “universal universities” and university costs in general. By doing this, and hopefully with rising economic fortunes, by 2012 when this is due to come into force they might be in a position to quietly drop it anyway. We shall see. In the meantime students should keep protesting, but please leave Charlie Boy’s car alone cos it won’t win you many friends!!

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