Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Teachers' Pensions Strike

There may or may not be huge disruption in Britain's schools tomorrow, but the fundamental question remains the same:

How much should the taxpayer have to pay to fund teachers' pensions?

The answer is either:

a) The same as they do now, gradually increasing each year as we all live longer and more therefore claim more years of pension. This is fair because it is part of a teacher's remuneration for a job that has become far harder in recent years due to increased workload and ever increasing numbers of badly behaved pupils.


b) Less than they do now, but still gradually rising year on year as we live longer. This is fair because people in the private sector are not allowed pensions with such generous taxpayer funding and teachers' pay has increased substantially in recent years.

a) or b) What do you reckon?

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Chalk Diet

If you drink a litre of cold water each day (say 2 almost full pint glasses), then your body expends energy to raise the temperature of this liquid to 37 degrees centigrade. 1 Calorie is the amount of energy required to raise a litre of water by 1 degree, so if we assume that tap water is at 8 degrees (as a year round average) then (37-8) = 29 calories of energy will be used by your body each day or 10585 calories in a year. (Purists please forgive me here- I know there are two different units called the calorie, but I'm using the same one throughout to keep things simple).

A gramme of fat gives up 9 calories when burnt, so you can lose 1.176 kilogrammes per year. This might not sound much, but think of it as just under two stones per decade.

Alternatively you could eat an extra 21 Big Macs every year without a second thought.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sales of Gadgets Down

Argos has reported that sales of electronic gadgets are down 20%. Comet and Dixons are likely to issue similar figures. Have we finally come to our senses and realised that purchasing these shiny things does not instantly transform us into the happy, confident, good looking people shown on the adverts?

Or are we simply having to save more for our annual summer holiday instead?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

University of Wales

Britain's Universities have a very high reputation overseas (presumably because when Johnny Foreigner thinks about them, he has the dreaming spires of Oxford and Cambridge in mind, rather than some of the comedy institutions recently set up.)

However if we follow the University of Wales' lead and keep on 'externally validating' degrees from Bible Colleges and Bangkok Massage Parlours, then our image will change from Rolls Royce to Austin Allegro faster than you can say 'Simon Le Bon'.

I love the bit in the BBC article where the bloke from the University of Wales who was sent out to Bangkok to have a look around, says he can't even remember being there! It certainly is an amazing city.

It makes you wonder how many other dubious institutions are having their 'Degrees' approved by British Unis. I might make an FOI request for a list... (or better still, set up a college somewhere exotic).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Crime Rates Fall?

The FBI claim that crime rates in America have been falling for the last 20 years and current rates of robbery and murder are less than half of what they were back then. British figures also show a drop in crime over the same period.

There are many explanations for this and none is universally accepted. Here are a few:

1) The figures are massaged by the Government, ie a burglar breaks into 8 flats in a block or vandalises 15 cars parked in a line and it is reported as one single crime. Offences can also be reclassified, resulting in a drop in certain ones, which can then be applauded.

2) Better policing through increased computerisation, for example constantly updated databases showing which areas of a city currently have high levels of crime leads to more efficient patrolling.

3) Personal wealth has steadily increased on average whilst material possessions are cheaper than ever before. Combine this with the increased difficulty in selling stolen ones due to more common use of security measures such as password protection and invisible marking, along with more easily available credit. It has simply become easier to wave a credit card to buy a shiny gadget than to mug someone.

4) Both Britain and the US have more criminals behind bars than ever before. If they are in jail then they can't commit crimes.

5) New technology such as DNA databases and CCTV along with a general improvement in forensic techniques.

6) Crime rates simply follow a cyclical pattern pretty much like the economy does. When crime is high and we hear about it on the news every night, the general population become more vigilant and take more care to secure their property and possessions, leading to a drop. Then when crime becomes much rarer and we keep hearing that rates are low then we become careless and it starts to rise again.

7) People have more cheap entertainment to occupy themselves. Maybe potential criminals are too busy playing computer games or babbling on Facebook. Why steal a car when you can play Grand Theft Auto?

8) The increasingly short attention span of modern youth means that young muggers are simply not prepared to put in the necessary hours hanging about the streets waiting for a potential victim. Kids nowadays are used to central heating and do not cope well with the cold and wet conditions that are part and parcel of the street hood's life. The declining physical fitness of the young may also prevent them from running away if pursued by an angry OAP.

There's loads of other explanations and you should feel free to add your own.

Monday, June 20, 2011


George Osborne, do you hear me? Make sure you have cut every financial tie that could possibly bind us to Greece. The place is just a hot version of Scotland and will never be more than a plate's throw from bankruptcy. Frankly, you'd be better off sending all our bank details to Nigeria.

If there are still 17 members of the Eurozone by the end of the year then I will eat my new telephone.

US Visa and Mobile Phone

In the past few days I have seen my phone run over by a truck and successfully applied for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Arrangements) visa which you need to travel to the USA.

Having my phone squashed brought home to me how dependant we have all become on these little devices, bearing in mind that fifteen years ago nobody had one. I am ashamed to say that I was in quite a panic and did not experience a feeling of liberation that nobody could phone me up to complain about Chalk Services Inc. I suppose we forget that the downside of having such a useful gadget is the nightmare when it is taken away from us. It did disturb me how worried I became thinking that perhaps somebody was trying to contact me about some important matter.

It was entirely my own fault; I was standing in a garage forecourt blathering happily to a friend and noticed the petrol delivery tanker was arriving. We picked up our bags and moved away but I somehow dropped my phone in the process and only noticed when I heard a crackling sound from the vehicle's front tyre as it passed us. The driver then refused to move forward slightly so that I could recover the remains to see if the SIM card and any memory chips were still intact, so I had to wait until he had finished his business before scooping up my electronic pizza into a borrowed plastic bag much to the amusement of the garage staff.

I phoned up Orange (from another phone rather than my comically flat one) and was offered a replacement at only twice the price that they can be purchased from Ebay. I was also told by the customer services lady that I could leave my contract for an even more outrageous sum before being offered the chance to buy phone insurance at a discount! I could't resist pointing out that it ought to be discounted, as my phone probably wasn't worth much, being currently one foot square and one millimetre thick.

As far as the ESTA was concerned, I have to admit that I did pause for a while before ticking the box to claim that I had not engaged in 'moral turpitude' but had no hesitation in denying any involvement in the Nazi Party between 1933 and 1945. I paid the $14 fee reluctantly, but was cheered to later discover that $10 of this goes towards a fund to promote tourism to the US. I'm sure that I can't be the first person to wonder whether they could do a better job of encouraging it simply by not charging me to go there.

Still at least they take their Border Security a bit more seriously than we do.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Teachers' Pensions

The Government is proposing to increase the amount teachers pay into their pensions from 6.4% to 9.8% of their salary. The age from which this pension can be claimed (retirement age) will also go up.

The arguments for and against these changes run something like this:


1) People are living longer and therefore get to claim more years of their pension. (I believe that in 1980 the average teacher only lived long enough to claim 4.7 years). This rising cost can either be funded by increasing the contributions made by working teachers or we pay the increased cost out of general taxation.  Such a move would not be popular with the average worker.

2) Public Sector Pensions give a much better return per pound paid in than those available to the private sector. Why should this unfair advantage exist?


1) Teachers' pensions have always been in recompense for being paid less than their private sector equivalents.

That's the gist of it. Ignore all the political stuff that always gets dragged into these arguments, ie:

"The last Government massively overspent!"
"David Cameron hates the public sector!"
"Something about the bankers and/or Mrs Thatcher!"

We have a simple choice. Either accept the changes or go on strike. If we take the first option then we lose out financially and the second will alienate the general public and we will possibly lose in the end anyway.

Actually there is a third option. We could examine our contracts of employment a bit more carefully and stop doing all the extra unpaid stuff, such as the endless preparation and bizarre marking schemes. Whilst we're at it, let's have a mass boycott of Ofsted inspections. Maybe we could then try and negotiate a compromise deal.

It might work or it might not, but I think it would have more chance than a simple strike.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Exam Mistakes

I remember years ago as a young teacher listening to a speaker from one of the exam boards describing how they went about putting an exam paper together.

Experienced teachers would submit potential questions which were considered by a group of experts, who would check that they were on the syllabus and make sure that they were of the correct standard for the exam and finally to make sure that they were unambiguous, grammatically and scientifically correct.

Then the board would select the best of these questions and put together an exam paper which would finally be inspected by another group to make sure that there were absolutely no errors.

This doesn't sound anything like the current set up. Having several exam boards obviously introduces competition, the result of which is to see who can offer the cheapest and easiest exams.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Ken Clarke

Is there anyone Ken Clarke doesn't want to send to prison?

David Cameron announced that he wants "Tough sentences for serious offenders". I'd say that offenders are only non-serious if you are lucky enough not to be their victim.

Scottish Teachers

According to that jolly newspaper, The Scotsman; a teacher in Scotland is attacked every ten minutes. (He must be getting really fed up of it- I'd just leave and get another job).

Now you've always got to be careful with 'official figures' as these ones seem to include pupils 'shouting and swearing' at their teacher, which hardly counts as a violent assault in my view; more of a demonstration of their parents' inability to turn down the TV at home.

Glasgow is the best place to get attacked with over 1100 incidents in the 2009-2010 school year. Edinburgh lies in second place but has complained that they have fewer kids so the comparison is unfair.

I love the bit where a 'Scottish Government spokesman' says that most kids are well behaved. Well that makes it all ok then.really

Somebody should write a book about kids behaving badly in schools.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Holidays in Term Time

According to a recent survey of 400 parents, just under half admitted to taking their kids out of school for family trips. Whilst a few liars claimed that travel was an important part of their child's education, most were honest enough to admit that the reason was simply because holiday prices are much cheaper during term time.

The last Government started fining parents for doing this, but this only ever happens to a tiny percentage (probably those who annoy the Head by not even trying to come up with a decent excuse). The fine is only  £100 anyway, which is far less than you can save on the holiday cost, so it's not a bad gamble at all.

Whilst it's obviously a bit daft to take your child away just before their GCSE exams, it's hard to see how a child really loses out that much if they are only away for a week and are normally a good attender with supportive parents who will make them catch up the work that they miss. (On the other hand, if they are a nightmare child who is off all the time, then it probably doesn't make that much difference to their chances either- and you get a break from them.)

This isn't the accepted view in teaching, so don't quote me to your Head when you go and ask for time off to take your child to attend a 'residential course for conversational Spanish' based in Marbella.

ps with all the current vegetable worries, why not take up one of these pizza offers?


As Germany interrogates its vegetables one by one, we can only wonder which will be next to fall under the searchlight.

I for one, hope that the Brussels Sprout gets its just deserts. Christmas will be a happier time once we are rid of it.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Crazy Teachers stop kids playing soldiers or something...

Apologies if you've already heard about the story in the news last week about the teachers at Nathaniel Newton Infant School in Nuneaton who, depending on how you interpret this article or this one, either:

don't like kids playing soldiers in the playground (ie they are crazy leftie loons) or:

don't like repeatedly being threatened with gang-like gestures when they are trying to teach a lesson (ie they are standing up for themselves against pain-in-the-neck kids, whose parents then seize an opportunity to change the story a bit and moan)

I can't work out what really happened and the comments at the end of the various newspaper articles seem to fuel both options...

Balancing Act

Sorry for not posting, I was away last week. Here's a question for any aviation experts amongst you.

On boarding the plane (Ryanair!) I noticed that three rows of seats near the front of the plane were being guarded by a stewardess who would not let anyone sit in them. Being the inquisitive sort I enquired why this was so and she replied triumphantly:

"Captains orders! It's for balancing the plane."

Once again on the return flight, three rows were blocked off at the front of the plane, but this time the occupation of three rows at the back was not allowed either and I overheard same reason being given to several irate passengers.

Now whilst I admit that I do not have any qualification in aeronautical engineering, nor have I ever flown anything bigger than a paraglider. I do however possess a small amount of common sense, a basic knowledge of the principle of levers and loads of healthy scepticism.

I imagine that the mass of the plane should be roughly equally distributed around its centre of gravity so that it remains level in flight, but I don't believe for a moment that you can 'balance' an airliner by having three empty rows of seats when the luggage is still being loaded in the hold and you do not know the mass of the individual passengers. A small plane, say an eight seater would be that sensitive, but not a Boeing 737. (I'm even more certain that you can't balance anything by moving people from both the front and the back!)

I suspect that the real reason is either to reduce the amount of cleaning required (mind you, with a 25 minute turnaround do they really do any?) or more likely to speed up the trolley sales by having fewer rows of customers to deal with. (The damn thing seems to go up and down all through the flight). A third possibility might be to make it more difficult for families to sit together, thus persuading them to pay extra for 'priority boarding' next time.

If anyone knows the answer then please let me know...