Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Joys of travelling by Train

The story of the man who threw a passenger off a train in Scotland gets more and more complex each day, so we must be careful to look at it from a totally unbiased viewpoint, without prejudice or pre-conceived ideas.

Basically last week, some drunken wretch started to get a bit gobby with the conductor and was thrown off by another passenger.

Alan Pollock (who threw the passenger off the train) hasn't said anything to the press and has been charged with assault. Was he a good citizen or just a bully?

Sam Main (wretch) has not been charged and says that he was given the wrong ticket. He also (predictably) claims to have something wrong with him that makes him a complete pain in the backside). He has spoken to everyone who will listen to him, as has his father.

The conductor was completely useless and nobody wants to speak to him. He will no doubt be given counselling.

Mr Herris, a teacher filmed the incident and put the footage on Youtube. (I have no idea whether it's legal or not to post footage of people without their consent).

The moral seems to be- if you are ever involved in an incident, get on Facebook and form a support group, call a press conference and get a mark on your face, then you should be ok.

STOP PRESS: The Facebook page that supports the prosecution of Alan Pollock has about 35 members. The one that is against it has 963. I can't help but think that using the membership of Facebook pages to decide appropriate punishments rather than expensive judges and barristers would save the taxpayer a considerable amount.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Scandals etc

In order to increase viewing figures in the pre-Christmas book buying season, I have been advised to 'spice things up a bit' and run a few more racy articles. So here's what you can look forward to:

"My Booze Hell!" in which Frank battles the traffic on a desperate trip to Waitrose, hoping to snap up a box of six bottles of Prosecco that are on special offer. Roadworks, lack of parking and the self-service checkout compound his inner turmoil. In the follow-up article, provisionally entitled "My Drugs Shame", Frank describes his feelings of intense disappointment when, after walking through the wind and rain with a runny nose and a chesty cough, the local chemist has run out of Paracetamol.

"Chalk out of the closet!" The first in a series of DIY articles, where I demonstrate how to construct a built in wardrobe.

"Red Hot Action in Frank's Garage!" Basic soldering techniques explained.

Feel free to offer your own suggestions.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hotmail Recovered

Those of you who were up all night worrying about my Hotmail can now rest easy. After a process so tedious and convoluted that only a large faceless organisation could come up with it, I have managed to get my account back.

The poster who pointed out that if you aren't paying then you are not really a customer in their eyes had it about right. (Although I don't know if their service is any better if you are paying). It is very easy to enthusiastically sign up for something, use it so much that it becomes essential and then when it crashes you are stuffed because you never asked yourself- "What happens when it goes wrong?"

I had a similar problem with Orange Broadband recently. I happily signed up to their cheap deal but the router didn't work properly and kept dropping the connection. When I tried to contact Orange, they put me through to technical support in Bombay (why do they call it Mumbai nowadays?) An Indian man who could only understand very basic English followed a script and drove me slowly up the wall. He cannot put you through to anybody in the UK and cannot help you either. Why should he care though- he is in Mumbai, he has told you that his name is "Kevin" and he knows that you will never get to speak to him again.

To cut a long and tedious story short, I was sent two more identical routers that dropped the connection equally regularly and reached about half of my house. I told them I wanted to move and was informed that I would have to pay a fee. I ignored this along with their subsequent demands and moved to Yorkshire based Plusnet. When I told their sales lady about my problems with Orange, she responded with "By 'eck!" and a couple of "tha"s, which I found most reassuring. I have been promised that I will never have to speak to anyone who does not know how to keep pigeons or make a strong cup of tea. Based on my experiences so far, I urge you to join me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hotmail Nightmare

My apologies to anyone who may have been sent spam from my hotmail account. This morning, when I tried to sign in, I was told that my account had been blocked and I needed to give my mobile phone number to receive a text message to reactivate it.

Now I'm not completely daft, so I smelt a scam. However after a bit of checking, it does appear to be a genuine request from Microsoft. Unfortunately several hours have now passed and no magic text message has arrived. I have repeated the process a couple of times but to no avail.

There is no email or phone number for Hotmail support. I selected the option to send a question to customer support, but when I tried to do this I was informed that I needed to login first. Hmm...

I was also invited to reset my password, but because I cannot remember which childhood friend I selected as 'best' or how I spelled their name, that option is now closed to me.

If anyone can help me, I would be grateful. I've had a good look on the internet for a solution, but there doesn't appear to be one. I seem to be one of about 20 million people locked out of their Hotmail account, so perhaps we should set up a Facebook group.

STOP PRESS I have now successfully changed my password. However it hasn't done me any good at all as my account is still blocked! I am beginning to suspect that 'Microsoft' and 'customer service' are words that are rarely uttered in the same sentence unless accompanied by other, less printable ones.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Exam Markers

Why on Earth anybody should be surprised at the recent news that the exam markers are telling the teachers what will be on the test along with the answers, is a mystery to me.

Ask yourself  "Why would they not do so."

The whole exam system is crazy. Exam boards need to sell their courses and therefore compete to have the easiest questions. Teachers are in turn put under pressure by their schools to give the kids ridiculous amounts of help in their 'controlled assessments' which were brought in a few years back to try and stop all the blatant cheating that went on with coursework.

It is in everybody's interest to cheat as much as possible and preferably more than the school next door. (Who said that competition has been removed from modern state schooling?) The Government can claim that exam results have gone up again, as can the Local Authority or Academy bosses. The Senior Management Team in each school are happy and of course the more a teacher cheats, the better their results become, which is hardly bad for them either. This is not news, it has been going on for ten years at least.

So who is supposed to be putting a stop to this? The watchdog Ofqual, a joke organisation who spent £3000 in 2008 paying consultants to look for alternatives to the word "error" because it was not considered positive enough.

Now you could argue that if everyone is cheating by roughly the same amount then it all evens out in the end and that nobody trusts GCSEs anyway, but I'm not sure if this is really the best principle to base our exam system on.

Jeremy Clarkson

With Christmas just around the corner, could somebody please accuse me of being "Worse than Jeremy Clarkson" as this always does wonders for book sales.

Thanks in advance

Exam Boards

Having more than one exam board results in competition, which is a good thing if you are buying computers, washing up liquid, or waterproof gloves; but a bad thing if you are buying GCSE courses because the only way the they can compete is by being easier than the opposition. This obviously results in a race to the bottom thus:

Salesman A:

"Our Science course is quite demanding and gets the kids a GCSE"

Salesman B:

"Our Science course is so easy that a performing chimp would scoff at its simplicity. In fact, last year one of the carrots from my garden achieved a GCSE grade "C" and would have gone on to take our 'A' Level had it not accidentally been eaten by Harry, our pet Labrador.


"Great Salesman B, your course sounds ideal for our students. We'll take it."

This is why nobody outside schools has any faith whatsoever in the exam system any more.

Monday, December 12, 2011

European Union

So Nick Clegg thinks that we are in danger of being 'Isolated and marginalised' from the European Union. Well thank God for that. It's a bit like being told that you can't spend all your money on Woolworths gift vouchers.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Madness of King George

You can now download a chapter from 'Education My Part in its Downfall' for a mere 86p here

As you might expect from the likes of me, it is a cheap Christmas gimmick to try and entice you into buying a copy of the full book, which is here. In case you didn't know, it's the sequel to the best seller 'It's Your Time You're Wasting'. (Which you may purchase here)

I have been asked by a few people (ok- one) about a paperback release date, but the truth is that I've no plans to do so, as Kindle sales for the first book are vastly outstripping those for the print edition now. I guess that's just the way things are going.

By the way, I would have given the chapter away for free, but Amazon will only allow large publishers to do that, presumably to avoid being overwhelmed by tat. It is therefore at the lowest price they will allow and probably delivers more amusement than 86p usually does.

'Buy it now, it's really good.'   F. Chalk

Internal Email

Thierry Breton who is boss of the large European IT company Atos, announced earlier this year that he planned to stop using internal emails in his company.

He realised that the young people he was recruiting had moved on to using social networking sites and instant messaging. When asked, they thought that only 15% of the email they received was of any use, but had to check it all for fear of missing something.

I think he's on to something here. Email has become a monster, enabling people to bombard you with rubbish that is rarely of relevance. Too often it is a replacement for action, where sending someone an email is considered a solution in itself, rather than actually fixing a problem. It is a permanent record and easily forwarded to others, so you have to watch what you say, which for people like me is a nightmare.

It will be very interesting to see what system they come up with to use instead.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

1 in 3 Children Without Books

The National Literacy Trust has done a survey of 18000 schoolchildren and discovered that 1 in 3 do not have any books of their own.

No doubt some will blame this on poverty, but I suspect that if the survey had also asked whether they owned any DVDs or computer games, it would have made an even better headline.

Now I can't find the comparable rates for other countries, but it's still pretty shocking stuff.

Monday, December 05, 2011

After watching 'Landlords from Hell' tonight on Channel 4, I'm sure I can't have been the only one to think:

"That looks just like the house I lived in when I was a student!"


Panorama reveals tonight how supermarkets take advantage of shoppers who can't do simple sums. My favourite is the offer of two bottles of juice for £2. You can probably guess how much one costs.

The moral- primary schools should teach mental arithmetic properly, with the same regular tests that I had as a kid. Oh hang on, that's not allowed any more because of the danger that a child's self esteem might be lowered, or they might not feel 'positively empowered' or some other equally awful scenario might occur.

Feel free to post your photos of such 'special offers'

Friday, December 02, 2011

More Ranting at The Times

This week's Sunday Times Page 5 has an article about an attempt to break the unpowered water speed record.

"Carbon fibre wing sail amplifies wind, making boat travel faster than the wind speed".

If anybody can be bothered to write to the Times explaining how boats with sails made out of my old tee shirts can also travel faster than the wind, then feel free to do so. (Why not ask them if they would pay you to review their Science Articles as well?)

Accommodation in Sheffield

Students across the land are busy looking for houses for the next academic year. In every University town you can see groups of 3 and 4 wandering round looking at door numbers.

It seems to get earlier and earlier each year (I remember we didn't start looking until April). If you happen to be studying at Sheffield University and wish to avoid old fashioned, damp and mouldy houses then contact this guy who comes highly recommended from a friend

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Katherine Goldberg

Katherine Goldberg has been charged with sexual assault and fined £1500 with 80 hours of community service for groping a male air steward.

Where did she touch him?
On the South Africa to London night flight. You can read more about it here

Now these 'usually the other way round' type stories are always popular in the press and generally trigger loads of comments such as:

"She should be jailed. If she'd been a man, she er- he would have been sent down for years etc"

The trouble is, it isn't the same. It might not be PC to say it but it is true. When a man gropes a woman, it must often seem threatening and frightening  to her because of his greater physical strength and the unconscious worry of what he could do to her if she resists his advances. It's right that this should be punished by the law. 

However, a woman groping a man is simply not a physical threat. 

All I can say is that if I'd been the steward I would have been straight under the complimentary flight blanket and sod all the miserable passengers pressing their buzzers to pester me for another cushion or a glass of water for their screaming brat.

Oh and 'Alcohol induced illusion' is definitely an excuse to remember.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Well lots of schools and hospitals will be closed on Wednesday and our borders will be even less secure than usual. (Although it's hard to imagine how). Battle lines appear to be drawn.

Public sector viewpoint: "It's not fair- they are changing our terms and conditions and taking money away from us."

Private sector viewpoint: "I'd give my right arm for that pension deal they're rejecting"

There will probably be some mention of "bankers", "bailouts" and possibly even Mrs Thatcher.

The Sunday Times

Last week in the Sunday Times there was an article on page 19 which discusses the concept of a 'Space Elevator', which "could use gravity to hold it in orbit".

Well thank God they don't waste money on a Science Editor.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Youth Unemployment

The Government today announced a £1 billion package to help reduce unemployment in the 16-24 age range, which is generally seen as a consequence of the recession.

Whilst the economy was growing strongly between 2001 and 2007, what do you think happened to the unemployment figure for this age group?

It rose by 200 000.

It isn't just recession that puts employers off taking on young British workers. It's the huge amount of hassle involved in employing them. The red tape and bureaucratic nightmare of employment laws introduced over the last 15 years, combined with a growing feeling amongst employers that too many of our school leavers have simply not been prepared for the world of work.

Neither our present Government nor the previous one is likely to admit this however.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't do it.

I would just like to warn readers who may be considering injecting cement into their buttocks that it is probably not such a good idea.

Talking Plate

The NHS, like the rest of the Public Sector, is perfectly happy to cut important services, whilst throwing away money on any nonsense daft enough to entertain senior managers over morning coffee.

Here's the latest example- a talking plate which, for a mere £1500 it will tell chubbers to stop eating so fast.

Great. Those of you who might require Physio for a bad back will just have to wait another month.

I contacted the NHS offering to record a tape of my own cheery admonishments such as: "Step away from the plate"  and  "Slow down you fat lump, it'll still be there in a few moments time!" which could be played as background music at mealtimes for about £1495 less, but I only received an 'out of office'  reply saying that their working hours were 9.30 am to 2.30pm. (It was just before Noon at the time.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Prince Henry's School Strike

Have corrected the embarrassing oceans mix up in the previous post, which lends weight to the theory that if I hadn't been in charge of the navigation, they would have had it wrapped up by mid September.

Anyway, up in Otley, staff at Prince Henry's School are on strike because their school is converting to an academy. The teachers are concerned that their pay and conditions might change, whereas Janet Sheriff the Head, says that they have no need to worry and the school has absolutely no intention of changing them.

Now in my experience words don't mean a great deal, so if Ms Sheriff is telling the truth then why not put this in writing and offer the teachers a contract, worded along the lines of: 

"We, the body tasked to run Prince Henry's Academy, undertake always to employ teachers under the same pay and conditions as Leeds City Council do. We further undertake not to pass control of the academy to any group not honouring the above guarantee"

Right, that's that sorted out, so you can all move away from the charcoal brassieres and get back to work.
(By the way, you might wish to get a solicitor to draw up that contract as my legal abilities are on a par with my knowledge of Geography). Oh and if any reader has contacts at the school, perhaps they could pass on this suggestion to Ms Sheriff- her reply would be interesting...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Back in the UK

Well, I'm back in the UK, driving Mrs C up the wall by going on about how great America is etc and moaning about the British weather. Basically it was an amazing event- Chris and Steve ran 3100 miles from San Francisco to New York in 79 days. That's about it really.

They began here in San Francisco, running out of the Pacific at 5pm on August 17th...

And finished here at 6pm on November 5th with a dip in the Atlantic off Coney Island, New York

Chris' wife Julia and I did all the logistics- making sure the backup vehicle was always where it should be, booking motels, buying food, guiding them on the tricky bits of the route, organising interviews and basically making sure that all they had to do was run. (They had it easy if you ask me).

I also did most of their blog here (which enabled me to avoid being in any of the photos).

More than any other picture, the one below (taken in Nevada on Highway 6 between Tonopah and Ely) sums up the whole escapade best in my opinion. It's first thing in the morning on a stretch of road that continues for 160 miles with no shops, garages, towns, farms or rivers. Both of them know perfectly well that the desert scenery will look exactly the same in 10 hours time when they finish the day. The only difference will be that their shadows will point in the opposite direction and they will be extremely hot, tired, thirsty and sore. They will also be well aware that they have to do it all again tomorrow.

The whole event was about overcoming adversity and these two encountered the lot- heat, altitude, humidity, cold, rain and sleet. Not all on the same day though- wimps.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Run Across America

Well here's the good news- I won't be posting on this blog until mid November.

Now that the cheering has finally died down, I'll explain why.

It's because I'm in America helping out fellow Monday Books author and all round good-guy Steve Pope, in his attempt to run 3000 miles across the USA from San Francisco to New York with fellow ultra runner Chris Finill.

'Barking mad!' I hear you say. Well maybe, but I've got a soft spot in my normally cold heart for ventures like this, so I am driving their backup van, sorting out press and TV coverage, organising the maps, washing their socks and 1001 other things.

I'm also doing a blog on the event over at which is excellent and have organised their website at It tells you about them, explains what they are doing and why. You can also join their facebook group here if you like.

They are hoping to raise £100 000 for the charity 'Help for Heroes' (donations can be made here)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Income Protection Insurance

Teachers, Surgeons and Investment Bankers.

This post is sponsored by Endsleigh.

When it comes to income protection insurance, some teachers may have found they are classed in the same risk bracket for stress as surgeons, investment bankers and sales managers.

Unsurprisingly the subsequent cost of this attitude by income protection insurers towards the teaching profession is quite considerable often leading to restricted levels of cover or increased premiums.

Fortunately though there are insurers on the market who do not take this stance and understand that extra pressure at work doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do your job.

The last thing teaching professionals want is to leave themselves exposed to financial worries should illness or injury prevent them from working. Income protection insurance will ensure that once the employer’s sick pay ceases, teachers continue to receive an income until they are well enough to return to work.

There are a number of income protection products on the market which will only pay out if you are unable to do any job at all. This could mean that if you are unable to continue teaching due to an illness or injury, such policies may not pay out.  Therefore, you may have to take a job you otherwise wouldn’t have wanted to, for example, working in a less active role, perhaps in a shop behind the till.  There are providers however who will pay out for as long as you are unable to do your work as a teacher. They won’t expect you to work in a role you are over qualified for.

If you are off long term sick and your employer’s sick pay comes to an end, you would need provisions in place to maintain your current standard of living and meet your regular monthly outgoings such as mortgage payments and utility bills.

Without financial support people often turn to their savings, take a different, less qualified role or return to work before they are ready. Unfortunately current state benefits provide little comfort when facing the prospect of long term sickness. This is particularly important for supply teachers who generally receive no sick pay benefits from their employers.  A good income protection policy will allow you to fully recover before returning to work – a benefit both to you and to the children you teach!  Some policies even offer rehabilitation benefit which allows you to return to work in a reduced capacity for a period of time whilst you are recuperating, but still ensuring that your full benefit continues to be paid. 

The flexibility income protection insurance affords, allows you to tailor the policy to your exact needs, taking into account any existing benefits, your planned retirement age and how much income you need each month.  This allows you to make sure that the cover is as cost effective as possible.

How does income protection support you?

·       Regular tax free replacement income up to 70% of current salary if you are unable to work as a teacher.
·       A waiting period enables you to choose when you would need your replacement income be it straight away or when your employer’s sick pay benefits cease.
·       Financial support is still available if you return to work part time or to a lower paid role.

·       Amend your policy to suit your lifestyle. Increase or decrease you cover or waiting period.

·       Choose how long you want your income protection insurance policy to support you, 10 years, 20 years or until your retirement date.
·       Spend your monthly benefits how you choose. Use them to meet your mortgage payments, rent or other monthly outgoings. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Inspector Gadget

For a first hand view of the difficulties and frustrations that the police face in dealing with wretches up and down the country ( ie exactly the same problems we have in teaching), have a read of Gadget's blog at

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

More Riots

Radio,TV and newspapers are asking the question "Why?" with regard to these riots. The allowed responses include 'poverty' (whilst we try not to notice the expensive designer trainers and outfits sported by the protagonists), or how lack of opportunity is to blame (are we really supposed to think that there are less opportunities for young people than in say 1931?). There will be talk of 'communities retaking the streets' (to explain why most of the rioters seem to be black) and how it was the fault of the police over reacting or under reacting, or shooting an armed and dangerous criminal. Invariably someone will say how there is nothing to do (when there is more free entertainment available than in any time in history).

The answer is simple- people loot shops, set fire to cars and cause general mayhem because it is great fun and you are very unlikely to receive any real punishment for doing so. I don't reckon you will hear that argument in the media though.

Monday, August 08, 2011


So as the low life run amok in London, Birmingham and anywhere else where there might be the chance of nicking something, Theresa May has announced that:

"Those responsible for violence and looting in London over the last three days will be brought to justice!"

'Justice' no doubt consisting of cautions, community service and for the worst cases- short jail sentences of which one quarter must be served.

One year to go before the Olympic Games and we are in danger of becoming a laughing stock.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Pensions and life expectancy

The argument for raising teachers' pension contributions is simply that people are living longer. How do we know this?

Presumably we can look at the ages that people die at, which will tell us that those who were born roughly 60-100 years ago are indeed living longer. We could look at past data and see that the average age at death is rising at x years per decade, then use this trend to predict that by 2035 the average person will live to 103 (say).

This sort of prediction does remind me a bit of my own forecast in April this year, when after a careful analysis of the last fortnight's weather data I announced:

"Goodness, the weather's getting warmer and warmer- by Christmas it will be absolutely roasting!"

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


Four of the 8 teachers who left my old school last week were not retiring, nor were they moving to other teaching jobs. No, in the middle of the worst recession for decades, they were leaving safe secure positions to look for other careers.

All four of them had degrees in real subjects from sensible universities. This says more about the dire state of comprehensive teaching than my puny efforts ever could.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Jim Devine Released

On May 26th MP David Chaytor was released after serving four and a half months of his 18 month sentence for fiddling his expenses. Today Jim Devine was released after just 4 months of his 16 month stretch for the same offence.

So you now get out after just one quarter of your sentence- that really sends out a stern message to budding criminals. Still it keeps the statistics down which is all that really matters.

Is it just me who thinks that a 16 month sentence should mean er... 16 months?

Learning Through Play

Some friends of mine whose child starts school this September, recalled the moment they decided to opt out of state education. They have instead chosen to spend a large amount of money that they can't really afford and will involve them making some real sacrifices.

They were being given a tour round a primary school and the teacher proudly indicated the complete absence of desks. She then enthusiastically announced that all learning was done 'through play' and every child would learn at their own pace, without any pressure. 'Happy children' was their goal.

My friends' hearts sank as they realised they were listening to an imbecile. Unfortunately this was their third and final possible school and they had heard very similar words twice before. (Peppered with phrases such as 'Child-centric', 'non-divisive', 'unpressured learning environment', 'happiness-focussed', understanding the individual', 'emphasising creativity and self expression' etc until they were about to scream).

They are intelligent people and realise that their child would probably thoroughly enjoy his time at any of the three schools. However they also realise that unfortunately, all children learn to do through play is, funnily enough- to play.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Whickham School

The row over Academies continues with staff walking out at Whickham School, Tyneside over plans to turn it into one.

Academies and 'Free Schools' along with the changes to Teachers' Pensions will provide me with plenty of material over the next school year. However, with five different teaching unions all having their own agendas, motivations and views, there is no chance whatsoever of defeating any of these proposals.

Vocational Qualifications no longer in League Tables

The Government has just announced that vocational qualifications are no longer going to be counted in the League Tables.

This is terrible news. Without Hair and Beauty, Travel and Tourism and Generally mucking About, how on Earth are schools like mine going to fool decent, honest parents into believing that we are just as good as the one down the road that spends all day teaching fuddy-duddy old subjects like 'Maths'.

The truth of course is that we shouldn't be competing at all. Schools like ours should be allowed to teach an entirely vocational timetable along with basic Maths and English (which is more than we teach them at the moment). We could also try and give the pupils a few other useful skills such as timekeeping, perseverance, motivation, money management, debt avoidance, basic cooking and how to avoid being taken in by advertising.

The academic kids should be sent to academic schools and be taught by academic teachers.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Apprentice

Best Choice. You can find dozens of copies of all the others in any large company. Tom was the only one with a good brain and a bit about him as well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It Lives!

Hoorah! A cryogenic catastrophe has been averted.

As to why it has started working again... well I'm afraid that my inquisitiveness will be taking a back seat for a while. (And Mrs C need never know of my foolishness)

Thanks for the helpful suggestions. Have a nice weekend.

The King's Speech

As a result of a slight mix up when I was rushing to unload various food purchases yesterday, I can now confirm that leaving a rental DVD in the freezer for 6 hours does it no harm whatsoever.

Emboldened by this discovery and displaying the inquisitiveness and spirit of adventure that took Leif Erikson to America, Shackleton to the Antarctic and NASA to the Moon, I conducted several further experiments, with the result that I now have to report that a USB stick belonging to Mrs C no longer seems to work after spending just two hours at minus 18 degrees.

As my traditional excuse of "It just seemed like a good idea at the time" is unlikely to save me, does anybody know if the silicon situation is likely to improve before six pm, whether any remedial action is possible, or should I simply book a one way ticket to South America?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

La Marmotte

Regular readers will recall that around this time of year, I usually post something about the Etape du Tour, an annual bike race held over one of the mountain stages of the Tour de France.

This year for a change I rode the Marmotte, which is a fixed course of 108 miles in the French Alps, which starts in the village of Bourg d' Oisans (at the bottom of the road up to the ski resort of Alpe d' Huez), taking in such delights as the Glandon, Telegraphe, Galabier and just when your legs can take no more; the 21 hairpins of the Alpe, which has featured in more Tour de France finishes than any other climb.

It's a fantastic race with over 7000 riders. If you are British, then rest assured that in the interests of fair play the French organisers will give you a start number which places you at the back. Don't worry however as it is chip timed from the moment you roll over the start line (about 20 minutes after the leaders)

Obviously being a Brit, I hadn't read any of the race instructions, so the whole event was a voyage of discovery. Fistly I stayed at the top of the mountain in Alpe d'Huez and almost froze to death on the 6.30 am descent to the start at Bourg. (Foreign riders wear a smart jacket for this bit and later hand it to their supporters- Brits should wear an old jumper under a bin bag that can be chucked away). The next thing I learnt (and almost the last) was made about fifteen minutes into the race, when I realised that unlike in the Etape, they don't close the roads to traffic.

It wasn't long before the sun was beating down however and the scenery is absolutely stunning. The descent after the first climb up the Glandon is not timed in order to discourage racing on that stretch. (I was immensely disappointed when I was told about this during the evening celebrations afterwards because I had been under the impression that my descending had improved remarkably as I overtook hundreds of other riders on this stretch who all seemed strangely over-cautious).

The Telegraphe and Galabier are a long slog but the descent goes on for about 20 miles or more and is very fast and exhilarating. Keep your wits about you as some of the bends are quite tight. There are also three or four tunnels which are a little bit scary, but just stay calm and don't forget to whip off your sunglasses and hold them in your front teeth so you can keep both hands on the bars. Dropping your sunnies in a tunnel would be unfortunate, but not half as bad as wearing them in there. (There may well have been something in the race instructions about this also).

I carried 8 assorted energy bars in one pocket which I had unwrapped the night before in order to save time and reduce litter (unlike the Dutch riders, who just throw it anywhere). I simply pulled off a small piece of the resulting congealed mass and stuffed it into my mouth every 15 minutes or so. (At one point I did wonder why there was a peanut in one bite before realising that I had just dislodged and swallowed a bit of a molar). I also carried a ham sandwich in my other pocket as it stops you getting sick of sweet tasting things. I never stopped at any of the well stocked but chaotic food stations, just quickly filled my water bottles and left, as you can waste hours at those places.

These measures made up for my lack of cycling ability and I got round the course shattered, but unlike many poor souls that I saw pushing their machines up Alpe d' Huez; still on my bike. My final discovery (that staying up at the top in Alpe is actually the best option) was brought home to me very clearly when I saw a rider being loaded into the ambulance after crashing on the descent back to Bourg. He had already finished the race and was just going home.

Hope he was ok and well done to all the Brits who went out there. The ones I met were a great crowd.

The Apprentice

Along with the Tour de France coverage, The Apprentice is about the only telly I watch at the moment. Was Sugar right to chuck out Natasha last night or should Jim have gone for messing up the project he led?

Why didn't they ridicule the Pie Group a bit more for thinking Christopher Columbus was British?

Primary School pupils not being stretched

'Estyn' is the Welsh education watchdog. They have concluded that the most 'able and talented' pupils in Welsh Primary schools are not being stretched enough.

Well firstly, I have no idea what the real difference between 'able' and 'talented' is and secondly- it's exactly the same in England. We let down the brightest and dimmest kids, then carry on doing the same in Secondary School.

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...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unauthorised Absences up!

The papers don't understand the difference between truancy (kids bunking off to drink cider in the park or rob your house) and Unauthorised Absences, which are the kids who are away from school without the Head's permission (ie the above crowd plus those who are out shopping with their parents, sunning themselves on holiday in Spain or attending the religious festivals of a country that their family has come here to get away from).

Despite what this article claims, all we really know is that Unauthorised Absences have risen to an average of 64 000 a day for the Autumn 2010 term. This is simply because Heads have stopped authorising as many term time holiday requests. That's all there is to it, I'm afraid.

I don't like it when I can't justify a Daily Mail style rant, so instead let's have a laugh at Louise Bamfield, spokeswoman from Barnardo's. She wants to know 'the reasons why the persistent absentees are so averse to being in the classroom'. Well I can help her out: it's because they can have a lot more fun running around causing mayhem than they can sitting quietly, learning things and answering questions.

When there is no real punishment for bunking off, it's amazing more kids don't do it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Miss Wade

I am about to ask Science teacher Miss Wade from Education: My Part in its Downfall whether she once suffered a similar accident to this poor chap

Education: My Part in its Downfall

Please use the comments section on this post to let me know of any grammatical errors or spelling mistakes in the new book, so that I can fix them. One of the major advantages with e-books is that they can be updated within 24 hours, rather than having to do a whole new print run as you would with a paper book.

Oh and anyone who thinks that I am simply asking you all to be unpaid editors and proof readers, is of course correct.

Parents in Pyjamas

Eleven schools across Middlesbrough have written to parents asking them not to turn up to school in their pyjamas looking like lazy scuzzers. OK that's not exactly what the letters said but the idea was there.

I love stories like this as they bring out the best in all of us. I couldn't care less if they are just dropping the kids off by car which every parent seems to do if their child lives more than 100 metres from the school (although you are going to look pretty silly if you have to change a puncture). It sends a clear message saying "I am bone idle", but that is probably not a message which requires them to wear pyjamas in order to broadcast.

It's a different matter if they are coming into school dressed like this however and it must provide great amusement to the staff. If I were the Head, I would take pictures and hang them all up on a board marked Wretches. (Which I suppose probably explains why I am not in charge of a school).

Then I remembered that we were talking about Middlesbrough. 

ps Before anybody is tempted to remind us all that Winston Churchill used to conduct important wartime meetings in his dressing gown, then let me say that these people are not Winston Churchill.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Private versus State Sport

Hard to believe, but the Girl's Schools Association claim that two thirds of Independent Girls' schools in Britain have pupils who regularly compete in sport at International level.

Three years ago at the Beijing Olympics, 37% of our medal winners had been to Private Schools even though only 7% of the population attend them.

Mind you when you see what passes for PE and Games at many comprehensives, it all becomes clear. The 'pursuit of excellence' doesn't really get a look in.

Now for something that's a bit easier to believe. Serial End of World predictor Rev Harold Camping has announced that he made a slight arithmetical mistake last week (easy to do when you are dealing with Horsemen of the Apocalypse) and has announced a new date of October 21st 2011.

Don't say I didn't warn you...

Tuition Fees

From 2012 British Universities can charge up to £9000 a year tuition fees. So...

Will the number of students decline? Or will the kids just say:

"Stuff it, I don't need to pay anything back for a while and even when I do it won't be that much."

Nobody really knows yet and we won't get much of an idea until next Spring. My prediction is that the well respected Universities will continue to increase their numbers whilst the comedy institutions that make employers double up with laughter will decline a little bit, but still keep going.

Monday, May 23, 2011

End of the World

Tens of thousands of people living in one of the World's most primitive countries must have been slightly confused yesterday when Rev Harold Camping's promised Global Armageddon did not arrive.

I suppose at first you'd be delighted to have survived the End of the World, but if you had entrusted your bank details, credit cards and PIN numbers with his church for safe transit into the Promised Land, then you might be slightly annoyed.

I've given him a call offering to help check his sums because it's all to easy to make a mistake when you are calculating Global Catastrophe. (As poor Harold realised on September 6th 1994 when he also predicted that it was curtains for us all).

You have to admire his cheek, building a career as an End of World predictor.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Concentration Spans

The declining concentration span of modern kids has been a popular topic in the media for a few years now. The theory holds that because the pace of our lives has increased so much, our attention cannot be held for as long as it once could.

There's definitely something in this- I see it in myself. Rather than read through a whole newspaper I tend to just briefly scan the news headlines and perhaps look at a couple of articles that interest me. I suppose this is the nature of the Internet. It encourages us to flit from one thing to another rather than read through a long report. (I'd like to see a quantitative analysis of this though- by what factor has the pace of our lives increased over the last 50 years say, and has our attention span decreased at the same rate?)

This article claims that boys can only read for 100 pages before losing interest. It doesn't say whether they were just fed up with what they were reading though. I remember being bored to death having to read Macbeth, A Tale of Two Cities etc 30 years ago and I was an academic kid. I wouldn't want to read Jane Austen now, never mind when I was 13, when I would much rather have read a book of war stories or alien invasions.

I can't help but wonder whether we put children off reading for life by forcing them to study deathly dull books that they don't want to read. Actually, do we call these books 'classics' just because they are old, rather than for the quality of their story lines? Not being an English teacher I have no idea whether this has been properly looked into. (Another opportunity for some PhD student).

Maybe these stories were good in their time but their old fashioned English and settings that we cannot relate to, prevent them from grabbing our attention nowadays. One thing's for certain, they aren't going to compete with a Playstation.

Either way, I suppose the most important question is: how do we lengthen children's attention spans and are they really that important?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Education: My Part in its Downfall

Education: My Part In Its Downfall has just arrived on Amazon. Click here or on the picture in my right hand sidebar to download it to Kindle, laptop, Ipad, portable telephone etc. You can read it on anything that can run the Kindle software (which you download here) but the Kindle reader is actually really good- I'm a converted sceptic.

As you might expect from me, there's been a couple of cock-ups. For a brief while the title had an apostrophe in "its" and the price is currently £4.43 but will drop to £3.79 tomorrow. (I didn't realise that they add VAT on top of the sale price as ebooks have to pay it but paper ones do not)

I hope you enjoy the book and please feel free to ridicule any mistakes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Table of Contents

If anyone can explain to me in SIMPLE ENGLISH how to make a clickable chapter list on Kindle (I think that it is called a TOC or 'Table of Contents' then I would be forever in your debt (well sort of).

Why on Earth you have to be Bill Gates to add such a simple feature is beyond me.

Madeleine McCann

Kate McCann's book has knocked It's Your Time You're Wasting off the Number 1 spot in Kindle Non-fiction. Deservedly so as well. She did nothing that I and a million other people wouldn't have done, but has had to suffer not only the loss of her child but numerous unpleasant comments and baseless accusations in the media.

Hats off to her for being brave enough to write about her tragedy and let's hope that despite the long odds her little girl is found one day safe and well.

Education: My Part in its Downfall

The new book is finished at last and should appear on Amazon very soon. Will keep you informed...

(Oh that's me on the cover- Dan Collins was the model (!) for 'It's Your Time You're Wasting')

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kindle Non fiction No. 1

If you want a laugh, follow this link to Amazon Kindle bestsellers...

Sorry about the lack of posts recently, but "Education- My Part in its Downfall" should be out in a month or so.

All the best

Monday, April 11, 2011

City of Ely Community College

Catherine Jenkinson-Dix, Head of Ely Community College decided to introduce a zero tolerance policy on behaviour. Nothing unusual about that, my own school had one. (For almost an hour and a half)

What is incredible is that she actually went through with it, sending naughty kids to work in the school hall and generally inconveniencing them. It's an effective idea which won't take long to work. She might make the headlines, having to send hundreds out for minor misdemeanours, but kids aren't daft- once they realise you are serious they will start to behave. The scuzzy parents will moan a bit and make up daft stories, but if she persists then in just a couple of weeks she will have a school to be proud of.

So why don't more heads do this?

Because it takes courage.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Darwen Vale High School

I thought I had heard every possible daft statement from those who lead our schools, but as usual I was wrong.

Darwen Vale High School, near Blackburn in Lancashire has raised the bar. Their Governors are claiming that the reason the kids behave so badly is all down to the wind and the rain. (Rather than because the Head is afraid to take control of them.)

Amazingly for teachers, the staff are actually going to try and do something about the situation. Tomorrow they are going on strike in protest at the lack of support from above in dealing with the scrotes.

It sounds like my old school, so well done to them and let's hope they succeed.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jamie's Two and a half Hour Meals

Well I hope Jamie's lessons have better timings than his 30 Minute Meal Book. Also you'd better have plenty of ingredients and know what you're doing in the kitchen.

Having said all that, the results are well worth it, which is more than can be said for his school.

Don't forget to put your clocks back tonight. Summer is on it's way, hoorah!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


What a gorgeous day! I shall now start to panic about Global Warming again for the next few months until an unexpected early frost in late September turns me back into a sceptic once more.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Now and Then

So we've got a mad dictator, who is happy to kill thousands of his own people without a second thought and some brave citizens trying to get rid of him. We have decided to help them out...

Anyway enough about Saddam Hussein in 2003; how come all the fashionable people aren't marching up and down the streets of London chanting anti war slogans now?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jamie's Dream School

Managed 40 seconds of Jamie's School tonight. Turned on to hear the Head pleading with the scrotes:

"You think I'm soft because I'm being reasonable"

When the camera switched, I realised that actually they thought he was soft because he said "please" all the time, allowed them to chew lollipops, have bottles of water on their desks and talk over him. It was uncanny how much he reminded me of the Head at St. Thickchilds.

Mrs C then picked up something to throw at the telly so I hurriedly changed the channel.

Asda Kwik Cricket

As I was moaning about the lack of competitive sport in state schools last year, Asda have asked me to let you know about 'Kwik Cricket'.

It's an opportunity for under 11s to play in a huge nationwide competition. They can win coaching sessions by some of the England players, free equipment and the chance to play in front of a big crowd at one of the Test Matches this summer. (It should also ensure that no child will ever be able to spell the word "Quick" again.)

If you are a Primary Teacher the link is here (and the website is very good too)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Taking Leave of my Census

The taxpayer is about to spend several hundred million pounds collecting a load of information of no great value and questionable accuracy.

It's not that I find it intrusive or have any concerns over who sees my details- frankly I couldn't care less. What annoys me is the colossal waste of my money, as local councils and the Inland Revenue could easily supply all the important data for free. Like many people with nothing better to do, I shall take great delight in selecting a random ethnic origin and claim to have at least 35 guests staying over on 27th March.

I still haven't heard a justification for the census that stands up to more than a couple of seconds of thought.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Jamie's Dream School

I only watched a few minutes of tonight's episode and found it excruciating.
Sorry about the lack of posts- rumours that I have been appointed Libya's Minister for Tourism are completely untrue. I'm actually working on a new book.

Provisionally entitled "Education- My Part In Its Downfall" I'm toying with the idea of publishing it solely on Kindle and selling it for just £3.79. Your views would be appreciated.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Jamie's Dream School

Well, Starkey refused to pander to the kids and the Head immediately cried off.

Jamie's Dream School

Jamie Oliver will attempt to convince us tonight that a bunch of wretches could be transformed into young Einsteins if only their teachers were more inspirational. Hmm... haven't we heard this idea before somewhere?

Anyway, historian David Starkey soon gets fed up with the kids' poor behaviour and causes a stir when he calls a fat kid "fat". Later on, Ellen MacArthur will take them sailing! Now why didn't you lot think of doing that?

You can watch it on Channel 4 at 9pm but don't blame me if you get really cross.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

James Hersey Resistor Rhymes

Science Teacher James Hersey is now just plain 'James Hersey' after mentioning an old fashioned mnemonic used to remember the colour codes on a resistor.

"Black Boys Rape Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly"

Now even I realise that you can't say that nowadays, but every engineer over the age of about 40 will be familiar with it. There are numerous variations and I'm sure you will agree that;

"Bye Bye Rosie, Off You Go. Birmingham Via Great Western" would have been a better idea, but should he really have lost his job over this?

We have teachers in State Comprehensives who know very little about their subject and others who do not turn up for months on end. There are some who have no idea about basic grammar or simple maths. We have those who cannot spell, or even speak much English. Rest assured that they have no worries about their job security. We do not sack people because of what they do, instead we get rid of someone because of what he said.

Frankly even if Mr Hersey dressed up as Hitler at Parents Evening and regularly goose stepped down the corridor shouting "Sieg Heil", painted a swastika on the bonnet of his car and had a giant eagle statue either side of his whiteboard along with a stockroom full of Nazi memorabilia- even if he set fire to a giant wooden cross on the school field at lunchtime, before dancing around it wearing a white robe and a funny pointy hat; I'd still rather have him teaching my kids than some of the hopeless cases I've seen in charge of a classroom. Give him a warning, fine him, take him into the Head's office and punch him in the head for all I care, but why suspend him and spoil the kids' exam chances?

Here's the BBC article about it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cuts, Not here mate.

Whilst enjoying a moment's downtime from the arduous daily grind of running Chalk Investments' European Division, I was startled by a knock on the front door.

I presumed that the man outside was selling something, which from his opening line of "Are you familiar with solar panels?" appeared to be the case. However he then produced a Council ID card and explained that he 'was going round giving out information to help people make an informed choice about the various options available, as apparently some electricity companies are offering to put panels on your roof for free, but that's not always the best long term option blah...'

My eyes glazed over before he could move on to his pile of information booklets. We get speleologists coming to explore the potholes in our road and sacks of garden waste block the pavements because Scagton Council gave out tens of thousands but then decided to stop collecting them without telling anyone. However they can pay some clown to wander round talking to people about solar panels. I wouldn't mind if the Council set up a business selling the damn things, but no, that would be a silly idea.

Can anyone's Council be madder than mine?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Teachers on Facebook

The Headteachers Union has said that schools should tell new teachers what they can and cannot do on Facebook because apparently many younger teachers are letting their pupils be all friendly with them and funnily enough the kids take advantage of this.

What does this say about the IQ of new teachers? Whilst my own Facebook page consists of little more than the trivial witterings of bored mothers labouring under the mistaken impression that the story of their two year old eating his first ice cream is somehow of interest to the outside world, I imagine that if I were 20 years younger it might contain rather more exciting stuff. One thing I do know is that I would make sure that my life outside work was kept well away from the prying eyes of those I taught.

Schools should simply regard the whole Facebook thing as Darwinian Selection. The intelligent teachers will not share their private lives with the pupils and will have no problems, whereas the dumb ones will. Why not just let them suffer the consequences?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Councils up and down the country are having to make tough decisions- should they cut all the daft jobs- the outreach units, diversity officers and traveller liaison groups? Should they get rid of all the staff on long term 'sick' as well as all the spare 'managers', 'facilitators' and 'teamleaders'? Or should they spend less on expensive and pointless 'training', new slogans and rebranding consultants?

No, no, no. Don't be silly! It's much easier to stop filling in the potholes, close the town library and shut down all the swimming pools.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


So David Cameron has made a speech saying that multiculturalism has failed and we need a stronger sense of national identity. Well I could have told him that. In fact I would have shortened it to:

"Integrate and you're welcome- if not then B****r off!"

Which is probably why I'm not a politician.

Mind you I wish someone had made his speech when I was doing my PGCE so that I wouldn't have had to sit through endless lectures on the damn subject. 'Call me Dave' also promised a tougher stance on Islamic extremism. Thing is- will it just be a stance, or will we actually do anything before the next bomb goes off?

By the way, has anybody suggested that their school mark National Chip Week? (Feb 21st to 27th)

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Forget swine flu, that's just so 2010. A new plague is sweeping the land- we are all suffering from over-connectedness due to the emergence of social media such as Facebook, Blogging and Twitter. Apparently, being cut off from such things induces feelings of anxiousness, fear, neurosis and abject terror.

(Well that's what the bloke in front of me at the bar said last night, anyway.)

Last week, in order to find out what Twitter was all about, I 'followed' several well known people on the site. Over the next 24 hours I was deluged by a storm of utterly inane trivia. (Now I know how my readers feel)

The only feeling I experienced when I managed to work out how to turn it off was one of relief. The idea that your Facebook 'life' is somehow more important than your real one is disturbing though. I wonder if there were similar worries when story books first became widely available and people started to immerse themselves in those fantasy worlds.

By the way, does anyone know when I should use italics and when do I use quotation marks?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Oh well, I've learnt my lesson- always beware of Geeks bearing gifts.

Here's a puzzle somebody told me today- first one to solve it wins a holiday to Egypt.

There are three matchboxes in front of you. One contains two black marbles, the second, two white marbles and the third one has a black and a white marble inside. Each box had the correct label on it until some pesky kid switched them around so that each matchbox is now wrongly labelled.

You can take one marble at a time from any box without looking inside. How many marbles must you remove to be sure of correctly identifying all 3 boxes?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Aaargh!!!! What Have I done?



I am about to press the button marked "Do You Wish To Upgrade Your Template?"

Thursday, January 27, 2011


One of the fundamental changes I've seen in education is the change from learning facts, formulas and processes to investigating, designing and discussing things. Rote learning is now utterly taboo. My problem with this is that you can't have a meaningful discussion about a topic that you know nothing about, nor do I believe that designing a pizza menu or a mobile phone holder is more important than knowing about temperature, calorific value or the electromagnetic spectrum.

A group discussion about the effectiveness of different makes of running shoes is meaningless when the participants do not understand how to rearrange the equation that relates pressure, area and force. Surely it is better to be able to calculate a frequency from a given wavelength and vice versa than to investigate which brand of sunglasses cuts out the most light?

Basic skills such as drawing a graph, rearranging a formula, simple grammar, punctuation and spelling have all been lost and I'm not really sure that they have been replaced with anything of value.

On The Edge

For those of you who want to know what it's really like teaching in terrible schools - where the Senior Management Team are a joke, half of the parents are aggressive, sub-literate fools and their children should be sectioned or jailed - you should click on the link opposite and buy my book. If, however you've already read it, then I recommend Charlie Carroll's new book, On The Edge (also published by Monday Books). Charlie is puzzled by the fact that half of all NQTs (newly qualified teachers) quit the profession inside five years, and wants to find out why. He resigns, buys a VW camper van and spends a year travelling round the country supply teaching in some of the worst places imaginable.

If only he'd asked me, I could have saved him an awful lot of trouble! But then he wouldn't have written this book...

Charlie is 10 or so years younger than I am, so he's not yet had time to become quite as jaded as I have. (With seven or eight years in the classroom under his belt, he's not a novice but he is still a bit of an idealist who thinks that if we can only find more resources and exert more control from Whitehall, something magical will somehow happen in the bottom 10-20% of schools.)

For non-teachers it will be an eye-opener; for teachers, it will cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, sweating, and wondering if you'll end up somewhere like 'Varka School'.

Violent, abusive and foul-mouthed pupils, mindless, energy-sapping and often counter-productive bureaucracy and paperwork, spineless, treacherous SMTs... it's all here, together with those few quiet kids who sit in the corner, the kids you think you could actually reach and help if only the others would stop shouting obscenities, playing with their phones and throwing things.

Also some nice writing about the highways and byways of England - principally the north.

I don't agree with all of his conclusions - though he's definitely right about the need for exclusion to be made easier - but it's a really good read by a man who is obviously passionate and dedicated. For now...


I had to go to Liverpool last year to sort out a problem with my passport and it really is a complete dump. I've never seen a place with so many people hanging around doing nothing. The passport office employs not one but two security guards and you even have to pass through a metal detector. (Not that you are likely to have any metal on you by the time you arrive as every piece of roofing lead, copper wire or phone cable has been stolen long ago.)

They seem unaware that the Beatles are no longer Britain's leading pop group and have named the airport after John Lennon. Mass protests were taking place over the planned demolition of some uninhabitable slum that Ringo apparently lived in for a while when he was three.

All is not lost however- Liverpool Hope University (cynics would add a 'No' in that title) is offering a degree in the Fab Four. No doubt Goldman Sachs will be clamouring for graduates in this subject, so sign up quickly.