12 months ago I had a Facebook account (fairly active), a Twitter account (one follower, who I also followed – but more usually we’d text each other), I even had a blog – not this one – and no one read it.
Somewhere around February things went a bit bonkers, and I’m now a confirmed blogger – I don’t have millions of viewers – I’m just coming to 2,000 visits, but I can count at least 2 Government ministers amongst them, and 4 MP’s to my certain knowledge, but actually the best bit is that I enjoy it.
Along the way I’ve had the odd hairy moment – notably publishing under my real name on a particularly turbulent weekend for Labour on a very prominent site, and which prompted the birth of Nils – my alter ego.
Mostly it’s been lots of fun though – having postings published on LabourList, Left Foot Forward, and the Progress web site, and making lots of Twitter friends – sometimes engaging in earnest political debate – but mostly just idle banter.
I’ve also joined the Labour Party – encouraged a couple of others to join, and – the icing on the cake – visited 10 Downing street earlier this month for the Downing Tweet Christmas party – courtesy of Sarah Brown, and Kerry McCarthy MP who put my name forward.
So it’s been a good year for me Tweetwise and Blogwise – Hope it’s been as good for all of you – and I hope next year brings us what we all want !
Season’s Greetings as they say in the Conservative Party, but not in the Daily Mail !
Having read Hadleigh Roberts blog : Experiment: Private school and Political Views I thought I’d try the same thing out with my own Facebook friends.
That is to say I’m examining which of my Facebook friends own up to which political persuasions (evidenced by their Facebook info), and whether it has anything to do with whether they went to a state school or a private school.
Hadleigh Roberts found an overwhelming majority placed nothing in the field for politics. Whilst the majority of those who did put something described themselves as Conservatives (and most of them went to Independent schools).
Well I also looked at religion to see what cropped up – here’s what I found :
First of all we need to take some things into account.
- I don’t really keep up to my account – I prefer twitter – many of my “friends” are actually relatives and friends of my children
- Many of my “friends” are therefore under 18 (as friends of my children) – technically not allowed a Facebook account, and not allowed to vote – but interesting nonetheless.
- An embarrassingly large number of my ‘friends’ are actually fictitious. Created by my daughter as a means of building up credit in some online game. However she found managing the lives of these people more interesting than the game and has created bizarred public school personas for each of them – however none are interested in religion or politics.
Here’s how the make up of my friends looks :
and without the youngsters :
Not many independent schoolers, especially among my kids’ friends – they’ve lost touch already with the ones who are at private schools – hence they’re not on their Facebook list.
And heres what they all think – first with respect to politics :
Well there’s only one blindingly obvious thing there – most people don’t give a stuff – or aren’t telling – Labour and Conservative neck and neck behind the Joke party (people who put supposedly funny comments).
It looks very slightly different taking the under 18s out :
Labour now get a slightly higher rating – and there’s clearly a left wing bias amongst those cat owners who expressed a preference – but more than 8 out of 10 didn’t. Hmm. Interesting also that there are at least 3 Labour party members in there that didn’t put down Labour as their politics. One also that is a well known Labour activist who didn’t either – but I put them down as Labour as their Facebook page is overwhelmingly dominated by Labour politics.
Next we come to religion :
and for the older age group :
and again it’s pretty much apathy rules again – which pleases me to a degree. I’m surprised that Christianity still holds up – especially when including the youngsters, and perhaps not so surprised that quite a few people think of religion as a joke – I included Pastafarians and several Jedi amongst the Joke category.
What does all this tell us then ?
Well sod all I guess – above all it tells us that people are more interested in Farmville than politics and religion, and I suppose that the corollary must be that the election campaign will be pretty much a lottery when it all boils down to it.
So draw your conclusions – in fact try it with your own Facebook friends, and see what you get !
I loved this video of Ed Balls in parliament haranguing the opposition, and couldn’t resist sharing.
Courtesy of Sky News’s Cheryl Smith and brought to my attention by the man himself @EdBallsMP via Twitter.
(If you can’t see the video could you send a comment please ? – I’ve had trouble embedding in the past)
Before I start I’d like to say that I’m vehemently opposed to the B N P, and racism in all forms. I’m more or less in favour of the “no platform” approach to the B N P , and don’t think he should be appearing on Question Time.
I was interested to read in the days leading to the programme, this article on the BBC website Magazine : What is a fascist?
Blatant self advertising I thought. I wasn’t initially too impressed. Actually though this was a very interesting article. I learned quite a bit from it –
“Fascism in Italy … had corporatism ingrained in is political make-up. … The corporatist model emphasises co-operation over competition”
That section came as quite a surprise – I expected it all to be about individuals and the survival of the fittest. Much as what we tend to call the “far right” in the modern day political arena.
The article doesn’t actually shed much more light on what fascism is, but it does throw up for me a big issue.
Fascism – Racism – Call it what you will – is so far beyond the pale in this country, that we can’t easily discuss the politics behind it. In a way I’m as guilty as anyone – I’m intolerant of those politics – and resist them and shout them down if I possibly can. But it does get in the way of looking at the darker periods of world history and finding out about the reasons behind some of the most painful chapters of our story.
In Germany for example it’s pretty much taboo, possibly illegal, to debate the holocaust (A point which Nick Griffin, gibbering fool that he is, has actually made). So how will we understand what drove a nation to indulge in such an inhuman industry as that – effectively murder factories.
Personally I find it hard to distinguish a Jew from a Goy, so quite how anyone could view jewish people as so inhuman as to be unconcerned at their deaths is unimaginable. So how do I imagine it ? How do I research it ?
We all tend to know how authoritarian Governments keep a hold on their power – using fear and terror to stifle criticism and dissent and clamp down on any opposition – but do we know how regimes like Mussolini’s fascists, and Hitler’s came to power in the first place – because make no mistake : they had massive popularity in their own countries – far more popular than the rag tag minorities that support the likes of Nick Griffin now.
What was it that made all of those people support an outrageously hateful regime ? How can we learn from that to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
We have a difficulty though because the moment we try to “enquire” about these outrages from history, then others – the hatemongers, the holocaust deniers, the racists, and the “fascists” start to “question” them. Not asking questions about them, but questioning whether they ever occurred. Not seeking to illuminate our understanding, but seeking to twist and warp our understanding of history to their own perverse viewpoints.
On issues such as this I can’t pretend to have any answers, but having just watched the odious Mr Griffin bumble his way through Question Time, I can just say that while ever I have breath in my body I will do all I can to oppose racism, and to prevent any chance of the holocaust and similar crimes against humanity ever happening again.
I was interested to see the latest Tory experiment with ‘open’ primary selection for candidates resulted in a less than predictable result for some of us in the world of Tweets and Blogs, but perhaps a slightly more traditionally anticipated outcome for the Conservatives who frequent the Blue Mountain Golf Centre. ( Iain Dale fails to win selection in Bracknell ) Resulting in the selection as candidate of local GP Philip Lee.
I’m not sure I can answer the questions this throws up – so I’ll restrict my self to musing over what the questions are.
First of all this wasn’t really a primary, and wasn’t all that ‘open’. It required pre-registration. and attendance at the Blue Mountain Golf Centre whose website alone would dissuade a good few from rolling up (Wonder if they have a no hoodies rule ?). More of a caucus really. However the principles are similar.
Iain Dale’s a big name in on-line politics. His blog is very widely read, and his connection with the notorious, and even more widely read Guido Fawkes blog has placed him centre stage in the blogosphere (if that’s not a few mixed metaphors and acronyms too far).
I’d imagine many people assumed that he was already an MP – and will be surprised by his non-selection. Iain puts this down (in the article linked to earlier) partly to negative spin on his homosexuality – I hope that”s not true, but fear that it is to some extent. I do suspect though that what is more likely is that there is an emerging tendency to favour local candidates – which I think would be mirrored in the Labour Party, and to favour individuals with “respectable” backgrounds – which I think will be more likely for the Conservatives, but may well affect Labour too.
That in itself is an issue. OK – I accept that people have a right to want a local candidate – but how will that sit with people who have ambitions to sit for parliament yet live in a safe sit for a party they do not belong to ? I mean if you’re a budding Tory candidate you’re not going to get very far in a safe Labour seat – or vice versa. Even in major swings of voting intentions – such as in Tony Blair’s 1997 victory, 300 or so seats never change their party ( source Electoral Calculus) – so I’m not sure how that opens things up very much. It brings the “Ryan Giggs” effect into politics – Ryan being surely likely to have been one of the worlds greatest international football players – were it not for the fact that he’s from Wales, who haven’t qualified for a major tournament in his lifetime.
It also seems to favour the local “great and good” – which might be good for me – who knows, if we can have GP’s I’m sure we could have headteachers, especially if I’m from a special school, and I’ve been a foster carer. Only trouble is I don’t know jack about politics – not really, just my own opinions, and I’ve never been a councillor or anything. But hey I’ve been a school governor so I’d get a few votes so it would be OK. OK until I got into parliament that is – then I’m not sure I’d have much idea of how to go on.
No – I’d rather vote for someone who had a little political experience under their belt – not just ‘world experience’ – but I’m not sure the ‘selectorate’ would agree.
I’m not really disagreeing with the idea of primaries, I’m just wondering about the practicalities – the niggles that would crop up and make them hard to work.
This latest Bracknell Primary for instance occurred because an MP stood down. So what would you do then if we had a mutual primary arrangement ? Have primaries for all the parties ? Or just the one ? And if you register to vote in an interim Tory primary (as Labour MP Tom Harris urged Labour voters to do Why you should vote for a Tory ) would that mean that you could still register to vote in the Labour one next time it came up ?
And I really don’t know what you’d do about safe seats. Get rid of them is the obvious answer – and I can see that that approach would have some popularity with local punters. Far better many would say, to have a well known local candidate, then a professional politician foisted on the consituency to make sure the chosen few are in the cabinet. I’m not sure though – I’d like to think that the party voted into Government won’t have half the cabinet deselected half way through the term of office, by disgruntled opposition voters registering for the primary (which they would if they wanted a say in a safe seat) – I’d also like to think that frontbenchers wouldn’t have to neglect their duties to spend time pressing the flesh in their constituencies too much just to secure re-selection.
These are all problems. Problems I’d like to think can be solved – they haven’t been solved yet though – and I think that the Bracknell Tory primary result indicates that very well.
I can’t really answer the questions – so I’ll just reiterate my opinion – Primaries are a possible way of re-democratising and re-energising politics – but I feel they can only do this if they are part of a calory controlled diet. (Sorry – I made the last bit up – I meant – Only if they are part of a wider range of electoral and constitutional reforms)
What I’d like to see as a starting point is all of the major parties putting Primaries and Electoral Reform in prime position in their manifestos for the forthcoming General Election, to let the public know exactly what kind of a will for change each party really has.
UPDATE : I’m endebted to Jessica Asato at Progress for linking back to this article via Progress’s Newsletter e-mail – Many Thanks. Subscribe to it on the Progress website at http://www.progressonline.org.uk
Last night I attended the Progress debate ‘Would primaries save or kill the Labour party?’ at Portcullis House, Westrminster and heard a wide range of Labour people – including David Lammy MP, Luciana Berger (Prospective Council candidate, London Borough of Camden & excellent blogger), Chris McLaughlin
(Editor, Tribune), Will Straw (Editor Left Foot Forward & well known Labour activist) as speakers, and Sion Simon MP, Alex Smith (editor of Labour List), Jessica Asato (acting Chair of Progress), in the audience, to name but a few whose names will be familiar to any Labour twitterers.
A very lively and entertaining debate and one which I enjoyed immensely.
Actually I have to confess that this is the only event of this nature that I’ve ever attended. Much as I truly did enjoy it, I have to say that the very act of being there – not even considering the debate that took place – spoke volumes about the need for electoral reform, and a remodelling of political parties and the political system – which may well involve the introduction of primary elections for selection of candidates.
But why ?
Sitting in the debate, and catching the view across to the Palace of Westminster, I couldn’t help but think that this was a long long way from the life which I was born to.
I spent my childhood living on a council estate in the Heavy Woollen district, the son of a factory chargehand and a nursing auxiliary. I went to a state grammar school and eventually gained a first class honours degree at Newcastle Polytechnic. My career as a teacher in special schools has left precious little time for any interest in politics, and my current position as a Headteacher in an inner London borough even less.
So I’m not in any way part of the Westminster Village – I went along to this event purely on interest gathered via the web and via twitter (actually via Luciana Bergers tweeting of the event – Luciana’s blog is listed on my ‘blog roll’ on the right)
As some one who joined the Labour Party just in June I have to admit I was slightly daunted by the prospect of visiting his event. For a start I didn’t know of the existence of Portcullis House – which for those who don’t know, is the building directly opposite the Houses of Parliament, bang on top of Westminster tube station. It’s quite an imposing venue, and the security checks complete with armed guards, and body searches only add to the sense of exclusivity.
Inside the debate there were lots of men in suits (which was commented on by David Lammy actually) (although it meant I fitted in !). Many of the people there seemed to know each other. I didn’t, well only one, but did know a few (lots actually) via twitter – and was made to feel very welcome. A truly open event – open to everyone, free of charge – a debate with top class speakers, in a first class venue. Anyone who wanted to go could do – free of charge.
I wonder would my father have ever attended though ? Or any of the staff he supervised at the British Belting and Asbestos factory in Cleckheaton for all those years ?
Well I’m sure that many of them voted Labour – I know at least one that was a Labour member, (and a very militant one at that), but you know what ? I don’t think any of them would have. They’d have been put off of course by the distance – a long way to go for a bit of a debate, and they’d have been put off by the venue (despite the fact that the venue was for me a huge plus point for the event), and yes, to be honest they’d have been put off by all the men in suits (like me). And lets not forget that many of the people on my Dad’s team were women, Pakistani and Carribean workers – certainly not all blokes with flat caps (although one or two were).
Most of them would have thought it was not for them, and in fact would have thought anyone who did go was possibly a little eccentric.
So my first reaction on entering the “village” is this : I think it’s fantastic that Labour Party organisations such as Progress can facilitate events which provide such a high level of honest, open and intelligent debate, and better still that they can make it available to everyone from whatever background.
It hits me immediately though that if Labour (or indeed any other party are to connect with the whole range of the electorate – as they must – then they (we) must find ways in which to replicate the quality and sincerity of debate that I saw last night, right across the country.
Of course I’m sure that there are a great many activities that Labour activists engage in around the country that do just that, but as the figures given last night regarding the declining membership of Labour and all parties show, there will need to be more imaginative approaches to the way things are done in future, if the general public are to be truly engaged in politics once more.
An OFSTED inspector said to me once : It’s not enough that the school makes the offer, the school must work to ensure that the offer is fully taken up.
I thnk it’s the same for political parties
I’ll try and ensure I blog something on the content of the debate in due course. Meanwhile I’d like to thank Progress for all their efforts in facilitating the event, and all the Twitter friends that I have now verified as real people – thank you !
I write this seeing news of the opinions polls to be published in the Sunday press being trailed on Saturday night – as has become traditional
There’s plenty of Tory triumphalism about – and who wouldn’t be ? 45% with a clear 19% between them and Labour 19% Tory lead in News of the World/ ICM poll would produce Commons majority of 170. And if the public were supposedly tired of the traditional 2 parties, then there’s no relief at all for the likely benefactors from that disillusionment – the Lib-Dems – who appear to have gone into meltdown.
This seems odd to me though. Last June, at the time of the European elections, it was difficult to find anyone outside the ranks of Labour diehards, to say they would vote Labour – the opinion polls as I recall (& I haven’t checked back – maybe someone would like to) reflected this, and the results at the ballot box did too.
It hasn’t been the same this last couple of weeks though – the conversations I hear on the train, in the staff room, just around and about – have been saying things like what a pillock Andrew Marr was asking Gordon Brown about pain killers.
Things like how much more inspired Gordon Brown was at the Labour party conference than they thought he was.
And when the Conservatives started their conference the floodgates opened and everybody – but everybody – I’ve talked to or overheard talking seems to be worrying about what the conservatives will do if they get elected, going on about how bad it was under Margaret Thatcher, and wondering how we could do anything to avoid it. I really have sensed a big change in the general mood.
The polls though don’t seem to show this – exactly the opposite in fact. Which bewilders me. So much in fact that I really don’t believe them.
OK – I’m a Labour supporter, and I admit that it’s hard to stomach bad news, I concede also that there’s always an element of wishful thinking in judging the political mood of the nation. It just doesn’t feel right though – I’ve been around a while and seen polls and governments come and go. The latest poll results feel very out of kilter with what’s happening.
But could Poll results be rigged ? Is it feasible ? Despite my low opinion of some of the news outlets – particularly the Murdoch empire, and the Mail – I’ve always more or less had trust in them not to fake opinion polls.
I just wonder that’s all.
To come back though to those staff room conversations worrying about the Tories, I’ve found it very interesting to hear what people have to say. Particularly as they’ve not been politics geeks like me – or like the people who are likely to read this (sorry but that’s what we are !). Most people have precious little interest in politics until they have to be interested – but those people are the ones whose votes will determine the next Government.
These people seem to be saying that they don’t want the Tories back. They don’t necessarily want Labour either though – although a commonly held opinion seems to be “better the devil you know” . It seems rather that people are instead saying – we want something new and different.
My school site manager put it best I felt (a little paraphrasing here – I can’t remember it verbatim) :
“The government system we have now is the same one we had when Disraeli and all them geezers were around. We’re all walking round with iPhones & lap tops, and they’re calling each other names sitting in an old building. We’ve got all this technology, and we stick with a system that’s hundreds of years old, and involves folding up pieces of paper and sticking it in a tin. The only time I ever use a pencil is when I vote. I don’t want to do this anymore – I want something new and better”
I think there are lessons to be learned from that. I think Labour would do well to heed them. Actually I think all the parties would – I just hope that Labour does it first.
This morning, my memories of my experiences in recruiting staff myself prompted me to blogg about the legalities of actually demanding a would be employee to demonstrate that they are not an illegal immigrant. This in relation to Baroness Scotland’s recent faux pas ( Baroness Scotland – Did she look at the passport ?, and why it doesn’t matter ! )
It took only a matter of minutes for another aspect of the same recruitment experiences to be jogged into my memory by a blog which provided me with another insight that the ace journalists didn’t seem to have grasped. In this case it was Adam Boulton blogging (The Pill Question on his SkyNews blog) about Andrew Marr’s questions on his BBC Show on Sunday to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown (The Andrew Marr Show) asking him whether he takes prescription pain killers.
Adam makes quite a song dance about this clearly trying to claim the moral and journalistic high ground over Andrew Marr, but finally deciding that, yes – it was OK to ask this question because it is in the natural interest to find out if the Prime Minister is suffering from a health problem. He says :-
“My own view is that the physical and mental health of the national leader are legitimate areas of inquiry.
The American President publishes the results of his medical examinations and I don’t see why the British Prime Minister shouldn’t. We should know if there is a problem which is specifically affecting the way he or she does his job.”
Can’t quite see the moral high ground myself there Mr Boulton.
Before I get to why I disagree with him, I’d like to point out that the question wasn’t really about health – he wasn’t actually asked about his eye-sight, although Marr talked about it, and that’s also what the PM talked about – he was just asked about medication.
This was straight out of the top drawer of “Have you stopped beating your wife bishop ?” questioning. He might as well have been asked “Do you still do the odd couple of lines of coke Gordy ?” or “Is your erectile disfunction problem still as bad as it used to be ?”. Questions which are impossible to answer without generating a negative headline, and all just like Andrew Marr’s question, thrown apropos of nothing in particular (other than smear campaigns on right wing websites).
It was interesting in fact how within minutes of this interview it was being reported via Twitter that he’d been asked not about pain killers but about anti-depressants. Compounded by the now re-edited piece Should Marr Have Asked THAT Question? – on Ian Dale’s blog. Which seemed to draw on the long running and apparently totally fictitious rumour on several right wing blogs that the Prime Minister is suffering from depression and god knows what other mental illnesses.
How convenient for them to make this error (and whether Iain Dale removed the reference or not, his good friend Guido Fawkes clearly didn’t worry about the smear on the “Prime Mentalist”).
Anyway – how does my experience recruiting staff in schools relate to this issue ? Well clearly sometimes people apply for jobs with illnesses or other medical conditions which make it very difficult to actually do the job in practice. Which is why on recruiting we place a health questionnaire in with the application forms.
Thing is though, I never see those forms – they are placed in a sealed envelope and sent directly to our Occupational Health advisers (if the candidate is appointed). They read the form, they sometimes talk to the person, they some times ask them to go for a medical, rarely they seek permission to speak with their doctor.
After all this they send me a letter which says simply “This person is fit for employment” – or “This person is not fit for employment” or “This person is fit for employment subject to the following guidance …”
If health problems crop up at a later date I can ask about them, but the employee does not have to tell me. I can refer to Occupational Health and they can write to doctors (having gained written permission from the employee) to ask for further information about health problems.
The bottom line is – Yes – health is important to a persons ability to do the job, but unless I have advice that I need to make adjustments due to a persons health, or that they are unfit to do the job, then the patient’s (employee’s) health – including treatment and medication is entirely confidential.
and I really can’t see why that should be any different for a teacher, a classroom assistant, or any other person – including the Prime Minister
So in my book that goes for Adam Boulton, and Andrew Marr as well :
Gordon Brown’s prescriptions from his doctor are confidential.
That means that they are none of your business !
Just a quick one.
The story about Baroness Scotland employing an illegal immigrant continues to rumble on. Now the Mail claims that the “illegal” in question says that Baroness Scotland never looked at her passport. So who’s the liar ?
First of all (ignoring the possibility that the “illegal” may not be an absolutely reliable witness given that the antics of Baroness Scotland may well be about to get her deported) the issue of whether she looked at the passport is an irrelevance, Baroness Scotland has already pleaded guilty to the offence. She admits she made no record of her checks. So in a legal sense, she didn’t make any – not proper ones, and they are the only ones which count.
However as someone who has employed rather a few people who have had overseas passports it does cross my mind whether she’d have been allowed to look at the passport in the first place.
If you are taking on an employee, it’s generally considered OK to ask for :
- Evidence of a person’s identity
- Evidence of their eligibility to work in the UK
However it’s not considered OK to make extensive investigations as to whether a person is an illegal immigrant or not – that’s not an employers job. It’s considered discriminatory if a potential employee is subjected to checks and inquiries in excess of those that you would make for any other applicant – for instance a white middle class man with a home counties accent.
So in general, if a person can prove who they are – perhaps with a driving licence and a utilities bill to name two commonly accepted methods, has two bona fide references from previous employers, and also has a document showing proof of National Insurance number (and this is a permanent NI number not beginning with the letter ‘T’) then it would be unreasonable to go asking for passports. You could and should assume that the NI number was issued after exhaustive procedures to establish entitlement.
So it would be quite possible to do normal checks without ever seeing a passport. Not without seeing a National Insurance number though – and one does wonder whether the lady in question had one.
As to whether Baroness Scotland knew that or whether she did any of that, I’ve no idea – but she’s admitted her wrongdoing – and that makes the Mail’s campaign irrelevant.
Makes you think though doesn’t it.
Personally I think what she’s done is trivial and fairly unimportant, she’s a politician not a Human Resources expert.
I do however feel that she should be aware of this in her position, and that even in the case of relatively trivial offences, the office of Attorney General needs to be so far above reproach, that the only honourable course of action for her is to hand in her resignation.
I was suprised this morning to read of Ed Balls interview with the Sunday Times Labour’s £2bn cuts for schools in which he apparently calls for around £2bn worth of cuts to the education system, arrived at by – amongst other things, reducing the senior leadership teams of schools, and also making savings by bringing schools together in “Federations” where they would have one head overseeing many schools.
He doesn’t seem to be saying quite the same thing on his web site where he publishes a transcript of a later interview televised on the BBC’s The Politics Show Transcript of interview on The Politics Show . It’s interesting that the BBC in it’s version of the two interviews seems to rely rather more on the edited account of the Time’s interview, than it does on the interview it carried out itself : ‘Labour ‘could save schools £2bn’ . Perhaps because Ed Balls did say in the BBC interview “I think it’s really important to have a head in every school, that’s my view”, and also (in relation to federation of schools) “I’m not saying … I’m going to impose from the top down you must do this” – which sort of takes the sting out of it.
He did more than hint though at making savings through a reduction in Senior Managers, and that this could be partly achieved by encouraging Federations of schools.
So what it’s it all about ?
Well I may be a headteacher, but I don’t really know. Ed Balls is not a foolish man, and must have been aware that this would be reported, pretty much in the way it has been – a way in which at first glance few people working in the field of education would immediately clap their hands with glee.
I do know a few things though. I know that forming federations at the moment is a matter which is done at the discretion purely of the Governing Bodies of the schools involved. So it would involve either primary legislation, or an unprecedented co-ordination of Local Authority arm-bending to make sure federations happen in any large numbers.
Not that they don’t happen. In fact one of the reasons why federations do crop up is that many schools find it difficult to recruit suitable headteachers, and quite often end up seconding a head from a nearby school to oversee another one – this has in some cases led to “executive heads” being appointed across several schools. I couldn’t comment on whether it saves money – you’d need to do the sums in a real situation. However,I can’t imagine it would save much. Having an executive head often means having individual heads as well – or at least having ‘super deputies’ paid a similar salary to a head. Once you lose the sitting candidates (who are often the first post holders for “super deputy” jobs) these can be difficult posts to fill. In many ways all the responsibilities of a head (some of them legal responsibilities) – but without autonomy and individual influence on the school that a true headship brings. No head who has enjoyed being a head would ever want to go back to “running someone elses show”.
What I seem to be sensing from Ed Ball’s comments is a hint towards further Government commitment to ways of ‘radicalising’ schools – in current parlance this of course means academies, trust schools, specialist school and federations of schools – all of which have met to some extent with criticism from teachers unions.
I’m not particularly opposed to them though. Here’s why -
Since the Conservatives took power in 1979, and particularly since the Education Reform Act of 1989 there’s been a move towards schools having greater and greater independence in managing their own affairs. The role of a Headteacher has changed dramatically – and is now a multi-faceted business leadership role – but one which requires experience and expertise in education first and foremost as a qualification for the post. There are things that crop up in Headteachers woking lives then that are way outside their realm of experience – and many is the time when I would dearly love to employ – (for example) – an accountant, a computer engineer, an architect, a builder, a fund raiser, another 4 secretaries – I could go on. Why – because they would help me to do the things that I either don’t have time for, or am simply not particularly good at.
Of course I am at liberty to employ those people if I wish – so what stops me ? Two things ! - first of all it’s very difficult to move from the structure of schools which is well established – it’s hard to think radical, because everything’s set up to keep things the same. Secondly – I’m too small. I can’t afford to do those things.
Now – supposing I was part of a group of 5 schools. Then we might be able to appoint some people who could help us to be more efficient. Suppose that we had more freedom to employ people in roles other than the traditional ones – dare I say it – as an Academy ? Then we could think radical – we could stop trying to do all the same old things better, and start doing new things better. We could forge partnerships with Universities, we could place our teachers on research programmes, sponsored by the people who sponsor university research. We could … well we could do all sorts really.
This is what I think Ed Balls is after, and I’m not especially disagreeing (I could pick a few holes though). There are plenty who would though – the NUT for one union (and I’m a member) would throw a real wobbly for sure. So I think the Secretary of State is measuring his words, knowing that anything in the press that smacks of a slap in the face for the relatively highly paid will go down well in at least some circles, and knowing that there’ll be time enough to present a radical agenda at some time in the future.
Well that’s my guess anyway.