Archive for March, 2009

Technicians or teachers. Which do we want?

March 31, 2009

In today’s edition of The Guardian there is a terrific letter from the University of Manchester School of Education’s Professor Bill Boyle.

I agree that cutting PGCE training to six months is wrong (Estelle Morris, Opinion, 24 March).[my link. KC] However, in a system that requires “technicians” to present centrally disseminated, one-size-fits-all pedagogy, isn’t the reduction in training time consistent with the government’s policy of reducing teachers’ autonomy?

The government and the Training and Development Agency clearly do not subscribe to the belief that for teachers to have an understanding of child development, they should have a philosophy shaped by learning theory and its practice. Not much time for theory in a six-month programme! Until there is a reversal of the political assumption that good practice can be handed over ready-made, then six months training is probably about right – how sad is that!
Professor Bill Boyle
Chair of educational assessment, school of education, University of Manchester

 

How sad indeed!!!

Krugman & the Obama administration.

March 31, 2009

In his March the 21st blog – The Conscience of a Liberal – Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, has some harsh things to say about the way the Obama administration is handling the US banking crisis.

The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system — that what we’re facing is the equivalent of a run on an essentially sound bank. As Tim Duy put it, there are no bad assets, only misunderstood assets. And if we get investors to understand that toxic waste is really, truly worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for it, all our problems will be solved.

There are those in the media who have begun to treat Krugman as a something crank, who has turned on an administration to which he should be aligning himself.

Andrew Leonard of Salon is not one of them Indeed, in an article published yesterday, he presented readers with what seems to me a single compelling reason to taking Krugman’s critique of Obama seriously.

 

We take Krugman seriously as an Obama critic because he was right about George Bush, and therefore he may well be correct about Obama (or Geithner). This is not a “15 minutes” phenomenon. This is the culmination of a groundswell long in the making. CNBC’s Rick Santelli gets his 15 minutes when he rants about “mortgage losers.” Paul Krugman will be a force to be reckoned with for many, many years to come. There’s a difference.

 

Rick Wagoner & the EV1

March 31, 2009

In yesterday’s edition of The New York Times contributing editor, Jerry Garrett, commenting on the resignation of Rick Wagoner as CEO of General Motors asks whether he’ll “be remembered as the chief executive who nearly drove General Motors off a cliff or the martyr who sacrificed himself in G.M.’s darkest hour to insure the company would receive more of the government bailout money that G.M. needed to survive”

It’s a good question. Grant’s short summary of Wagoner’s eight-year tenure as CEO to some extent tells hisd readers a lot about how the company got into the poor shape it is today.

…it is hard to ignore the zigzagging strategies of Mr. Wagoner’s tenure: It was the truck company, then it was the green car leader, an international car company and then the red-white-and-blue all-American automaker. It championed flex-fuel and E85 ethanol, only to backtrack to “gas friendly.” Several times it would renounce badge-engineering, in which several divisions would offer essentially the same car with minor differences. Yet with each new model it would return to the strategy. Its failure to design viable minivans, for instance, was compounded by forcing each of its divisions to sell its own version.

This may be a good time to have another look at Chris Paine’s Who Killed The Electric Car?, which will be broadcast on More 4 this evening.

The battery powered EV1, produced by General Motors, is still deemed to be one of  most efficient production cars ever built. It produced no emissions and put General Motors streets ahead of other American car manufacturers in terms of technology

Those few who were lucky enough to have driven one –and the programme explains why they were so few – were wedded to it for life, So, the documentary asks, why did General Motors crush its fleet of EV1 electric vehicles into landfill sites in remote Arizona desert?

Geoffrey Macnab,  in his piece for The Guardian on the 4th August 2006, was not convinced that Paine’s documentary does justice to the subject.

If Chris Paine’s film were half as well designed as General Motors’ super-sleek, super-quick EV1 (the electric car whose demise it laments), it would be a film to cherish. Unfortunately, this documentary has been put together in such a clunky fashion that it mutes its own arguments and frequently risks stalling.

This is the story of how big business stifled the attempts to introduce an electric car programme in California in the mid 1990s. Paine has assembled an impressive array of interviewees. These range from former EV drivers such as Mel Gibson (relaxed, witty and not in the slightest belligerent) to journalists, environmental activists, politicians, engineers and even ex-CIA boss R James Woolsey.

What they have to say is often fascinating. The problem is that Paine hasn’t found a way to organise his talking heads. The whodunit conceit is didactic and contrived. There is a suspicion, too, that many of those drivers who lobbied to stop GM crushing their beloved EVs in landfill sites in Arizona weren’t doing so out of eco-altrusim. The real reason was simply that they had fallen in love with their beautiful cars and wanted them back.

For all it’s flaws, Paine’s film does give us some insight into why GM and Wagoner failed to capatilise on the EV1’s obvious strengths

The “shareholder value” movement: Is it dead?

March 29, 2009

In a recent interview with the Financial Times for its series on capitalism and its future Jack Welch , the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, and the man considered to be the chief proponent of the “shareholder value” movement, said the obsession with short-term profits and share price gains that has dominated the corporate world for over 20 years was “a dumb idea”.

“On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world,” he said. “Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy…your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.”

In his column for today’s edition of The Observer, management editor Simon Caulkin  poses the question of just how seriously this apparent volte-face is likely to be taken by those who should be taking it seriously.

As Welch rightly notes, share prices are supported by the value created in product markets by the interrelationship of employees, customers and suppliers. So why should alignment run upwards from directors to shareholders?

“My guess,” writes Gary Hamel in The Future of Management “is that … shareholders would have been better served if their chairman could have bragged about being aligned with employees and customers. It seems to me that a CEO’s first accountability should be to those who have the greatest power to create or destroy shareholder value.”

In any case, the entire notion of the shareholder has to be rethought. In an age when a listed company’s share register suffers 90% churn each year, the very concept of “the shareholder” dissolves, corporate governance expert Professor Bob Garratt told a recent meeting of the Human Capital Forum. Calling for a “cultural and behavioural transformation”, Garratt declared that the first duty of directors was not to shareholders, but to the company itself. Organisations have to move from agency theory to stewardship theory, he believes – restoring the original concept of the board’s role from the 17th century.

Earlier in his piece, Caulkin has noted even the revered Financial Times, which seemed on the surface to approve of what Welch had said, was not suggesting that that any drastic changes needed to be made in the way companies did their business.

However, while saluting Welch’s conversion, a subsequent FT editorial on “Shareholder value re-evaluated” shows how little the wheels have actually turned. Surviving the “re-evaluation” are all the structures of existing governance: companies as entities run for the benefit of shareholder-owners (even if, as Welch implies, the means are indirect, rather than direct, managing of the share price); alignment of directors and shareholders; pay to reflect performance. In short, once the crisis is over, with a tweak or two here and there, it’s safely back to business as before.

Clive James “A Point of View” (March 2009)

March 27, 2009

Clive James begins his latest stint as presenter of  BBC Radio 4’s A Point of View with his take on the downfall of the 70 year old Australian Federal Court judge and a champion of human rights, Marcus Einfeld,whose perjury over a $75 speeding fine landed him with a three-year jail sentence.

BBC Radio 4

20:50

A Point of View

27 March 2009

 

Marcus Einfeld

Marcus Einfeld

 

 

Postscript 28.03.2009

 

Regular Radio 4 listeners –and indeed anyone who might have thought of listening to this programme – might have wondered why Clive James prattling on about the fall from grace of a judge most of us in the northern hemisphere had probably never heard of should interest them. James broadcast reminds us that what actually happened to this judge can in fact happen to anyone, or at least anyone who forgets, even in a momentary lapse, what they may be sacrificing when they lie.

 

He doesn’t need me or anyone else to tell him that a judge who commits perjury, over no matter how trivial a matter, has sinned against the spirit of his profession.

That’s why his case really is a tragedy, and not just a farce. It’s a tragedy because he not only fell from high degree, there really was a tragic flaw: a capacity to forget, at the critical moment, the central ethical precept of the calling to which he had given his life.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Form

Sats & opposition to them.

March 26, 2009

The teaching profession’s opposition to Sats testing comes with the announcement reported  by The Guardian ’s education editor Polly Curtis that two unions, The National Union of Teachers will put the plans to its annual conference over Easter, while the National Association of Head Teachers,  representing more than 300,000 teachers and heads in England, say they will conduct the 2009  tests of all seven and 11-year-olds in May only on condition that they will be the last.

Mick Brookes, the NAHT general secretary, said: “Testing narrows the curriculum and makes learning shallow, because the tests are simply regurgitative. Then the results are published in league tables, and schools in the toughest areas, where you’ve got hardest to teach children, are ridiculed on an annual basis. There is high stress for children; some will already be spending up to 10 hours a week rehearsing these tests. It’s a complete waste of time. It is unconscionable that we should simply stand by and allow the educational experience of children to be blighted.”

Christine Blower, the NUT’s acting general secretary, said: “Primary schools’ patience in enduring the damage caused by the tests has been stretched to the limit, and beyond. Our deadline for the end of Sats by 2010 is reasonable, and our alternative is one that will enhance teaching and learning. Above all else, the government needs to understand that this year’s national curriculum tests will be the last.”…

How much opposition does it take to get a government wedded to testing to give up? I hate to be a pessimist, but I’d say that not even this much.

In praise of… David Blanchflower.

March 25, 2009

The Guardian has today devoted its “In praise of …” editorial to the economist Professor David Blanchflower who was the first  member of the Bank of England‘s interest rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee (MPC)to realize just how serious the credit crunch was.

Editorial: In praise of… David Blanchflower

25 March 2009

Even if he had not become the Bank of England‘s biggest dissenter – the Threadneedle One – David Blanchflower would still have been a remarkable economist. His academic interests lie in jobs and wages and happiness – stuff that actually matters to lay people, but which researchers usually ignore, to spend more time with their dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models. He can translate findings into non-academic language, as befits someone who last year described his research technique to this paper as “the economics of walking about: you ask people what’s going on in their lives and you take seriously what answers they give you”. His stint on the Bank’s monetary policy committee brought Professor Blanchflower into the public eye. He was the first on the MPC to spot the seriousness of the credit crunch, and for a long time the only one to advocate cutting rates in response. The Bank may be operationally independent, but outspokenness is not necessarily prized in its staff. The professor was much ridiculed, yet kept on standing out until everyone else caught up. The course of this crisis would have been very different had others shown such intellectual courage. Professor Blanchflower was at it again last night, with a speech that criticised as “utopian” the typical assumptions of central bankers that markets are perfect and people always rational. That combination of intellectual pedigree and plain common sense will be much missed when he steps down from the MPC this spring.

 

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It’s worth reminding ourselves that the “combination of intellectual pedigree and plain common sense” for which The Guardian praises Professor Blanchflower may disappear from the MPC this spring when he steps down. However, it’s worth remembering that it can still be found elsewhere. The Guardian itself, and its sister paper, The Observer, have both attracted writers, such as Will Hutton, William Keegan and Simon Caulkin who, though they may never have the ear of the great and the good in the way Blanchflower’s (dissenting) voice, display an intellectual pedigree and plain common sense that is worthy of our attention.

Fly Ryanair? 20 reasons not to.

March 25, 2009

Laura Whateley on March the 19th has posted to The Times Business/money weblog a nicely thought-out list of twenty reasons for avoiding flying with Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair.

1. 1p flights are never 1p

Even if you strike it lucky and find a 1p flight you actually want to take, Ryanair charge you for the pleasure of paying for it. To the tune of £4.75. For each passenger. Each way.

And that doesn’t even include…

 2. The check-in charge

If you want to book a bag into the aircraft hold you must check in at the airport, which will cost you  £4.75 per passenger, per way, if you book online and a whopping £10 per passenger, per way if you pay at the airport or over the phone. And it doesn’t matter if only one person in your party takes a bag, everyone else still has to pay to check in at the airport too.

This week Ryanair announced that it’s all change from May when airport check in will rocket to £20 per person, per way. That is a grand total of £160 for a return flight as a family of four.

All without factoring in…

3. The baggage charge

Which is an extortionate £9.50 per bag, per flight. Or £19 if you book at the airport or over the phone.

4. The sneaky weight limit

Ryanair set its weight limit for hold luggage at 15kg catching the majority of passengers off guard.

You’re not allowed to pool bags either so, even if you have a party of four sharing luggage, if the bag weighs 16kg you will be charged £14 per additional kilo. Nevermind that it makes not a jot of difference to the weight of the aeroplane.

5. Queues glorious queues

If you’re still talking to your partner following the inevitable blazing row about why you shouldn’t just pay the bloody charges listed above, you won’t be after being told to join the back of the enormous queue at the ‘payments’ desk.

6. The additional baggage charge

Probably best to wear all of your clothes at once on the flight if you are travelling somewhere for more than a couple of days (until Ryanair start charging passengers for excess body weight that is). Check more than one bag in and it will cost you another £19 per extra piece of luggage, per way.

 7. The website is rubbish. On purpose.

You have no choice but to book a Ryanair flight through its website so the airline may as well make it as stressful an experience as possible. The website is ugly for starters, and it crashes. All the time.

Because you can’t easily browse for dates when cheap flights are available you have to dedicate at least five precious hours of your life to sitting in front of the screen and laboriously trying different combinations to find a good deal.

And if you don’t understand what the hell you’ve just pressed there is no one to e-mail. Because Ryanair want you to spend more money and phone its…

 8. Premium rate internet helpline

Calls cost £1 a minute to speak to someone in a call centre. Be amazed if you can explain what your problem is for under a fiver.

9. You can only fly cheap mid week

To get the bargains that make the pain of Ryanair worth the gain you have to be prepared to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, which can rule out the bargain European weekend break. Kind of why you wanted to book with Ryanair in the first place.

10. You have to travel at obscene hours.

Not only are you travelling on a Tuesday you also have to be prepared to wake up at 2am to get to the airport two hours ahead of your 6.55am flight. Or, if you choose a more civilised evening departure time, arrive in your destination at midnight with no where to stay because…

11. The destination airports are in the middle of nowhere.

Don’t expect to fly to Frankfurt if you book a flight to Frankfurt, to name one of many examples. Frankfurt Hahn airport where Ryanair land is 120 km from the city centre.

12. A bottle of water on board costs £3

I know the moral of this story is to buy a drink from WH Smith before you board, but it’s still annoying.

13. Sweaty, plasticky seats

 Whatever you do, don’t wear shorts or you might be stuck to your seat forever and forced to listen to…

14. The in-flight musak

Pray that your flight is not delayed before it takes off or you’ll have to put up with the bleepy, computer-game inspired musak that is played on loop as your board, over, and over.

15. The fanfare

Do we really need the shrill fanfare that sounds when/if the flight lands on time? Or does it just ruin the first three minutes of each passenger’s holiday?

16. You can’t book a seat

As if the British holiday ritual of crowding round the baggage carousel isn’t enough to warrant the use of blood-thinning medication, Ryanair invite you to partake in the extreme sport that is racing across the tarmac to get a seat next to your companion. Flip flops are a distinct disadvantage.

17. No refunds, ever

Unless you have a spare few days to waste do not even bother trying.

18. Poor compensation

A report by the UK’s Air Transport Users Council has found that the world’s airlines lost more than one million bags in 2007 and more than 42 million pieces of luggage were mishandled worldwide.

Guess who it named as the worst airline for compensation if your bag goes missing or is damaged?

19. You are always being flogged stuff

No we don’t want your ridiculously overpriced travel insurance, car hire or Ryanair tea-towels. Go away.

20. Michael O’Leary himself

Don’t tell me you can bear to make him any more smug? 

Of course, this kind of thing has little effect on Mr. O’Leary.

“Satisfactory” teaching. What is it?

March 24, 2009

 Award-winning teacher and occasional contributor to the columns of The Guardian, Phil Beadle has written an excellent piece  in today’s edition of the paper explaining why teachers whose performance is judged as being “satisfactory” are right to be worried about what that really means.

When I first started sitting at the back of other teachers’ lessons, pretending I was capable of doing all the things in a single lesson that I was judging them on, the task was to allocate one of seven grades. These went from “excellent”, through “very good” and “good”‘, to “satisfactory” and its spindlier brother “unsatisfactory”, from thence into the dark realms of “poor” and “very poor”.

No more. What should we read into the change to the bald four grades currently in use, where lessons are either “outstanding”, “good”, “satisfactory” or “inadequate”? We conclude that “excellence” is no longer enough. “Good” is a broad church. “Satisfactory” means little better than the level beneath it. And you can’t dip your toes into “unsatisfactory” any more; you are immediately and summarily deemed “inadequate”. ………………………

…………..There are no degrees of “unsatisfactory” performance any more, just pass and fail. Where, prior to this narrowing (which I believe is referred to in Ofsted circles as “rigour”), management teams might be able to look at the data and differentiate between teachers who’d just had an off lesson and those who may want to consider alternative employment, these two groups are now lumped together in special measures.

The further impact of the terminally emphatic “inadequate”, rather than the less pejorative and more temporary sounding “unsatisfactory”, is that it causes inspectors, who are human after all, a moment’s hesitation. This will mean that many teachers who receive a “satisfactory” judgment under the current regime would previously have been judged “unsatisfactory”.

 

Coventry’s Walk of Fame.

March 23, 2009

Three people whose work I have greatly admired over the years to be given recognition by their home city, the poet Philip Larkin, the actress Billie Whitlaw, and the singer and songwriter Hazel O’Connor.

 Coventry’s Walk of Fame

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Walk of Fame Star
Once again the city provided an opportunity to pay tribute to Coventry’s most well-known and best-loved citizens in the Walk of Fame in Priory Place.

The Walk of Fame 2009 Winners

As chosen by residents of Coventry, the final 10 names to added to the Coventry Walk of Fame in May are:
  • Coventry City 1987 FA Cup Winners
  • Marlon Devonish – Athlete and Olympic Gold Medallist
  • Sir Nigel Hawthorne – Actor
  • Sir Alfred Herbert – Industrialist
  • Vince Hill – Singer
  • Philip Larkin – Poet
  • Hazel O’Connor – Singer and Actress
  • Clive Owen – Actor
  • The Selecter – 2-Tone Band
  • Billie Whitelaw – Actress

What is the Coventry Walk of Fame?

The idea for the Coventry Walk of Fame came from Pete Chambers, local music historian and a city ambassador.
Local people who have helped to put Coventry on the map will be immortalised by having their names set into the flooring in Priory Place in the form of a Hollywood-style star.
The ten people inaugurated into the Coventry Walk of Fame in May 2008 were:
  • The Specials – 2-Tone band
  • Pete Waterman – pop impresario
  • Mo Mowlam – Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
  • Jimmy Hill OBE – Coventry City Manager and football innovator
  • Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE FRS – Inventor of the Turbojet Engine
  • Dave Moorcroft OBE – Athlete and World Record Holder
  • Lady Godiva – Mediaeval benefactor
  • James Starley – Father of the cycle industry
  • Sir Henry Parkes – Father of the Australian Foundation
  • Sir William Lyons – Founder of Jaguar Cars

Long.

Where is the Coventry Walk of Fame?

The Coventry Walk of Fame is located in Priory Place, opposite the BBC studios in the city centre. Click here to see the location on a map.

One of Larkin’s best poems, Aubade, is read here by someone who has chosen to go under the colourful nom de guerre of Tom O’Bedlam and who says of his website that it’s “ALL POETRY, there’s nothing else in this channel”.

Philip Larkin

 

An aubade is described in Wikipedia entry as:

a poem or song of or about lovers separating at dawn.

Aubade has also been defined as “a song or instrumental composition concerning, accompanying, or evoking daybreak.”………

Billie Whitelaw

 

 

 

Billie Whitelaw plays the woman reciting a poem as she rocks to-and-fro in Walter D. Asmus’ 1990 television production of Beckett’s short play Rockaby.

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

 

 In 1963, Whitelaw met the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, with whom she was to establish a intense and fruitful working relationship that was to last until Beckett’s death in 1989. It is for her work with Beckett that she is most likely be remembered.

Many of Beckett’s plays were written with her in mind, and he is reported to have said that he considered Whitelaw “A Perfect Actress”. Whitelaw was in effect one of Beckett muses. In lectures she has said: “He used me as a piece of plaster he was molding until he got just the right shape”. Out of this collaboration came Play (1963), Eh Joe (1965), Not I (1972), Footfalls (1975) and Rockaby (1980). Theirs was an intense and sometimes, for Whitelaw especially, physically exhausting collaboration, but is was one that ensured that Whitelaw contribution to the theatre is unlikely to be forgotten.

Hazel O’Connor

 Hazel O’Connor sings Will You on Top of the Pops.

 
Hazel O’Connor brush with fame came in 1980 when performance as Kate in the Brian Gibson directed film Breaking Glass won her the Variety Club of Great Britain Award for ‘Best Film Actor’ and BAFTA nominations for ‘Best Newcomer’ and ‘Best Film Score.’

The Breaking Glass soundtrack album reached number 5 in the UK Albums Chart and remained in that chart 28 week. She had several hit singles, the most successful being the haunting Will You, and the prescient Eighth Day.

It was O’Connor’s misfortune never to have been in the position to hone her considerable skills as a songwriter, but it has to be said that that even though in her post Breaking Glass she’s not fulfilled her promise, her work as both a writer and performer has been of a consistently high quality and has been shamefully ignored by those who should know better.