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Mahatma Gandhi once said:

"A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

By the Balls!

Hi Polly,
John Wayne also said: 'If you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow'. Not sure if this philosophy will have a motivational impact amongst leading British educationalists! But then he was really called 'Marion' so the psychologists will have a field day.

Do you think Ed Balls was a John Wayne fan and shares my enthusiasm for spaghetti westerns? The crux of the matter is how do we convince school children that it is cool to be clever? Why do they all want to be popstars and footballers? Is it fame or fortune? I'm sure there is a need for aspirational role models who are bright and talented to inspire children to achieve their potential and I think it's particularly telling that, apart from Carol Vorderman (whose mother was Welsh incidentally), who else comes to mind for Head of Education? She might even help Alvin and Evan out with the zeros and I know Robin is finding his sudoku a little challenging! I'll tell her your spreadsheet is a no go zone.

Take Myleene Klass, for instance, (I know Mr Gilbert would have) despite all her classical attributes it was 'Popstars' that made her a household name. We need more public figures who are enthusiastic about learning and demonstrate the intrinsic value of education? How do we make this exciting television? These are largely diversionary rantings as the truth is I don't have another nomination for our Education and Innovation post. I like Carol, but even she felt the need to restyle herself with some interesting swimming outfits...there's even a website celebrating her bum. Wait a minute...what about Stephen Fry?

I'm afraid Polly, whilst I agree with you on most things (and panic inwardly when I don't) I found myself wildly gesticulating to Edwina about your comment 'There will always be good and not so good teachers'...that simply will not do. We cannot accept mediocrity in our educationalists. It used to be a matter of salary...but the teaching pay scale seems pretty decent to me. But does it inspire our teachers of the future?

I acknowledge that if Jonathon Ross and Beckham combined salaries we could fund enough teachers to educate the nation and resolve class ratios in one blow, so what message are we delivering? Playing football and making people laugh pays zillions and being a teacher is, well, OK? Everyday jobs are not selling themselves to our do we market academia?

I'm not saying it's all about salary. Even Aunty Gladys knows 'money doesn't buy you happiness' but don't we owe it to our kids to chuck out the rubbish teachers and attract and retain the brilliant ones?

What attracts people into professions in the first place? I don't believe it is purely salary. I googled this premise and various interesting facts emerged. Firstly, there is a 'Happiness Index' and beauty therapists are infinately happier than the rest of us. Bankers and builders are a miserable bunch...but then we knew that.

Also there is a threshold after which salary has little correlation with happiness...someone thought it was £25,000 if you lived in London...I suggest the rest of the country would be cock-a-hoop to attain that. Beauty therapists in Middlesbrough would need positively restraining from too much merriment and jubilation if they had that for take home pay.

One of the major drivers of happiness is work-life balance and flexible working practices. Employers are very slow to work this out. Sorry Polly I don't mean to start a domestic with Robin, (virtual jobshare role will make you more perky) but who wouldn't be happier working from home?

The bottom line is we are selling a lifestyle of richesse to our kids which won't ultimately make them happy. If we all ditched the telly and helped an old lady in our road or underprivileged child in the locality, we might teach the next generation a bit of selflessness and as you so rightly point out, social responsibility.

Research also shows that salary in itself is arbitary. If you earn 90k a year, you ought to be elated, but if the others in your team earn 100k you feel under valued and therefore unhappy. Interesting? Also, vocational jobs that involve making things bring real job satisfaction which I'm sure is why Walter (my dry-stone walling instructor) was always so smiley. And I thought it was the bracing wind of The Peak District!

Another thing...where are our future employment skill deficits? I don't know the answer ('thank goodness' I hear you groan) but presume we don't need forensic scientists anymore. So which areas are we developing in schools for gap filling employment shortages of the future? Do we need an enticing little soap opera called 'I'm an astronaut, get me out of here?' Or have 'Gok' work his magic on some renewable energy gurus ...'Green and Naked'? How about 'IT Housewives'? And if we all took shorter hours we would address our work-life balance and unemployment in one big hit.

I know, I know...back to the day job. Edwina looks perturbed at my agitation. What night are we meeting at The Grand Union? I will be in need of a drink to calm the nerves...they do one called 'Against the Grain'. Sounds good to me!

Much love,

Ivor X

PS I agree that challenging the curriculum (or even a challenging curriculum) is a big issue. First lesson for my 12 year old nephew in food technology was fruit salad. Ed Balls said, back in January, that by using simple ingredients and simple recipes we could prepare young people for adult life. So they had a double lesson chopping up fruit. Great life-skill preparation for a future in knife crime!