Friday, 29 March 2019

Leading us out of this mess

My niece is currently staying with us while she does a PGCE. It's very hard work (probably the hardest thing *I* ever had to do) but she is enjoying it most of the time, bouncing down to breakfast today for her last day on her current placement but excited that she now knows which school she will be at for her final teaching practice.

While I have largely stopped watching the news for the last couple of years, you would think that, having a trainee teacher in the house, I would be aware of news in the field of education at the very least. Yet I have no idea who the Education Secretary is at the moment. Drowned out perhaps by all the other drama in the political world.

I do however remember the name of Michael Gove. In a pretty dire shower of Education Ministers while I was teaching full time, he was one of the direst. I base this assessment not just on my own recollection of his imposition of new schemes without bothering to test them out first, but also on an almost unanimous vote of no confidence in him in 2013, from the NAHT, the NUT, the NASUWT and the ATL, the NAHT accusing him of creating a climate of fear, bullying and intimidation.

I am therefore less than heartened by a rumour that Gove could become the next leader of the Tory party, and thus the next Prime Minister. I'm not impressed by Theresa May's offer to stand down as party leader if her party will vote in favour of her deal - it smacks of party before country, and echoes Cameron's abject flight after losing the referendum. Gove would just be adding insult to injury - though to be fair, I'm not sure that Johnson or Rees-Mogg would be any better (doubtless they would disagree).

On a lighter note, therefore, a brief word on the importance of putting punctuation in the correct place; which is more appropriate - "there's a maypole dancer" or "Theresa May - pole dancer"? Apologies for the image you now have in your mind....

Friday, 15 March 2019

Consensus in the chaos?

I've tried to avoid discussing either Brexit or Trump as I find both topics deeply depressing. It's getting harder to avoid Brexit in the UK news as each day brings fresh demands and votes from the various sides. And apparently even Trump has weighed in with his opinion.

My husband has a Russian colleague based in Germany who has been trying to follow the news. "I don't understand it," he said. "Can you explain it?" He is not alone.

Whichever way you voted in the referendum, I find it hard to believe that you were expecting the level of uncertainty that we are currently enduring. Some people are not travelling in or out of the UK as they aren't sure how their plans will be affected since we don't know if we will be exiting the EU on 29th March or not, and if we do, whether there will be a deal of some sort. The exchange rate is suffering as traders in other currencies ditch their sterling for something more solid. Various companies are putting hiring plans on hold until they know which country will be their best option for a new HQ. People who *are* travelling after the end of March into Europe with their pets have had to organise certificates well in advance that weren't previously necessary - and may yet not be. These are just some of the repercussions of the uncertainty.

Two years from the triggering of Article 50 to resolve all the various legal and practical issues never seemed like very long to me. The suggestion that the current deal should be thrown out and replaced with a new one in the next two weeks is simply absurd. I've seen extensions of three months mentioned in the press - I fail to see how three months will help us to resolve something for which two years was insufficient.

In or out, I'm sure we can all agree on one thing: the current situation is a clusterfuck of monumental proportions, with no sign of imminent resolution.

Friday, 8 March 2019

World Book Day (a short rant)

Back in 1998, when the UK moved its celebration of the newly-created World Book Day to early March, so that it wouldn't clash with Easter, it was a fun thing. There were £1 book tokens given to every school pupil, a limited selection of £1 books were stocked for the spending of said tokens, and in an effort to promote the whole idea of reading books, some (and I emphasise the *some* here) schools allowed the children to dress as a character from a book for the day. And some of the kids did, utilising things they had in the house already.

I was teaching a Year 4 class at the time (eight year olds, for those unfamiliar) and was known to be heavily into books. So although I'm not generally one for dressing up, I did on this occasion. Black trousers with a tail safety-pinned to the back, a black top, some cardboard ears attached to a hairband, whiskers drawn on with an eye-crayon - and of course, a cardboard box so that whenever anyone looked in my direction, I could put it over my head since I was the cat from My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes. I think the whole outfit involved an outlay of about £2, for the hairband.

Now it seems to be obligatory that not only the pupils but also the staff dress up. Some start preparing weeks beforehand (I know at least one mum who did). Judging by the photos on Facebook, quite a few are costumes either hired or purchased - I suspect the supermarkets do their best to encourage that avenue. One student teacher I know spent Wednesday evening making a costume out of cardboard and tape so that she could dress up for her Year 1 (five year olds) the following day. (She had talked about buying some props beforehand, but being a student teacher, she's on a budget and overworked).

I'm all in favour of encouraging reading. Giving the schools some support when they are struggling with funding for the basics is also to be encouraged. But to put pressure on schools and families to spend time and often quite a lot of money is not acceptable. Peer pressure can be toxic, so the optional nature of the thing has to come from the school's leadership team. Teachers can lead by example - they are supposed to model acceptable behaviours, so this could be just one more.

And I really hope that one meme I saw on Facebook isn't true - that some families spend more on costumes for World Book Day than they spend on books in a year.

Friday, 1 March 2019

When someone you like does something you don't - or vice versa.

I'm reading a highly entertaining book at the moment called 'The Book of Bad Virtues'. It's a collection of anecdotes, poems, and mini-essays extolling the, well, virtues, of disobedience, greed, slacking and so on. It's a book that can be dipped into, or read cover to cover, and is good for reading short extracts out loud.

It's also very clever.

I was so struck by the intellectual humour that I googled the author. His pedigree is strong, starting off in the Cambridge Footlights, being an early writer for Spitting Image, and then departing to the US where he continued to write, act and produce.

But his career seems to have ground to a halt more recently, round about the time an allegation was printed in a major US newspaper regarding sexual impropriety and one of his children.

If the allegations are true, then he has a very seamy side. He would not be the kind of person that one would want to support, and I'm a tiny bit relieved that the book was passed on to me for free and that no further money went in the author's direction.

But in the light of other stories about, for example, Ryan Adams and fans wanting refunds on their tickets (and today it was announced that he has scrapped his UK tour) following unsavoury rumours in the press, it is something that is very relevant.

It can be very difficult to separate out a person's skill from their personal behaviour. We have enough difficulty distinguishing between actors and the characters they play, or their public persona from their private selves, so that is hardly surprising.

But does it matter? If someone has a history of being, say, a sex offender, should we support their artistic endeavours, thus putting money in their pockets? If only the accused were involved, it would be an easier decision. But that is not always the case, and therein lies a problem.

There is a boycott being proposed in the theatre world in the US over the licensing of differing versions of 'To Kill a Mockingbird', in which the lawyers of a more recent one have forced the closure of a number of community theatre productions rather than face legal action. Who is harmed by such a boycott? Certainly, the name at the centre of the legal controversy is harmed, but so too are the employees of the Broadway theatre, the cast of the play, and a whole load of other people associated with the production but completely uninvolved in the threatened lawsuits.

At what point does our moral outrage at the behaviour of one individual outweigh the need to support the livelihoods of totally different people? And all this, of course, assumes that the one individual is in fact guilty of whatever the behaviour is that has caused such offence. A potentially big assumption....