Sunday, November 29, 2009

Layer 232 . . . Welcome To The Real World

The Guardian had a curious "Advertisement Promotion" in it yesterday, a four-page spread called "Welcome to the Real World", wrapped around the Family section of the newspaper - for want of a better place.

It's there in the paper to draw attention to a DVD that was given away yesterday, and the front page of this 'promotion' says, "The world is changing, but our education system is not keeping pace. A new hard-hitting film calls for a fresh approach to learning."

As you probably know, Oxzen is very keen on fresh approaches to learning. Haven't had time to watch the DVD as yet, but will get round to it today. Be assured the next blog will reveal all.

In the meantime, here's a bit more blurb for you:

"The world is changing rapidly, but our education system is not keeping pace with these changes . . .

Young people need an education rich with opportunities for practical and vocational training, alongside traditional academic study. As Dr Cream Wright, (Cream?) global chief of education for Unicef says in a new film, "Schools fail to prepare young people for contemporary society, for the realities of the world we live in and, more significantly, for the emerging issues of our time".

The film We Are The People We've Been Waiting For, inspired and guided by Oscar-winning producer Lord Puttnam, looks at where the education system is going wrong and how we can address the issues that are of vital importance to everyone."

David Puttnam is definitely one of the good guys, so the film is probably well worth watching.

Have a look at this 'advertorial' - 

And it's on the Internet!

So what else has been happening in The Real World?

Simon Jenkins wrote another superb column that gets to the real heart of the matter as far as the banking disaster is concerned. Everyone needs to get their heads round this piece of reality.

Name, shame, blame the bankers, if you like. But they're the wrong target

Who said bankers "just don't get it"? They get it absolutely. Bankers are doing what they pay themselves to do, make money. They are performing what economists from Adam Smith to Karl Marx regarded as capitalism's sacred ritual, profiting by rigging markets and shedding risk. Like all professions, their first responsibility is to their peer group and their second to their shareholders. It is not their job to run the country, only sometimes to ruin it.

The banking community came a cropper last year but manoeuvred itself out of trouble by deploying the oldest trick in the book: claiming that the government needed them even more than they needed it. They were "too big to fail".

Ministers and regulators bought the gambit hook, line and sinker. They all hollered that bonuses were "ludicrous" (Darling), that banks had "lost sight of basic British values" (Brown) and were "antisocial" (Lord Turner). But it was all mouth. For them to accuse the banks of behaving obscenely might be a brief buzz, but what are a few insults to a banker on a roll?

It was not the banks that do not get it, but those on whom the public relies to guard its interests: Brown, Darling, Myners, King, Turner, the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority. The bankers this past year have played a blinder. Next month they will give themselves large bonuses while the nation troops to the dole office. They merit the order of the golden fleece, first class.

Then came today's report from the latest Hercules sent by Alistair Darling to clean the City's Augean stables, Sir David Walker of Goldman Sachs. He predictably concluded that nothing more than a feather duster was needed. He seemed to think that his fellow bankers would decamp en masse to Monaco if so much as rapped over the knuckles. So what?

As if that were not galling enough for the taxpayer, the supreme court – asked to adjudicate on the racketeering of banks towards overdraft customers – stepped forward to pat them on the head. The judges said it seemed fine to them and went off to make daisy chains in Parliament Square.

Nobody but a fool believes that a free market in anything, left to its own devices, will tend to perfect competition. Economic history attests that it tends to monopoly. That is why it must be regulated. Such regulation, in every sphere of economic life, is democracy's most onerous but essential responsibility. In the case of British banking in 2008, the government's clear duty was to ensure that marketplace discipline curbed the emergence of a debt bubble and that no residual liability, let alone one for some £1.3 trillion, should fall on the state.

Last year was a tragic failure of that responsibility and not one person in authority has accepted blame. The best-told stories might be of millionaire salaries, fancy derivatives, subprimes and sports cars; but what mattered was the denouement, saddling every man, woman and child in Britain with unprecedented levels of lifetime debt. This will be paid for in unemployment and higher taxation in the short term, and in a lower standard of living for the foreseeable future. The bank crash was a national disaster, the economic equivalent of Munich and appeasement.

Ministers have spent the past year propping up toxic debt, but not the British economy, which lurched deep into recession. They did nothing to help it, apart from brief and bizarre assistance to the car market. This was at a time when governments across the world were racing to prop up consumer demand, successfully speeding recovery. It was as if Britain was a one-industry town, that of banking.

Darling and his colleagues were clearly out of their depth. Public money was being spent on an unprecedented scale, with no one in charge knowing where it was going. Where were the public auditors? Still no one has explained the meaning of the much-parroted phrase, too big to fail. A failed bank may be a terrible thing, but then so is an economy crippled by long-term debt service. Which is worse? Why did nobody ever ask?

I find it simply incredible that a chancellor can take over a trillion pounds of public money, some of it in secret, without giving a remotely plausible account of why it was risked as it was, rather than in boosting consumer demand. At present the Chilcot inquiry is asking past ministers and officials why they went to war in Iraq. The reason is that war kills people. What happened to the banks last year did not kill people, but in every other sense it was a seismic event in the history of Britain's political economy. It was a true collapse in political authority. I wonder when someone will stop abusing bankers and fix on those really to blame.


The other Big Event of last week to catch up with is the start of the Chilcot Inquiry - the Iraq Inquiry. Simon Jenkins, again, injects a dose of reality:

We want Blair's head. But Chilcot won't give it to us
Britain's political community, bored at having to wait six months for an election, is baying for blood. The nation may lack bread, but at least it can have a circus.

It even has a star Christian, Tony Blair, who got us into the mess. The cry is for him to die, and die horribly. The camera must toy with his face in the dock, zooming in on the dripping brow, the writhing body language, the phoney meekness and the mendacity. Damned as a war criminal, Blair must be hung, drawn and quartered and his head impaled on a spike at Temple Bar. He must be Chamberlain after Munich, Eden after Suez. There must be nothing left of him but a puddle of sweat.

The same goes for the rest of them, Gordon Brown, the cabinet, John Scarlett, Alastair Campbell, civil servants, generals, bag carriers and tea ladies. Kill them all. The amphitheatre is packed with MPs and journalists, salivating as the gore runs into the sand. Not Nero in all his pomp staged a show like this one.

What else is Chilcot about? We know the truth. The report can be written in a sentence. Tony Blair went to war in Iraq because he lacked the guts to stand up to George Bush, say the invasion was not justified by facts or law, and refuse to join him in Baghdad. Despite being told to his face by Hans Blix that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he deceived the cabinet and parliament and took his nation to war.

Morrisey and Zen

Morrisey was on Desert Island Discs today, and he was reasonably interesting - though most of what he said we already knew. His choice of music was less than inspirational.

For his luxury he chose a bed, which was original. He reckons he prefers to be on his own for most of the time, and says that going to bed is the highlight of everyone's day.

Kirsty was obviously a fan in her youth.

Commenting on his manner and his attitude, she said, "I don't want to use the word Zen . . . but at 50 you seem less spikey, more reflective and thoughtful, and at ease with yourself."

Which is an interesting, inaccurate and very common interpretation of what Zen is about.

Zen is really concerned with helping us to see through to the reality of things, and having seen reality we may well be motivated to become more energised, more challenging , and less 'laid back' if we feel moved to try to do something about the condition of the world.

See also:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Layer 231 . . . Ofsted is Failing . . . Comment is Free

We're nearing the end of Let's Kick Ofsted week, so here's another selection of colourful and concise comments from the Guardian's Comment Is Free pages.

23 Nov 2009, 1:38PM
It's about time this ridiculous regime was seen for what it is. It's anecdotal evidence, but I bet it's easily repeated all over the country. Ofsted go into schools having already decided which schools have failed.

 My friend was deemed inadequate because two 10 year old boys decided they wanted the same ruler for a few seconds (bickering politely in whispers so the class was not disturbed!). They sorted it out amongst themselves (one decided to use another ruler) and did not interrupt the lesson. In fact, they finished all their work as directed and worked hard. The teacher was at the other end of the classroom and hadn't noticed as all equipment had been provided to groups before the lesson. The Inspector focused on this as the only incident of the teacher not having control of the class. She was failed despite the whole class working hard and there being no other incident in the lesson. Ofsted are just unaccountable bullies.

23 Nov 2009, 1:43PM
What more can one expect from a government obsessed with spin, news management and tomorrow's headlines.
Almost every time I sit down to my boiled egg and open the newspaper, I read of a new education initiative. Perhaps this Government now thinks that it is part of the media and, like newspapers, needs to come up with a new headline every day.
Isn't it time that the whole quangocracy was booted out and a system devised that leaves education to teachers and parents? It must be freed once and for all from the pernicious machinations of Labour's Ministry of Social Engineering.

23 Nov 2009, 1:50PM
HMI was once a serious and respected organisation. The process of politicising its replacement OFSTED began with the Tories and the pompous idiot Woodenhead, but its now made worse by the ludicrous stretch of its role to include social work with children. Yet another self inflicted bullet in the foot of a government of which teachers and social workers once had some hope. Tragic.
23 Nov 2009, 1:55PM
So our benevolent bully government have invented yet another bloated, centralised bullying check box system which has actually turned out to be a total waste of money, a demoralising episode for workers who are already underpaid and overworked...........well there's a surprise.

23 Nov 2009, 2:11PM
Measuring, Targets, Performance
Have destroyed every facet of public service with this ridiculous obsession with measuring the unmeasurable. They reward cheating and exploitation and force people not to see fit what to do with what is presented in front of them, but are forced to act in ways to achieve imaginary points.

23 Nov 2009, 2:49PM
This appalling organisation should have been scrapped long ago. The voice used for propagating so called "best practice" as devised by the morons in government and relayed down the line by fools who cannot stand up in a class without falling over their monopoly flags of truth.
For too many tears we have lived with these talentless meglomaniacs inspiring an education system based on targets, form filling, one size fits all pedagogy and a wealth of exams which measure nothing.


23 Nov 2009, 3:19PM
Sickening, but all too bloody predictable, seeing tories blame Labour for Ofsted. It was a tory creation, developed to get rid of local democratic accountability that we used to have under the Local Education Authorities. It has always been weilded as a politcal tool to hammer the education system. The whole idea was corrupted from the start. Like league tables there was always a dual aim behind the policy - to rank schools and to allocate funding on that basis. We need to seperate these two things since, quite obviously, in any rational world not dominated by the interests of the richest, funding should go to the schools that need help most, not take money away because a school happens to have a greater than average number of poor students, and thus a greater than average need in educational terms.

Instead of abolishing this unfair, arbitrary and undemocratic setup New Labour not only continued it but retained that elitist Chris Woodhead - a man who hates public eduction as a concept, it seems - as its head. Another pathetic Blairite triangulation that lost them support in one of their real heartlands - the teaching profession and won 0 tory voters to new labour (tories don't care about education, only making it more class biased).
Let's go back to local democratic control of education again and have a good school in every neighbourhood as our aim, and end the poisonous involvement of rich and fundamentalist zealots in education.

23 Nov 2009, 3:29PM
I am a Secondary school teacher in London.
I lost my faith in Ofsted, finally, the day it came in and awarded the school in which I work an "excellent curriculum" - this is a school where the curriculum has narrowed so much that pupils can drop Art/History/Languages at the age of thirteen and where Work-Related Learning/ and various BTEC courses rule all. I've spoken with kids who cannot even recall conducting an actual experiment in a Science lesson - to give you some idea - they just watch video recordings of them.
Ofsted is guilty of many things, but it is the watering down of subject choices in pursuit of League Table glory which is destroying meaningful education. Just as long as kids get GCSE grade Cs in English and Maths - that's all that matters.

People would weep if they knew what was going on. Happily for those who
perpetuate this culture, the average parent is quite easy to hoodwink.

23 Nov 2009, 4:53PM
I know a school in Solihull that has been wrecked by a Headteacher who's only concern was passing OFSTEDs. The kids are out of control, the best teachers have deserted her mad regime, and all that matters in this school is pulling the wool over the eyes of the OFSTED inspectors which she has managed to do three times.
I suspect there are many schools just like this one.
Many new Heads have been selected by Authorities because on interview they convince Local Authority inspectors, and the ignorant mass of school governors, that they have the wherewithall to get the school through OFSTEDs.
Now wonder education is in such a bloody mess!

23 Nov 2009, 5:01PM
1 Ofsted was created by Ken Clarke
2 They used to be led by highly trained Registered Inspectors with a long history of successful teaching 3 Inspections used to comprise a team of 4-16 in a school for 3-5 full days
4 All aspects, subjects and teachers were inspected.
5 A Parents' summary and value for money statement was given in the report.
1 1/2 inspectors are in for 1/2 days
2 Inspectors have very little experience in inspecting all aspects of the school
3 Few lessons are observed and only a small sample of teachers, thus their experience is diminished and thus their expertise
4 No value for money statement is provided in the report which is about two pages long.
I personally challenged the judgements of an Ofsted inspection in 2007 (350 children inspected by 1 inspector in 1 day). It took over a year to prove my case through the use of Freedom of Information Act (I was a Registered inspector for 15 years and retired in 2004 disgusted at the new regime). Finally, the Adjudicator agreed with me that the inspection was poor and the school should be reinspected. I am still waiting for the re-inspection and parents have been duped now for two years.

23 Nov 2009, 5:04PM
I have been a primary school teacher in various roles for 17 years. The curriculum is geared towards passing SATS and OFSTED. The children are suffering, the curriculum is not child centred. We are not educating chilren, we are schooling them. It is an educational abuse of childrens minds.

23 Nov 2009, 8:33PM
I know a primary school that came very near the top of its local LEA league table--in terms of value added--this year that has been put into special measures. The head, advisors and other heads in the borough were astounded. And even the inspectors were embarrassed saying that the new regime leaves them with no option.
The new inspection regime brought in by Balls is grossly unjust because the weighting given to value added has been vastly reduced. And as the article states, schools cannot be rated good if they have low exam results--no matter how much valued they have added.
Schools in sink estate areas where exam results tend to be low are now in an impossible situation. No matter much they succeed in pushing up value added, they can, and are, being put into special measures if test results are low. This has created an immense morale crisis.

23 Nov 2009, 8:59PM
OFSTED inspectors are draconian torture for teachers, students and any kind of residual ethos of free-thinking within education.
I have a tendency to waffle but where these people are concerned, after watching them maul my school and its mostly wonderful staff to pieces, it is very simple:
Go away - and never, ever return.

23 Nov 2009, 8:59PM
I have been a teacher for 26 years. I have been through many HMI and Ofsted inspections. My main gripe with Ofsted is the lack of constructive feedback to individuals. I have never had any useful or helpful comment from an inspector. So the exercise is NOT about making teachers better.

It does not help schools identify weaknesses, any decent school will know this already.
The new style inspections are even worse. Ofsted visit the school for TWO days (inspections ARE expensive, so lets cut the number of days and get the school to do loads of the paperwork in advance!), how can they possibly get an accurate impression in that time? Some comments above about how schools can 'put on a show' for the inspectors, papering over the cracks are spot on.

23 Nov 2009, 11:23PM
The greatest disservice to education was the removal of HMI through the introduction of Ofsted.
HMI had credibility and above all a sense of wisdom that left schools feeling valued. School improvement was presented within a positive framework. Schools were encouraged to develop and were supported.
Professionally if there were enough bravery amongst out leadership teams in our schools we could bring this system to its knees . . .

24 Nov 2009, 9:03AM
"I'm sorry if this is going to upset some people but as a parent I'm glad Ofsted is out there inspecting, because there's no one else doing it."
With respect, Realistic, you've missed the point of most of the comments above. It's not that teachers or parents don't want inspections - it's that they want inspections that are helpful, evidence-based, and conducted by experts, not driven by box-ticking and hoop jumping, and that actually contribute in a meaningful way to children's welfare. As did HMI in its day.
I'm a parent too, as well as a school governor, and I can assure you that Ofsted inspections for the most part have precisely the opposite effect to what is intended - not because teachers and schools don't want to be inspected, but because inspections are ludicrously bureaucratic, look at the wrong things, and are clearly driven by political expediency rather than by any real desire to improve children's education and safety.

24 Nov 2009, 1:10PM
In response to Realistic Parent . . .  Finland disproves your argument. One of the best education systems in the world without an overbearing inspectorate, league tables or testing.

25 Nov 2009, 10:32AM
I have a wife and daughter both teachers and both being made painfully aware by their LAs that their looming Ofsted inspections are likely to downgrade them from their ratings at previous inspections, or worse, put them in special measures purely on the basis of "failing to safeguard children" . Stories abound of schools being put straight into special measures on day 1 of inspections, regardless of how good they are educationally. This purely on one persons subjective view on one aspect of the school's performance. I know of another school where a manager at a meeting of the management team said they had never known such a tense depressed atmosphere pervading the whole team, purely because of this issue. For teachers striving to do their utmost in difficult schools often with very challenging children, this is one more piece of stress they don't need.

Now of course no-one is suggesting children should be anything but safe, but have our schools suddenly become such dark and dangerous places? Of course not. So why is this witch hunt happening? Well this is the organisation who gave Haringey childcare dept a favourable report just after Baby P died and for which they were roundly criticised. Ofsted are just symptomatic of our blame culture society and are now ensuring they cover their own backsides, but at what cost? Demoralised and stressed heads and teachers distracted from their real job of educating our children, with Schools reluctant to do anything that smacks of risk or innovation.
Recruitment of Primary Heads is already in crisis, soon it will be a job nobody wants with consequent impact on standards.

I agree with pretty much all I read above- I'm a primary teacher in a school in a very deprived area. we got ofsteded in June under the old system and had some character who probably hadn't been in front of a class come in and "observe" me for 20 minutes before making his judgement. I declined his offer for feedback, much to his surprise but what did he really know either about me and my teaching, the children, or in fact about teaching per se?

So the new system takes no account of local deprivation etc etc etc this being seen by the bloated irrelevance as "excuses" or a slacker's charter.. well, we may as well give up now- I know that for most of the children in my school "learning" and "personalised learning" and "excellence and enjoyment" and all the other little aphorisms churned out by ed balls and his chums are way down the hierarchy of needs- a good square meal, a wash and not getting verbally abused at home (or worse) come way before that.
It's high time professionals in education grew a pair and just refused to co-operate with the irrelevant, punitive self serving industry of "inspection". C'mon the revolution starts here!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Layer 230 . . . Accountability, Ofsted, ResPublica, Trust, The Boat Race and the Human Race.

In the news today, the big question – have the water companies been handing out enormous profits to shareholders, when they should have been re-investing them in service improvements, and indeed cutting charges to consumers? Hello? Do bears shit in the woods?

The new Tory guru, one Phillip Blond, is today launching his very own think tank – ResPublica. Mr Blond (sounds like a character from Reservoir Dogs) has had a big thunk about the “Trust Economy”, and says that we need to reconsider how we approach 'public accountability'  - replacing oppressive bureaucracy with 'trust' and the presumption of efficiency and effectiveness unless clear evidence becomes available through 'normal' scrutiny by clients and the public.

Interesting idea. Especially in an era where bankers and financiers, and water companies, as well as politicians and senior civil servants, have shown themselves to be completely untrustworthy. Still – it's clear we need to become a more trusting society, and for that the happen there needs to be a revolution in the consciousness of those who have completely fallen down in this respect.

On the other hand, the vast majority of public service professions can certainly be trusted to manage their own affairs, through peer-review, etc, and ought not to suffer oppressive management and scrutiny by layers of highly paid bureaucrats and ignorant politicians.


Guardian letters

Time to exclude Ofsted from schools

Ofsted is a creature of New Labour's obsession with raising standards by central micromanagement enforced by ruthless inspection: it fails to accept that social deprivation can mean that, however hard-working and committed the teachers and social workers are, the "expected" standards cannot be reached overnight (Flawed Ofsted fails barrage of inspections, 23 November). Ofsted provides an ineffective form of accountability. Its £70m could be better spent.
Eight objections to Ofsted are set out at These show how it acts as a ruthless enforcer of inept government policies with a narrow vision which totally fails to take account of local circumstances, that it is fear-inducing in a way alien to most teachers and social workers, that it undermines their professional status, fails to provide support to those needing it, and there is a dearth of firm evidence that it has succeeded in raising educational standards.
A spokesman says that current criticisms are not in accord with what frontline workers are telling them. Who tells a dragon that its breath is too hot?
Michael Bassey
Emeritus professor of education, Nottingham Trent University

It is to be hoped that the MPs' report on Ofsted will be a firm nail in this laughable watchdog's coffin. Having experienced several inspections, I was appalled at the subjective and occasionally inane comments used to grade my teaching and that of the schools I have taught in.
Christine Gilbert confirmed my worst suspicions when she said Ofsted might ask students if they are bored as a means of analysing a school. Any educationist, parent or indeed student knows that if you catch a pupil on a bad day or if they have lingering resentments against a teacher, they will give any response necessary to denigrate him or her.
Those of us concerned about good education must never lose a chance to remind people that Ofsted is a political creation whose purpose is to remove accountability from elected officials.
We need to return to a sane and fair way of providing environments where teachers teach and children learn.
Michael Ayers

Ofsted's inspection methodology is flawed not only for its imbalanced reliance on paper, form-filling and abstracted data (ie without adequate context) but because its judgments are never moderated. The five private companies that carry out the inspections are never asked to look at the same institution independently of each other as a most basic check on their reliability.

The result is an unaccountable quango, highly susceptible to government pressure, the individual prejudices of its inspectors and the need of the inspection companies to conform to government expectations in order to get their contracts renewed. Ofsted's recent volte-face with Haringey council after the Baby Peter tragedy is a case in point.
Keith Lichman
Campaign for State Education

Why Ofsted Inspection Of Schools Should Be Abolished

It is clear from the evidence that there is tremendous and grave concern about SATs, Ofsted and, to a lesser extent, the national curriculum - across the teaching profession and the research community. Each has served its purpose in the past, but now, for the sake of effective education of the children in our schools, should be taken off the statute book. This section sets out the main arguments against inspection of schools by the Office for Standards in Education.
Ofsted has contributed to a culture of compliance under which schools and teachers prepare for evaluation out of fear rather than commitment and enthusiasm. National Union of Teachers (2004)
What school leaders need is not more pressure and constantly moving goalposts, but an environment that trusts them as professionals to do the job they were employed to do. … Ofsted is part of the problem, not the solution. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (2006)

Campaign for State Education

Kate Humble spoke very eloquently on R4 today about how much she disliked her own schooldays, and hated having to go through a system that cared only about processing children through tests, due to the obsession with league tables.

“One of life’s great joys is dancing naked in the sun. It makes me feel so good. Even now, there are all sorts of places in the world where you can take your clothes off and not be seen”. -- Kate Humble


The Boat Race and the Human Race

I really like my multicultural neighbourhood, where you can see in my local newsagent copies of the Wall Street Journal sandwiched between copies of the Morning Star and the Socialist Worker; where the Guardians lie slightly to the right of them, but to the left of the Times, the Sun and the Sport. For some unknown reason - which now that I come to think about it I'll have to look into - the Mails sit on the counter, alongside the local rag and the evening sub-standard.

So – back to the papers.

Richard Williams had his usual excellent column on the back page of the sport section yesterday, which isn't his usual slot. He was writing about the Boat Race.

You may be as surprised as I was to discover the existence of something called the Boat Race Company. This week its chairman emerged to announce that, after 180 years of being identified by a simplest possible title, the annual Putney-to-Mortlake eight‑oared rowing contest between Oxford and Cambridge will be known from this day forward as the Xchanging Boat Race.
Bizarrely, or so it must seem to today's legions of marketing executives, for the vast majority of its history the race managed to get along quite nicely without the benefit of a sponsor or even a limited company dedicated to its upkeep.
Personally, I could never see the excuse for taking any sponsorship money at all for this event. The crews are composed of undergraduate and post-graduate students, whom the universities should be able to supply with the necessary boats, boathouses and coaches. Not much else should be required, you might think.
It was patiently explained to me yesterday that the annual costs include paying top coaches to create crews of "world-class standard", buying a new boat every couple of years at £30K a pop, subsidising the cost of morning and afternoon training six days a week from September to April, paying the Port of London Authority to clear the river of debris on training and race days, and hiring giant screens for the spectators.
But why do Boat Race crews, who exist only to race against each other, with no need of external yardsticks, have to be of "world-class standard"? Why can't they make their boats last longer? Why do we expect students to behave like professional sportsmen when they ought to be attending their lectures and tutorials? Why can't the river authorities bear the cost of preparing the Tideway for an event that enhances London's standing as a tourist destination? Rather than training on the course, wouldn't it be more fun to get the oarsmen to treat it like a French unseen? And why should the spectators be given additional viewing facilities that deprive them of the ancient thrill of watching the two distant specks grow larger until their identities can be distinguished?
Of course I know the fundamental answer, which is that the universities have grown to depend on the tuition fees paid by post-graduate students from abroad, who are mostly 6ft 7in, 220lb giants in their mid-30s, with Olympic medals already in their possession, plenty of time on their hands and very little interest in, say, deciphering the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.

Looking back from the future, decades from now (?), people in more moral societies will feel a deep sense of digust that so much money was squandered on futile and inane nonsense like boat races and spectator conveniences when the planet was in such dire straits with millions struggling to survive, and indeed millions dying from hunger, disease and starvation.

We live in a global village, we know full well what happens in every part of the village, and yet we behave as though the people at the other end of our village don't even exist as they cry out for help and support, whilst we get on with our ludicrous and outrageous over-consumption of things that take us away from developing and fulfilling ourselves as human beings.

By all means let's have boat races if we must, but let's boycott everything that reeks of the commercialisation of a thing that ought to be cheap, cheerful and joyful, as opposed to expensive, grim and dull.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Layer 229 . . . Domestic Violence, Government Nonsense, Born Free, Human Rights, Olympic Stories and Hackney Wick


Domestic Violence and Education

Our bloody bogus government is at it again. This week's education initiative is to announce that every child in England and Wales is to be taught that domestic violence is not acceptable. What! This is a scheme that a psychopath would dream up . . . for dealing with other psychopaths. And even then it wouldn't work. It wouldn't make a jot of difference.

Even psychopaths KNOW that hurting other people isn't acceptable. Neither is manipulating, threatening or deceiving. However, it doesn't stop them hurting other people, because they have an inability and an unwillingness to empathise with others, and a total lack of concern about anyone except themselves. Besides, many of them actively enjoy hurting other people - especially people who annoy them, or refuse to bow down to their demands, or fight back.

We all KNOW that domestic violence isn't bloody acceptable. We all KNOW that bullying isn't acceptable. Neither is unkindness, or rudeness, or unfairness. KNOWING these things, however, isn't the issue.

The problem is that our school system doesn't even set out to seriously address social, emotional and spiritual intelligence. Teachers are not trained in how to help children develop these key intelligences, though many teachers do their best to persuade children to be kind and thoughtful and reasonable - for instance during token 'circle times' and assemblies slotted in between literacy hours, numeracy hours and PE.

The government's initiative won't do anything to help matters either, and may make things worse if more and more pupils become pissed off with having to sit and listen to platitudes and statements of the bleeding obvious and decide that giving someone a good slap would be an act of rebellion and therefore 'cool' - in the same way that they deliberately go out and use drugs after a tedious session of anti-drugs 'education'.

The government's announcement is pathetic and bogus and totally worthless. As if teachers don't already make clear to kids that ANY kind of violence is unacceptable in a civilised society. The point is, what kind of schooling is required in order that from the very beginning of their time in school children learn not only that violence is unacceptable but also have opportunities every day to develop the skills and attitudes required to become non-violent and emotionally, socially and spiritually intelligent?

Don't bother asking Ed Balls that question. He wouldn't have a clue. And in any case he's far too busy pursuing the only educational agenda that New Labour has ever really had: attainment, attainment, attainment.


We Are All Born Free

Julian Rhind-Tutt and an all-star cast narrate an animated film about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Olympic Stories – Hackney Wick


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Layer 228 . . . Life Begins At . . .

Remember when people used to talk about life beginning at 40? Channel 4 are currently running a series of programmes called Life Begins at 60.

I guess the meaning of this expression used to be that after passing the age of 40 people usually had more confidence, more money, more opportunities for self-expression and enjoyment, etc. Child rearing used to be pretty much over by that age, and more freedom and autonomy were potentially on offer. Even if you were still responsible for kids, they were normally past the stage of needing constant attention and supervision by the time you reached 40.

Of course life could still be wonderful before the age of 40, but as a young(ish) adult you were still in many ways a work in progress, and not fully formed. Becoming a mature human being, and possibly at one with yourself and the world - self-actualised as it were - was something to look forward to, and a thing to appreciate when you got there.

With the passing of the decades and the Americanisation of our society, people tend to work harder, commute further, work longer hours and become more exhausted. These days many people no longer feel in control of their lives, as they career ever-onward with their careers and their busy, busy existences, getting and spending money, trying to keep their heads above water.

For many people these days a new life can begin at 60(ish), in the sense that post-retirement they can finally get out of the rat race and start to fully enjoy their lives. Not having to spend time doing zillions of things you'd much rather not be doing, you can finally focus on the things that really matter, whatever they may be. Even for those who love their work, their profession and their careers, there can be a huge benefit in starting to live differently, away from a lifetime of duties and responsibilities.

I mentioned in Layer 226 Jeff Koons's remark, “We should follow our interests and focus on them. There's nothing else you can do in life.” Which is all very well, but being a committed professional, or just someone who's trying earn money so that their family can live well, may well mean that many other interests have to fall by the wayside. Post-retirement, people really can follow their true interests, whether or not they're able to make money from them.


How much money is enough?
By Robert Skidelsky

In 1930, Keynes predicted that by 2030, we'd be working a 15-hour week. But he underestimated our appetite for wealth
The economic downturn has produced an explosion of popular anger against bankers' "greed" and their "obscene" bonuses. This has accompanied a wider critique of "growthmanship" – the pursuit of economic growth or the accumulation of wealth at all costs, regardless of the damage it may do to the earth's environment or to shared values.
John Maynard Keynes addressed this issue in 1930, in his little essay "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren". Keynes predicted that in 100 years – that is, by 2030 – growth in the developed world would, in effect, have stopped, because people would "have enough" to lead the "good life." Hours of paid work would fall to three a day – a 15-hour week. Human beings would be more like the "lilies of the field, who toil not, neither do they spin."
Keynes's prediction rested on the assumption that, with a 2% annual increase in capital, a 1% increase in productivity, and a stable population, average standards of living would rise eight times on average. This enables us to work out how much Keynes thought was "enough." GDP per head in the United Kingdom in the late 1920s (before the 1929 crash) was roughly £5,200 ($8,700) in today's value. Accordingly, he estimated that a GDP per capita of roughly £40,000 ($66,000) would be "enough" for humans to turn their attention to more agreeable things.
It is not clear why Keynes thought eight times the average British national income per head would be "enough." Most likely he took as his standard of sufficiency the bourgeois rentier income of his day, which was about 10 times that of the average worker.
Eighty years on, the developed world has approached Keynes's goal. In 2007 (ie, pre-crash), the IMF reported that average GDP per head in the United States stood at $47,000, and at $46,000 in the UK. In other words, the UK has had a five-fold increase in living standards since 1930.
It is likely that Keynes's "target" of $66,000 will be achieved for most western countries by 2030.
But it is equally unlikely that this achievement will end the insatiable hunt for more money. Let's assume, cautiously, that we are two-thirds of the way towards Keynes's target. We might therefore have expected hours of work to have fallen by about two-thirds. In fact they have fallen by only one-third – and have stopped falling since the 1980s.
This makes it highly improbable that we will reach the three-hour working day by 2030. It is also unlikely that growth will stop – unless nature itself calls a halt. People will continue to trade leisure for higher incomes.
Keynes underestimated the weight of “relative” needs, especially as societies got richer, and, of course, the power of advertising to create new wants, and thus induce people to work in order to earn the money to satisfy them. As long as consumption is conspicuous and competitive, there will continue to be fresh reasons to work.
Keynes did not entirely ignore the social character of work. "It will remain reasonable," he wrote, "to be economically purposive for others after it has ceased to be reasonable for oneself." The wealthy had a duty to help the poor.
Keynes did not really confront the problem of what most people would do when they no longer needed to work. He writes: "It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself, especially if he no longer has roots in the soil or in custom or in the beloved conventions of a traditional economy." But, since most of the rich – "those who have an independent income but no associations or duties or ties" have "failed disastrously" to live the "good life," why should those who are currently poor do any better?
Here I think Keynes comes closest to answering the question of why his "enough" will not, in fact, be enough. The accumulation of wealth, which should be a means to the "good life," becomes an end in itself because it destroys many of the things that make life worth living. Beyond a certain point – which most of the world is still far from having reached – the accumulation of wealth offers only substitute pleasures for the real losses to human relations that it exacts.
Finding the means to nourish the fading "associations or duties or ties" that are so essential for individuals to flourish is the unsolved problem of the developed world, and it is looming for the billions who have just stepped on to the growth ladder. George Orwell put it well: "All progress is seen to be a frantic struggle towards an objective which you hope and pray will never be reached."

There are several interesting responses to this on the Guardian's CiF, including,

I would love an explanation from Dr Skidelsky -- or anyone else -- of the apparently insatiable need of the rich to acquire more and more wealth. What human being, what family even, needs billions of dollars or pounds to live a good, comfortable, secure, even luxurious life? There seems to be something which impels millionaires and billionaires to go on adding to their fortunes ad infinitum -- or perhaps I should say ad nauseam -- regardless of how much actual use it can be to them.
This does not arise from envy on my part -- at nearly 80 I have enough money for my needs and don't want any more. I am just intensely curious and desirous of understanding this strange phenomenon.

I know quite a few people earning what I consider large amounts of money. None of them are particularly happy but they are all considerably happier than the people I know who are living on paltry benefits and being treated like criminals by the DWP.
The happiest I know (not a scientific survey obviously) are those who have medium or even low - but not appallingly low - incomes and time to spend on family and friends.
As someone who has been forced out of the rat race by illness I know when I re join it it will be on a part time basis and hopefully doing something that I enjoy.
We only have one life. Unfortunately those struggling to earn more and more and more and voting to keep more and more of that wealth all to themselves are not only ruining their own lives - they are messing it up for the rest of us.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Layer 227 . . . Flawed Ofsted Fails Inspections

Today's post is going to consist solely of a reprint of an article in today's Guardian, by Polly Curtis, the paper's excellent education editor.

Ofsted fails barrage of inspections

Schools watchdog mauled as critics bite back at 'wasteful' bureaucracy

Ofsted is facing a crisis in public confidence as it comes under a series of attacks on its authority this week, with the watchdog accused of being "flawed, wasteful and failing".

The children's services inspectorate will be criticised today by service heads in every local authority in the country, headteachers' leaders and in a damning forthcoming report by MPs on the government's school accountability system.

Its new inspection regime is accused of forcing social work departments to focus on passing inspections instead of looking after children, giving good schools mediocre ratings on routine technical matters – such as fences not being high enough – and more claims that sub-contracted inspectors are not fit for the job.

Pressure further intensifies on the watchdog as a former chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Mike Tomlinson, today suggests it is struggling after a major expansion two years ago to include responsibility for inspecting children's services as well as schools and childcare.

The attacks come as Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector at Ofsted, prepares to publish the watchdog's own annual report tomorrow after arguably the most difficult year in its history, during which it has been battered by accusations of failings in the Baby Peter case and struggled with its controversial new inspection regimes.

Tomlinson, a respected government adviser who led Ofsted between 2000 and 2002, today raises new questions about Ofsted's ability to fulfil its role. "The question needs to be asked and answered as to whether Ofsted has the appropriate skills and experience to carry out its agenda," he told the Guardian. "Inspection systems that rely too heavily on data and tick-box systems is not what we need. I worry we are heading that way."

The 2007 expansion of Ofsted made it the biggest regulator in England and since then it has introduced new inspection methods for schools and local authorities.

A document drawn up by the Association of Directors of Children's Services, which represents the head of children's departments in English local authorities, claims that new annual performance profiles being developed by Ofsted are "not fit for purpose". Separately schools have expressed concerns about the new school inspection regime under which they cannot be rated good if their exam results are low – regardless of their social context. They can also be marked down on routine matters of safety.

Lawnswood school in Leeds, a rapidly improving school with a good reputation, was penalised after a survey suggested that 1.3% of parents reported their child did not "feel safe" there. A second school was judged to be inadequate because inspectors said the fence around the playground was low enough for children to be abducted and another failed because inspectors were offered coffee before they were asked for identification.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools felt they were being "caught out" in inspections. "It's brought in a climate of great anxiety because you don't know whether the inspector will trick you on safeguarding."

A report from a powerful committee of MPs, to be published shortly, also criticises Ofsted for having insufficiently trained inspectors and for relying too much on exam data in their inspection of schools.

Barry Sheerman, chair of the children, schools and families select committee, said schools in challenging areas felt "aggrieved" that even when they were doing well against the odds, they could be failed for low GCSE results.

A spokesman for Ofsted said: "We are disappointed to hear the ADCS criticisms but have to say that their views just don't accord with what we are being told by directors and frontline social workers who have actually experienced our children's services inspections. The feedback we are getting is much more positive."


Oxzen commented on CiF -

Excellent article, Polly. This sums it all up very well  - incompetent contractors, inadequately trained inspectors, training that forces inspectors to focus on data and 'technical' issues rather than actual schools and their teachers & pupils, a ridiculous grading system, and a climate of fear and loathing.

Add to that an inspections culture that turns the school's attention away from legitimate operational matters and forces them to spend huge amounts of time preparing themselves and their staff for inspections, including a heavy year-round focus on preparations for tests, rather than on real education and learning how to learn, and you have what we have - an unfair, impoverished and illegitimate system that often has very little to offer either the most able pupils or the less able, beyond preparation for tests.

Thank goodness the highly respected Mike Tomlinson is prepared to speak up against our abysmal system - "Inspection systems that rely too heavily on data and tick-box systems is not what we need" - but some of his comments are a little 'light touch'. "I worry we are heading that way", says Mr T, whereas in fact he probably knows we're already well up shit creek.

It'll be a huge and long-term effort to change our system of accountability towards the professional Finland/Denmark model, and the current leadership of Ofsted doesn't seem to have either the inclination or the capacity to do that job. It's all a very far cry from the days when HMI was led by and consisted largely of respected professionals with a vast amount of experience and understanding of schools, pedagogy, the curriculum, management, leadership, teachers and children.

I've lost count of the number of people I know who did Ofsted training but gave up on the work because of the way in which they were expected to carry out inspections, leaving the system to be operated mainly by those of a lesser calibre who are blatantly only doing it for the salary.


Other comments:


Well I imagine this lambasting will produce a "no sh*t, Sherlock!" response in most of us.
It's from the same Nu-Labour stable-of-spin and bureaucratic lunacy that tried to tackle NHS waiting lists, and now means that you can't book an appointment with your GP more than 2 days in advance because otherwise it makes their waiting-times statistics look bad.
The government response will probably be to set up an new Inspectorate of Inspectorates Watchdog Watching Department, a quango of ex-public school Knights of the Realm who all earn £174k a year for turning up for a 2 hour committee meeting once a month (which features a one hour luncheon costing more than my annual salary).


Ofsted is one of those ideas that sounds great in theory (inspect, assess, praise good, point out areas for improvement, drive up standards) but in practice drives all the wrong behaviours.

Many of my family are teachers (though not myself) and the stories of inspection times are comical. Inspectors failing teachers/schools without often visiting classrooms and spending time on seeing what is happening. Being in the wrong area is enough for them to fail and if the inspector doesn't like the school mangement then you are failed. One relative then moved from a failed school to a nice school in a middle class area and suddenly she was assessed as outstanding - and still had never actually seen an inspector - boxes were ticked though. Another had her school failed even for RE (which is difficult apparently) because a candle wasn't lit ffs!! We asked other kids do they light a candle in your assembly? No was the answer but it didn't matter, they wanted to fail the school because the headmistress had pissed them off - teaching was good in a deprived area but no matter.


Labour's obsession with simple quantifiable targets has badly skewed the provision of basic services such as health and education, as the providers inevitably ask themselves how best to meet the targets, rather than how to meet the requirements of those under their care. Tick boxes don't won't for anyone other than administrators.


The Audit Commission could equally be in the dock. Organisations spend thousands preparing for inspection, and even more on mock inspections. The whole inspection and auditing regime is one big con, designed to provide a nice cushy job for people who can't compete in the real world. And isn't Christine Gilbert married to one of the MPs caught fiddling his expenses?Hardly a ringing endorsement of her judgement.


I enjoyed two Ofsted inspections as a Secondary Head.

The first was led by a failed middle-manager from a neighbouring school who'd become an inspector after realising no Head would appoint him to a Deputy Headship.

The second was lead by a pompous rural Catholic who had never been in a muti-ethnic school before. The poor guy was out of his depth.

If OFSTED can only attract the failed and the second-rate middle-managers as lead inspectors, no one should be surprised if they can't cope.

On the other hand, incompetence does not account fully for the smug pomposity that my colleagues endured.

@ Laplante

Ofsted was flawed from the very beginning. A failed teacher, Chris "Bonehead" Woodhead was its first head and he gleefully set about alienating the teaching profession at the behest of his tory masters. His inspectorate did not consist of experts in the field of education, but often people from business: the teaching profession sighed in vain for the days of Her Majesty's Inspectors of School. These were wise old birds who had had successful careers in teaching and could offer sound judgements tempered with good advice.

Ofsted has too great a remit these days and has been far too political from the start. It was set up so that governments could exercise greater political control over education and the ways in which teachers worked. It really has been a poor effort as is reflected by present low standards in education and the poverty of the modern curriculum. This is no reflection on schools, pupils or their teachers. Everybody in education deserves better. Educators simply have to work in a poorly thought out system and are always aware of the need to watch their backs as non-expert Ofsted people descend upon them. Schools find inspections scary simply because they are often quite arbitrary and with a low level of competence.

@ juliusmalema

As a foreigner who has come to work in uk schools i have to say that the things schools in this country have to do to please ofsted amount to a joke. you can only laugh or cry. the schools that do well say, "do this x, y and z please, we know it makes no sense but it has to be done to please ofsted. then we can get on with what we really need to do." i have worked at schools with good ofsted results that were truly terrible, because everything is done to please ofsed and not benefit the children. and vice versa. it's like orwell's grim prophecies have come in through the back door.

@ redbigbill

Readers should be reminded that Ofsted and it's first boss, the obnoxious right wing Woodhead (who given his way would have privatised every education establishment in the country) are both inventions of Tory Governments.
It was useless then and Labour have just turned it into a massive, money wasting quango with jobs for the boys and bureaucracy run riot.

@ IKnowSomethingcThis

I too have first-hand experience of Ofsted inspection in a childcare setting, and of an extended complaints process. Some (not all) of Ofsted's inspectors are incompetent and they react extremely vindictively to criticism, which, I suspect, is why so many people give Ofsted itself only positive feedback: it's called self-preservation !

@ stucathome

Like many other NuLab ideas Ofsted is a joke.

I was fortunate enough to go to a fee-paying school where teachers were employed exactly to do that, i.e. teach

A box-ticking culture will deter the most gifted from joining the education system, turning schools into education factories, rather than a place which encourages ideas as much as book learning.

@ feline1973

-     @ Juleusmalema -  you can only laugh or cry. the schools that do well say, "do this x, y and z please, we know it makes no sense but it has to be done to please oftsted. then we can get on with whatt we really need to do."

Well this is the thing - you can not ONLY laugh or cry, you can tell people to get stuffed, refuse to be numbered, stamped, filed, indexed, brief, debriefed, or have you trousers removed.

The problem is that a large proportion of "teachers" are bureacratic busy bodies themselves, who enjoy bullying children and bossing them about and making them "conform",
and behave like spineless fools when asked to conform themsleves.

What they SHOULD so when an Ofsted nitwit tries to get them to do something ridiculous is tell them to get stuffed, and make sure there's a camera crew there to film it so that it can be shown on Panorama and thus not only achieve something for the education system, but also entertain and enrage the chattering classes.


@ surferboy

As a teacher I have been through 2 OFSTED inspections, including one of the new ones. I teach in a relatively successful secondary that is the 2nd choice in a reasonable catchment area, once the brightest students have been creamed off by 3 Grammers and 2 Roman Catholic schools. As a staff we work very hard to provide for all of our students (we're above average in numbers for free school meals; SEN etc) and have a successful G&T; Extra curricular and Social Development provision. Under the old criteria we were a good school with outstanding features - stuff we knew that we should do. However, under the new standards we are now 'satisfactory'. Morale has plummeted due to us being unable to achieve the standards that they expect with the type of students we attract. We work very hard so that they achieve (for them) good results but this is not good enough apparantly. How someone who has not taught for the past 16 years can observe lessons within my department and after 20 mins say how 'good' they were annoys me.

@ yonsoc

Managers in my social work department plan in advance how to hoodwink inspection. They cook the books, lie and try everything to throw the inspectors off the scent. I know that my local authority told my partner to CHANGE her report on the state of children's homes to something more positive. She refused.

@ Ajay100

"There is not enough money in the world to make me want to be a headteacher." said a senior Ofsted inspector in an interview during a primary school inspection under the new framework.

"Bad luck," said a second senior inspector, "If we had come in July , before the new framework was introduced in September, the issues facing your school would not have been highlighted."

Both of these comments, intended to make me feel better, were not helpful. One can understand the weighting attached to aspects of inspection following the criticism directed at Ofsted over safeguarding. This next comment is not an attempt to pass any blame, but should it not be Social Services that are scrutinised rather than increase the pressure on schools and the inspection framework?

The Ofsted framework has always been flawed by the mechanical way in which limiting judgements automatically downgrade outcomes in other aspects of the inspection process. The new framework is offered as a partnership approach between inspectors and schools. In theory this is a positive change to inspection however, in practice it remains dependent upon the lead inspector, their guide to senior inspectors, and the interpretation of the new Ofsted schedule. Ofsted themselves are subject to proof readers and have to write within a range of vocabulary that supports their outcomes.

There needs to be an immediate revision of the present Inspection schedule and there needs to be a way to minimise any inconsistencies amongst the teams.

"I was damned if an attractive blond bimbo in a difficult London Primary school was going to be judged as outstanding. That would mean she would have been better than me when I was a head. So I gave her a good." said a lead inspector. I am pleased to say this was reported and the lead inspector, is no longer working for Ofsted.

Inspection needs to move away from a weighting on pupil results. School data is complex. Just because pupil outcomes are below national outcomes it does not mean that the school is inadequate.

"The data suggests that this school can be no better than average. It would make it very difficult for me to write my report if any of you judge lessons to be good or outstanding." said a lead inspector to the rest of the team. This lead inspector no longer works for Ofsted.

Inspecting teams need to work together with schools and its leaders within a supportive framework. Finland has no inspection framework and they are seen to be leading the way in educational provision. Education in this country needs to look at the best of excellent practice and provision in the rest of Europe and look at ways to improve. Ofsted . . . . try harder to be better at understanding schools and the pressures they face.

@ ljrushton

Isn't it amazing how Mr Tomlinson and Mr Woodhead both failed to point out the errors of Ofsted while they where still collecting their fat pay checks. I wonder if the Ofsted spokesperson quoted in the article will come clean and speak out after he has finished receiving his pieces of silver. It would be nice for all three to be in an enclosed room with all the teachers whose hard work and careers they have damaged and caused untold unnecessary stress to and all the parents of children whose education they have wrecked while carrying out their sordid dirty work.

@ Ghostworld

Ofsted may well have been a Tory idea.... But it has mutated under Labour ( sorry, New Labour ) into something far more inept

@ rubberneck

OFSTED- Squeezing the joy, fun and humanity out of education and replacing it with DATA !
New Labour in a nutshell. Stalinist control freaks.

@ solocontrotutti

The tick box culture is a real problem. It corrupts education with the BTEC non examined qualifications being a primary example. Almost no external verification and the teacher sets the assignment, marks it and then selects which one goes for what external verification there is and with a management breathing on your necks for results - integrity becomes the first victim of the process.

The Oftsed session guide lines are imbecilic with so many criterion that it becomes a nit picking pedant's charter. Anyone going through the observation process almost by default endures a litany of minor faults (the clock was wrong , the whiteboard wasn't clean enough etc etc)

The result is a slow corrupting of the education process and innovation and flexibility is the second victim of the process.

Management become obsessed with stats and funding is thrown at achieving those stats. So if you are a borderline pass you will get all the funding whilst if you are almst certain non pass you will get a vocational qual' whilst the good pass will get ignored. Personalisation is the third victim of the tick box culture.

Organisations are also reluctant to enforce discipline because (particularly in the FE sector) retention is a funded component. Good behaviour and a positive environment is the fourth victim of the tick box culture.

The whole sector becomes more conservative with teachers wanting to steer clear of problem groups because there is very little room for making allowances for the level of learner being observed and tick boxed. Why get a three with a large challenging group when you could get a 1 with a smaller more middle class group. Diversity and differentiation is the fifth victim of the Ofsted culture.

The simple fact is - you can't tick box complexity!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Layer 226 . . . The Thick of It, The Game of Politics, Refraining From Harm and Modern Beauty


There's a beating-up in the press today for Brown and Cameron, and it's forced both of them to apologise for their actions. Namely? Using Remembrance Day for photo-opportunities - behaving like publicity-crazed actors on a poppy-strewn stage in the so-called 'Field of Remembrance' outside the Abbey last week.

Without proper permission they both went into the 'Field' in order to “inspect” the crosses and poppies that had been put there to commemorate those who have died in the Middle East wars. Cameron went in first with his personal photographer, prior to the service, and having got wind of this Brown scuttled in there when the service was over, accompanied by his wife and a film crew, which was shooting on behalf of the press corps. “Inspecting”. Gazing earnestly at the crosses and the poppies.

Thanks to “The Thick of It” on the BBC we have a much sharper appreciation of what goes on within the inner circles of the political leaders. The sense that even the senior members of the government and the opposition are just actors and performers, acting to scripts provided by strategists, speech writers, political analysts, image makers, PR consultants, rapid response units, private secretaries, press secretaries, focus groups, pollsters, and assorted over-opinionated dickheads.

This, of course, doesn't invalidate the view of politics given by “Yes, Minister”, which made us aware that government ministers are also manipulated, maneuvered, thwarted, hoodwinked, fed bullshit and led astray by devious professional civil servants up to the level of Permanent Secretary.

What we now understand about politics is that it is indeed the 'art of the possible', and that honesty, integrity and good intent will always be trumped by ambition, competing egos, deviousness, ruthlessness, stupidity, vested interests, and the  hunger to have and to hold power.

The Thick of It last night showed the Minister and her Tory opposite number taking part in a Radio 5 Live debate, with them and their various advisors and hangers-on being viciously verballed and bullied by their respective handlers, strategists and spin supremos. The sheer awfulness and nastiness of it all is brilliantly portrayed. And let's not kid ourselves that this is an exaggeration and a caricature. It's not. This is how the game's played in our sophisticated times.


Refraining From Harm.

How To Practice – Chapter 4 – The Dalai Lama

Buddha teaches us how to find refuge from suffering and limitation, but the chief refuge, or source of protection, is found in the states of realisation achieved through practicing morality, concentrated meditation, and wisdom.

Buddhist scriptures recommend that you hide your good qualities and achievements like a lamp inside a vessel. You should not advertise them unless there is a great purpose in doing so.

Buddhists do not ask for happiness. Happiness comes from putting [spiritual doctrine] into practice. Buddha teaches the actual refuge – how to practice the doctrine – but the main responsibility lies in your own implementation. To create the foundation for an eventual spiritual state devoid of suffering and limitation we need to engage in the following practice:

1)    Identify the 10 nonvirtues (see Layer 225)
2)    Identify the 10 virtues (which are the opposites of those nonvirtues)
3)    Abandon the former and adopt the latter.

Limitation in dress is the practice of contentment regarding clothes. [Monks and nuns are limited to one set of robes] The same is true for adornments. It is a mistake to think that it is really worthwhile to spend more on food, clothing and adornments just because you have more money. Rather, spend more on health and education for poor people. This is not forced socialism but voluntary compassion.

Also, it is essential for monastics to be satisfied with adequate shelter. An elaborate home is not allowed. This is called contentment with regard to shelter. Lay people can adopt this practice by reducing the neverending quest for a better home and for the furniture and decorations in it.

Examine your attitudes toward food, clothes and shelter. By reducing expectations you will promote contentment. The extra energy which is released should be devoted to meditation and to achieve cessation of problems.

We should be contented in material areas, for those are bound by limitation, but not with regard to the spiritual, which can be extended limitlessly.

With regard to compassion and altruism there is no limit, and thus we should not be content with the degree we have.

Practicing the morality of individual liberation is also helpful in increasing mindfulness and introspection.

The practice of morality of individual liberation also fosters tolerance and patience. Buddha said that patience is the highest form of asceticism, and through it one can reach nirvana. For monks and nuns there are four qualities of patience and tolerance to maintain:

  •     If someone pushes you around, you should be tolerant, patient.
  •     If someone shows anger to you, you should not respond with anger.
  •     If someone hits you, you should not strike back.
  •     If someone embarrasses and insults you, you should not answer back.

Usually my advice to beginners is to be patient; have fewer expectations of yourself. It is most important to be an honest citizen, a good member of the human community. Whether or not you understand profound ideas, it is important to be a good person wherever you are right now.

The essence of the Buddha's teaching can be found in two sayings:
  •    If possible, you should help others.
  •     If that is not possible, at least you should do no harm.

Summary for Daily Practice
  •     Notice your attachments to food, clothes and shelter, and adopt monastic practices of contentment to a layperson's life. Be satisfied with adequate food, clothing and shelter. Use the additional free time for meditation so that you can overcome more problems.
  •     Develop a strong desire to refrain from harming others either physically or verbally no matter whether you are embarrassed, insulted, reviled, pushed or hit.


You should never, ever forget to turn the TV off after watching Andy Marr's early morning politics programme on Sundays. If you do you will become irritated beyond belief by the stuff that comes on in the God slot. There they were this morning, discussing 'angels' in front of a studio audience – media whores Cristina Odone and Kelvin McKenzie and pals – talking about whether angels exist, whether you can communicate with them, what they do for us, etc. Of course they exist. As do fairies, pixies, leprechauns, elves and hobbits. And God, of course.

Odone had two novels published, The Shrine and A Perfect Wife. She contributed to Why I am still a Catholic.


Modern Beauty - Ugly Beauty

Has beauty disappeared from modern art? Several influential modern thinkers insist that it has. And this belief has inspired them to publish a clutch of recent books which claim that modern art is no longer capable of capturing true beauty: that beauty has gone from art.
Art critic Waldemar Januszczak fiercely disagrees, believing that great art is as interested in beauty as ever.
Art's search for beauty has manifested itself in depictions of the idealised female form, glorious landscapes, lovely flower studies and perfectly arranged renaissance altar pieces - but where does this search continue today?

Januszczak's a strange guy. I'm not sure he's really got much to say about art which really adds to the sum of human knowledge and enlightenment. He filmed a lot of the programme in and around Venice, and rightly said it's a place one should go back to as often as possible, preferably out of the main tourist season.

Sample quotes from the programme -

Talking about the ancient weathered walls and surfaces - “Old things can have a beauty that's been earned.” [Grace?]
“Growing old gracefully is one of the sternest tests that life sets us.”

“Permanent change is what life's all about.”

“We should stop trying to make sense of everything. We need the inexplicable. We need mysteries. Art's purpose is to nourish our imaginations.”

Carl Andre said, “All materials are interesting. But most people are matter-blind. They don't know what things are made from.”

Jeff Koons said, “The highest state that art can take you to is the acceptance of everything.”
[Possibly he's talking about non-attachment]
And, “We should follow our interests and focus on them. There's nothing else you can do in life.”

Yoko Ono believes that all of her work has a vibration that has a positive effect on the world.

Anish Kapoor

Good vibrations ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anish Kapoor was one of the artists featured in the programme. It's no surprise he has a beautiful website:


I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue is back - a new R4 series on Mondays at 6.30, repeated midday on Sundays.

Sample comment - "The Kennington Oval cricket ground . . . so called because it's built in the shape of a cricket ground."