Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Free Schools

September 5, 2011

A bit of cross posting to a blog by me about free schools on Barkingside21


The Whimsy Flesh Forgot

May 16, 2011

View from Manor Farm at Seaton

In an otherwise excellent post about our recent walk on the South West Coast Path fleshisgrass has missed out on some of the whimsical aspects of the trip. To jog her memory I present,

All the dogs which were either scared or barking at us because we looked a bit weird with our big rucksacks and walking sticks.

The old couple who told us about their son who runs a mud marathon along the section we missed out between Lyme Regis and Seaton. They were rightly very proud of his efforts. We were unsure as to whether using a fire hose was a good alternative to running into the sea to clean of the mud.

The grunting and itchy pigs of Manor Farm Campsite in Seaton. Who were  dangerously affectionate and almost broke through the fence.

How my #swcp was mistaken for a communist acronym

The flying beast of Dawlish which detained me in the shower block so long I was almost declared missing. I was trying to rescue it but it stubbornly held onto the toilet roll I was using and then attached itself to the doormat.

The Flying Beast of Dawlish

The gull which landed on our tent during our last but one night. I thought it was after the food inside and Flesh thought it was just being very presumptuous. She also maintains gulls don’t have dirty feet so questions where all the mud came from.

The annoying know-it-all local near Dartmouth who proudly told us how long it would take us to get to the ferry at Kingsmear. Much more welcome was the lovely lady who told us how well we had done to get that far.

The not so whimsical sight of the aftermath of a bird of prey taking a baby gull. Feathers everywhere and middle-aged men standing around looking a bit stunned.

Meeting up with Gary in Paignton after getting the steam train and having a ‘lovely bimble around’.

I will update if more come to mind.

Free Schools

November 5, 2010

So sometime after my last post (all right a long time) I have been moved to post again. Michael Gove’s policy to ‘reform’ the state school system has made me write again because I am really angry about it.

First a bit of background about me, before taking voluntary redundancy earlier this year I worked for a company that delivered services to 1000’s of schools and I was even involved in Building Schools for the Future (BSF). So I know some of the limitations of the current system and have experienced the frustrating level of bureaucracy of BSF.  None of this convinces me that Free Schools is the answer.

Gove believes that Free Schools will improve education because of the freedoms they will be given, these include:

  • the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
  • greater control of their budget
  • freedom from following the National Curriculum
  • freedom to change the length of terms and school days
  • freedom from local authority control.

Apart from the last point, which I will discuss later, I have some sympathy for these ideas.  However, why do schools need to be reorganised and taken outside LA control for a lot of this to happen? The answer is they don’t really.  Although pay and conditions is more difficult to vary I would be happy to sacrifice this anyway, much better that teachers want to be at a school because of it’s high standards.  There is scope to provide discretionary payments which could attract teachers to failing or difficult schools (details can be found in section 5 of NUT guidance on teachers pay structure nb they oppose such payments).  I know from work with different LA’s that some provide a great deal more freedom than others already and the National Curriculum could be changed by the Government.

To quote from his press release,

“The most important element of a great education is the quality of teaching and Free Schools will enable excellent teachers to create new schools and improve standards for all children.”

If the most important thing is the quality of teaching then that is what government should be concentrating on.  Instead they have decided that the most important thing is the governance structure of the school system and how much freedom they have.

So now onto what is wrong with taking Local Authorities (LAs) Currently Local Authorities have a legal duty under the 1996 Education Act to provide primary and secondary education. So understandably they seek to ensure that this duty is discharged by putting in place systems and processes to support, manage and monitor the schools in their area.  This requires a certain amount of bureaucracy and does mean that schools are not completely independent, except for academies and foundations schools but these are basically free schools anyway.

Now I am happy to debate (I am not going to do that right now however mainly because debating with myself would be a worrying trend for someone who is unemployed and on my own in the house a fair bit) how good LAs are at the management of schools and whether there is too much bureaucracy and/or control.  From first hand experience I know there is scope for cost savings and there are a number of areas where schools could be given more control.

However as things stand I believe there are significant advantages to ensuring that schools remaining under LA control. these are listed below but they are subjective and based on my experience.

  • Access to professional advice and support on an impartial basis
  • Buying power and financial back up of large organisation
  • Economies of scale and ability to pool resources
  • Resources to help build and maintain networks

For a practical explanation of what this means imagine that the roof of a school fails one year. Unless they are very lucky they won’t have enough money to replace it. It is more likely that the LA will be able to find a way of funding it and actually they have a duty to provide education as explained below.

But the biggest advantage to having schools under some form of LA control is that ultimately elected politicians are responsible for what the LA does. So as a concerned citizen I can can use the democratic system and ultimately register my dissatisfaction by not voting for them. If a free school opened down the road and started teaching or doing things the local population were unhappy with (There have been examples of Academies being sponsored by religious fundamentalists and I fear the same will happen with free schools) what could we do about it?

Who could I hold to account for what happens at the school and how could changes be made? Protesting to my local council and MP is difficult but possible and local pressure groups can make a difference. What are the options with free schools, getting a group of parents together to open our own school if we don’t like the other one is going to be too difficult for the vast majority of people as well as diverting resources unnecessarily.

These changes are not required, they are distracting us from the real issues and are an ideological experiment.

100 years of the state pension

February 1, 2009

Harry’s Place has departed from it’s favourite theme to look at something which we should all be thinking (worrying?) about – the future of pensions.

Not seen much about this in the media analysis of the current downturn, but it would be interesting to see what the BBC big beasts Flanders and Peston (sounds like a music hall act) have to say about it.  The book this post is inspired by was written by actuaries not economists.

Food for thought.

Why lend to a shorty?

January 28, 2009

Following on from my last post I now want to explore the murky world of short selling.  I think the principle of how short selling works is pretty straightforward, in a few words it is taking a bet that the value of an asset is going to go down.  The short sellers (shorties or shorters?) borrow the asset from an owner and sell it with the expectation that they will be able to buy it back more cheaply and return it to the lender,  the shorter makes money by pocketing the difference.  Wandering around the blogoshpere you can find numerous more detailed explanations than this, you can also find plenty of people who think that shorters are evil incarnate.  I’m not sure entirely agree with them as it seems to me that if you honestly believe an asset is overvalued you are applying market principles by betting it will go down.  Of course if you short a stock by starting dodgy rumours then you are morally bankrupt and deserve all you get.  But I am not really interested in the shorters motivation, that is obvious as they stand to make a lot of money out of the transaction if they get the bet right, what confuses me and it seems lots of other people is why would the owner of an asset lend it to someone who is trying to make sure it goes down in value?

There seem to be a number of transparent reasons why the lender would provide the service including either they are paid a fee and/or can get some short term cash.  Both of which are very plausible but I feel like I am missing something because although the fee and cash means you are making money out of what is probably an inactive asset you are allowing someone else to potentially destroy a substantial part of the value of that asset.  According to the information on the International Securities Lending Association suggests that a ‘typical’ trade might look something like this,

A shorter borrows 100000 shares at £10/share, giving a loan value of £1M.

The lender might expect to earn a profit in the order of 5% on the loan so if the transaction lasts a month they  could earn 5% * 30/360 * £1.05M = £4300 (approximately).

This all seems straightforward except if the shares are shorted by the borrower and drop by 10% the lenders asset is now worth 10% less or £100,000.

And it’s this discrepancy that I can’t understand, it could be as simple as the lender not knowing or paying attention to who their assest get lent to – but this would be dissapointing.  Or more likely there is something I have missed about how this all works becuase it doesn’t seem like good business on the face of it.

what no blog

December 10, 2008

spending too much time on work stuff to muster the the energy for blogging and all the excitement of our party at the weekend took some time to recover from – getting too old for drinking 2 nights on the trot.

Every cloud and all that

November 17, 2008

So it looks like the dire state of our economy might have some benefits I didn’t foresee.  Namely we might now be able to have a sensible conversation about joining the Euro and working on further integration with our  neighbours, all this without cowering before the little Englanders banging on about the Great British Pound and how they will talk our bull dogs away or something.  Just a quick aside but what made the pound great?  Well you could point to our role in the industrial revolution and consistently level of innovation but I don’t think we should forget piracy, slavery, aggressive foreign wars and human rights abuses but maybe that’s just me. 


However back to the point, there seems to be a growing amount of discussion on the blogs and it came up in the Observer this Sunday.  The EU is even letting misshapen fruit and vegetables in so perhaps the UK has a chance.


All the pointers are that things are going to be pretty dire in the next few years and then once we have recovered from that the climate might get us.  So what’s to lose?  Our influence with the US and other major powers?  Well frankly this is more illusory  than we care to imagine and is based on our over reliance of the City which is broken and our nuclear arsenal (which keeps us as one of the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council)  – which as more people get their own is starting to become less relevant.


Add to this the fact that trade with other European countries makes up over 50% of our exports and you have to wonder what the objection really is?  If the market is saying the euro and the £ are converging in value shouldn’t we listen to the market?  We wouldn’t be immediately giving up soverinty and sticking the Queen in the Tower of London – mostly we would be banding together with like minded countries to make something that is greater than sum of it’s parts.  At least we would have a currency which is seen as a global reserve and much more stable.


Fundamentally I think that being part of a bigger group makes you more secure and should make you behave better as you have to get a consensus and do things for the common good.  Also I like the other Europeans nations in general and my recent experience from visiting their capitals and meeting people is that surprise surprise they really are quite like us!  Also you can get their by train – in fact apart from the channel you can almost walk from Europe to China.




November 11, 2008

It would be nice to think that by the time some of today’s veterans are in their 100’s we will have stopped adding to the list of those we need to remember at such a rate of knots – given the present amount of conflict in the world this seems unlikely.

Two things really brought it home on Sunday the amount of human sacrifice there has been this century alone. The first was Jock Stirrup who when being interviewed informed us that British Service people had died in every year bar one since the 2nd world war. This is a tragedy not only for them and their families but those on the other side of those conflicts.

The second thing that did it was the Robert Capa and Gerda Taro exhibition at the Barbican. It reminded me that I know next to nothing about the Spanish Civil War, Flesh summed up how strange and horrific the photos were by thinking out loud that it would be a bit like somebody knocking on the door and asking to go to fight on Hampstead Heath. The exhibition ended with WWII where Capa was on on hand from the start of the D-Day landings to the end in 1945. The courage of these Citizen Soldiers never ceases to amaze me and I feel lucky beyond words that I am not from a generation that has had to go through that.

After all that emotion during the day it was probably a mistake to watch Schindler’s List which did rather get the better of me, quite why the site of the actual survivors did it I am not sure but there was defintely some blubbing.

My First Post

November 10, 2008

As an engineer I like to do things in a fairly logical fashion so having been tempted by this blogging stuff – here is my first post.  Now bear in mind that as an engineer I spent a long time studying stuff like maths and physics and very little time on important stuff like spelling and grammar.

So why am I adding my ramblings to an already crowded blogosphere?  It might be an early mid-life crisis or it might be that it’s a good way to communicate with my girlfriend who spends most of her time blogging when not at work (apparently this is because I watch too much TV – another good reason to start writing maybe?).  I think it’s actually that I have written a couple of guest posts and longish comments and found that I enjoyed it.

So what can be expected from this blog?  Difficult to say really but it is likely to cover politics (recently joined the Labour Party), the RSA, work (as I spend a lot of time there at the moment and if not there then thinking about it), walking long distances and still drinking inappropriate amounts of brown booze.  People who know me would probably tell you I’m prepared to offer an opinion on most things so who knows where this might get to.