Friday, February 28, 2014

We need more satirists to show the City how it really looks!

Every so often, the public prints get a news story absolutely right.
I have found in so many cases, the best interpretation of events is to be found in the cartoon sections, particularly on the business pages.
I have been blogging on the issues of the absence of moral responsibility in the financial sector for a long time now! So, imagine my great surprise (and pleasure) to see a cartoon which encapsulates, in its entirety, the whole moral conundrum which the City and the criminal banksters face every day.
The fact that this cartoon appeared at the same time as the announcement that RBS was paying out a raft of bonuses to its employees, merely makes the amusement even sweeter.
I will seek to describe the cartoon in greater detail in a later paragraph, but let me set the scene by commenting on the latest bonus nausea emanating from the Caledonian bank of unreformed criminals, conmen and clowns.
The RBS chief executive, Ross McEwan, acknowledged that the issue of paying bonuses was "highly emotional" as he explained the multimillion pound windfall at the taxpayer-owned institution.

I would have thought that emotion was the least of his worries, because he is clearly, in his own words, rewarding his staff for their criminality, I mean, he says so himself, in terms.

I had always thought that bonuses were paid when employees reached a specific target, but not in Scotland, apparently. This year the bank paid up huge bonuses despite suffering an £8.24bn loss in 2013 as it slumped into the red for the sixth successive year.

Now, as a tax-payer, I am a shareholder in this joke institution. We have been ploughing money into this shell for years, and still it hasn't finished paying off its debts and punishments.

The CEO avers; "...I need to pay these people fairly in the marketplace to do the job. I do need to make sure we are there or thereabouts and that is all I'm asking for..." he said.

Not unreasonable you may think, until you come to realise that the latest annual loss was caused by £3.8bn of costs for settling litigation and regulatory problems – including £1.5bn extra to compensate customers fraudulently induced payment protection insurance and interest rate swaps in the UK – and £4.5bn of losses on bad assets.

He was literally rewarding his people for the mess that they had created for the bank. When you fraudulently induce customers to pay for PPI insurance, secure in the knowledge that it isn't going to do what you are claiming, you commit the offence of criminal fraud, and you deserve to be nicked. Try clocking a second hand car before you sell it and see what sympathy you will get from the courts if it is discovered. The principle is exactly the same.

The company's shares fell 6.7% to 330.2p on the receipt of the news, wiping more than £2.5bn off the market value of a business that is 81%-owned by the taxpayer.
McEwan, who took over from Stephen Hester in October, at least got some things right. He said that RBS needed to regain the trust of its customers and the public.
"We happen to be the least trusted bank in the least trusted sector in the marketplace," he said.
Well, don't worry McEwan, there are a whole heap of banks queuing up behind to challenge you for that title!
Bankers' bonuses continue to plague the industry amid public uproar over past misconduct. Barclays increased bonuses to £2.4bn. HSBC said on Monday it would increase salaries for its bosses to get around a European union cap on bonuses.

McEwan, who has turned down his bonus for 2013 along with his executive team, declined to say whether RBS would ask shareholders, including the government, for permission to circumvent the EU bonus cap this year. "The board has not opined," he said.
I'll bet they haven't. Considering that such a move would hit them all, in the pocket if it goes wrong, I'll bet they are all sitting shtum and waiting for someone else to make the first move.!
McEwan replaced Stephen Hester as chief executive after Hester was forced out last year by chancellor George Osborne. At the time, RBS said Hester was leaving because a new boss was needed for the start of privatisation, possibly this year.
But McEwan said his plan would take up to five years to complete, casting doubt on the government's ability to sell its 81% stake any time soon.
So, yet another lie in a long line of lies and mis-statements from this pile of hopeless crap. Frankly, we would all have been better off, if when it was in so much financial trouble, the Government had just taken it over and wound it up in the public interest. We would have lost some money, admittedly, but each year we are forced to spend more and more on this criminogenic edifice, just to keep it afloat.
And what has all this got to do with a cartoon in the Daily Telegraph?
I am always amused when I hear the private protestations of bankers about wrong-doing in their institutions.
"...No no, we didn't know that anything untoward was going on...What do you mean I am the CEO and should know what happens in my bank...All our staff are fully trained in their compliance objectives..." etc, etc!
Well, the cartoonists who draw the Alex cartoon on the Business Section page, clearly have a very cynical view of such protestations too, indeed, I never cease to marvel how close to the truth and the reality of the City their cartoons get.
Alex is the epitome of the loathsome investment banker. He and his wimpy friend, Clive work for a huge banking institution. They are at a senior level in the process and Alex thinks only of the money he already has, and the greater amount of money he can acquire through bonuses
He has recently picked up his wife's I-Pad by mistake, and as she is a major non-executve director of a large corporate conglomerate, he not unreasonably believes that the I-Pad will contain a vast amount of confidential corporate information which he can use to gain business advantage.
In the cartoon, he has been busy trying to get the I-Pad open to read the information, but he cannot gain access as the contents are encrypted. Succeeding eventually because his PA knows his wife's birth date, Alex has of course forgotten it, he then decides to give the pad to a young intern to go through the information and summarise its usefulness. We pick up the story where the young intern is telling Alex what she has done with the pad.
Alex says: "...You did what with that I-Pad I entrusted to you, Amelia..?"
Answer: "...I handed it in to Compliance..."
Alex says: "...You utter idiot..."
Amelia says: "...Look, Alex, you were asking me to extract information from an illicitly-obtained device. This clearly breaches the bank's fraud prevention code..."
Alex: "...I don't believe this, you're a graduate trainee! Your only function is to do tasks that we delegate to you...What do you think gives you the right to lecture me on business ethics..."
Amelia: "...Maybe the fact that you all delegated the task of doing your on-line anti-fraud training modules to me. I got 100%..!"
Alex: "...But you weren't supposed to take it seriously..."
In this perfectly encapsulated small vignette, the cartoonists have amplified the whole gamut of how the City fails to take Compliance issues seriously, and how young trainees are shown the worst kind of business examples.
Alex and his friends abuse the young trainee's time by getting her to complete their electronic training requirements, a feature which is ubiquitous in all bank training, particularly money laundering awareness, and then when she demonstrates that she has learned the lessons the training was intended to inculcate, she is blamed for taking it seriously.
So the message that comes through is that Compliance is all a waste of time, unethical behaviour is acceptable as long as you make money, that breaching the bank's codes of procedure and crime prevention are there to be ignored, and that it is perfectly permissible to abuse young interns and trainees.
I know that the cartoonists are only doing this to raise a laugh, but underneath the laughter, there is a very serious message being spelt out here! All this wrong-doing, this criminality is driven by over-paid executives who are willing to flout the norms and ethics of conventional behaviour to make more money. They all know what they are doing, and they all know it is wrong, and we need to start locking them up.
We need more cartoonists and satirists to hold a mirror up to nature in the Square Mile. Perhaps if we had a Thomas Rowlandson, or a Hogarth, a Jonathan Swift  or a Daniel Defoe alive and working today, we would have a wonderful set of examples to pick from.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Finally taking financial crime seriously.

Three former Barclays employees have been charged over the alleged manipulation of Libor benchmark interest rates.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) named them as Peter Charles Johnson, Jonathan James Mathew and Stylianos Contouglas.

The men are accused of conspiracy to defraud between 2005 and 2007 and are due to appear at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court on a date still to be announced.

The SFO said its Libor investigation was continuing.

Just in case you hadn't noticed recently, the City and its banks have been continuing to live down to their shabby reputations and men like these represent but the visible tip of an iceberg-sized problem of alleged criminogenisis within the Square Mile.

The City of London has, over the past few years, become synonymous with every kind of skulduggery, sharp practice, flaky conduct and downright criminality it is possible to imagine.

The banking sector has developed into a mafia-like organised criminal enterprise, where every kind of wrongdoing has been permitted and encouraged in order to earn profit for the organisation.

Oh, there are many who will cavil at this description and who will accuse me of hyperbole, but what other description can you apply to a business sector which repeatedly has to set aside many millions of pounds in order to pay penalties and fines imposed for its criminal conduct, and which has had to repay billions of pounds in restitution for criminally-acquired revenues arising out of downright fraud, deceit and lies.

Despite all the attempts by Government to soft-soap the criminal activities committed by the banks by calling their wrong-doing 'mis-selling', a concept hitherto completely unknown to English criminal jurisprudence, the fact is that someone has been committing the crimes which have penalised so many innocent clients or investors. The banksters have been receiving their bonuses, that's for sure, and they couldn't have been paid these figures unless they had delivered the level of profits to justify them.

The British banking sector has been committing financial crimes for many years and it has relied upon the spineless regulatory model which oversees its activities, coupled with its friends and fellow-travellers in the Houses of Parliament who can be relied on, when a particularly egregious example of criminal conduct become public, to call for a cessation of any investigation, for fear of damaging the so-called 'good name of the City of London'.

What good name? Who do you know who has any good word to say for the vast majority of bankers? The sort of people who seek recourse to the dubious services the City bankers offer do so because in so many cases, they have money they don't want to have to explain in too great a degree of detail and they know it is a place where crooks and fellow scumbags can congregate, sure in the knowledge that they will be among friends and that no-one will ask any awkward questions.

The level of moral probity and decent honourable conduct has sunk to an ebb so low that one would have to be of extra-sharp sight to identify it (or what was left of it, to be more precise).

At a time when the vast majority of ordinary people in this country are struggling to make all the ends meet; where thousands of householders have been flooded out of their homes following the worst floods for centuries, the bankers, who have been supported by billions of British tax-payers' pounds to keep their flaky jobs intact, are still, even where they have made vast losses, managing to pay themselves levels of bonuses, of such obscene levels as to make any ordinary decent human being want to vomit.

In any other walk of life you couldn't make this scenario up and expect people to believe it, but when it comes to the City, the Square Mile, the denizens of Throgmorton Street, you have no choice but to believe the true foulness of its ability to demand more and more money, and to be allowed to continue their life as a protected species.

I am sick and tired of watching while the City of London and its banking sector manages to add yet another notch to its tally of wholesale wrongdoing and criminality, and I know that, increasingly, I am not alone. More and more, ordinary people are writing to me saying how enraged they are at the activities of the banks, and sharing tales of squalid horror with me, describing how they have been ripped off, defrauded, or had their mortgages foreclosed on, even though they were not in arrears or in any breach of their agreements.

So, I was delighted to learn that these charges were being brought against former Barclays (where else) employees over the alleged wrongdoing inside the LIBOR manipulation story.

But don't hold your breath.

Already there are rumours leaking out of the enquiry team itself and beginning to circulate in Whitehall and beyond, that certain highly-placed civil servants are already voicing 'concerns' that this investigation will be 'bad for the national interest'. 

This is the start of a Mandarin-inspired campaign of quiet advice being proffered to Ministers that this case would be far better off being quietly buried.

Such episodes happen more often than any of us would wish to see taking place in what we are told is a democracy.

As a detective, I once worked on a case, at a time when exorbitant levels of taxation were levied on unearned income, involving a large number of hugely wealthy British investors who had placed money with a Commodity Broker because it was known that he had a fool-proof method of spiriting the money out of the country and laundering it into Swiss Bank accounts.

All the individuals concerned had benefited from this clever form of wholesale tax evasion, but when the time came to prefer charges against them and their broker, we suddenly discovered that the Director of Public Prosecutions had determined that 'It was not in the public interest to continue with the investigation, and the whole case was wrapped up and quietly dropped.

At a wash-up meeting, I, and my colleagues were livid with anger and we accused a representative of the DPP's Office of being leant on and subjected to political interference.

The man looked at me in that patronising way that civil servants have perfected over the years when dealing with those not of their clique, and said;

"...I can assure you officer that we are never subjected to political interference.....We merely receive advice as to the public interest..."

Make of that what you will!

It is this kind of interference with the judicial process that has allowed the financial sector to continue to operate their criminal scams with impunity. It is what makes them believe that they are a protected species. It is what sets up a false set of parameters within which the crimes of the elites and the powerful get covered up and disguised, all in the name of some form of cynical 'pragmatism' designed to benefit UK plc. It is completely unjustified, it has no moral justification, and it arises out of a misguided sense of elitism that falsely teaches that the interests, (real or imagined) of the UK must be protected. I am of the belief that the greater interests of this country would be served by these wicked men being investigated, charged and convicted of their crimes.

For this reason, among so many others too numerous to mention, from that time I formed an almost unreasoning hatred of the senior British civil servant, which time has not managed to diminish!

Their overweening arrogance and their elevated sense of their own importance, to say nothing of the self-perpetuating, mistaken belief in their own superior intellectual capacity, places them in a special category of dangerous individual, and more public mischief and damage to the common weal has been caused by their influence, than anything else I can determine.

I once worked with a former senior civil servant from the Department of Trade and Industry at one of the City Regulatory bodies. He would often try to put me down in internal meetings by accusing me of adopting 'consumerist' attitudes towards victims of financial fraudsters, and when I stood up for their interests, he would say that when it came to regulatory decision-making, "...wiser minds than yours will prevail..."

That is why, when I heard from a friend that there were already the insouciant mutterings emanating from faceless Whitehall warriors that the investigation into the LIBOR case might possess the quality of needing to be buried very deeply away for fear of damaging some spurious interest which does not benefit you or me, I felt the urgent need to write this piece, in the hope that we can muster enough public support to ensure that this investigation is not quietly put to bed.

We simply cannot go on, allowing every Tom, Dick and Harriet, to play fast and loose with every norm and every standard of decent and honest conduct, without something being done about it.

We have to support the SFO in their investigations and insist that when the decision-making time comes, well, let the cards fall where they may. We have already infuriated the Americans very much in this case already, and that is not necessarily a clever move, regardless what the Mandarins of the Treasury might feel.

The SFO first announced that it would look into the inter-bank lending rate set in London and its alleged manipulation, in July 2012, and it launched an investigation in conjunction with the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the United States Department of Justice.

Barclays had already paid $454 (£290m) in July 2012 to settle allegations from US and UK regulators that it had manipulated Libor interest rates. Its previous fine was over the manipulation of Libor and Euribor interbank rates between 2005 and 2009. The impact of this scandal led to its chairman and chief executive resigning amid a barrage of criticism about standards and culture.

UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland and Rabobank have since paid bigger settlements for alleged Libor manipulation, and more banks are expected to face fines. Three other people, not connected to Barclays, have previously been charged by the SFO.

What this demonstrates is that this is a case that goes to the root of what is wrong with the culture of criminogenisis which is perpetuated within the Square Mile!

The Libor rate is used to set trillions of dollars of financial contracts, including many car loans and mortgages, as well as complex financial transactions around the world.

Last month, three former Rabobank employees were charged in the US over allegedly conspiring to manipulate the Yen Libor benchmark interest rate since 2006, and if convicted, the traders could face up to 30 years in prison.

Authorities in the US, Asia and the UK are trying to convict companies and individuals they believe manipulated the key benchmark Libor rate.

Officials in the U.S. Justice Department and the U.K. Serious Fraud Office clashed late last year in their mutual pursuit of Tom Hayes, a trader who is viewed by prosecutors in both countries as a ringleader of banks' attempts to rig the Libor rate.

British citizen Tom Hayes, a former UBS and Citigroup trader, has  been charged in connection with the SFO's investigation. But this case has led to a breakdown in relations between the UK and the US investigators.

The friction in this case possesses all the hallmarks of being capable of jeopardizing trans-Atlantic cooperation on future financial-fraud investigations. The Americans already have a long and bruising history of bad dealings with the UK authorities when it comes to protecting the financial interests of the City of London.

This latest row revolves around events that played out in rapid succession last December. The trouble began, it is alleged,  when the U.K. government unexpectedly blocked a Justice Department request to interview Mr. Hayes, who lives outside London.

Then, without notifying the U.S, British fraud prosecutors arrested Mr. Hayes and two others in connection with their own probe on Dec. 11th — infuriating American officials, according to sources familiar with the U.S. investigation. The U.S. prosecutors punched back the next day by filing sealed criminal fraud charges against Mr. Hayes.

It is highly unlikely that Mr. Hayes will ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom, according to the same sources familiar with the matter. The reason: If Mr. Hayes strikes a deal with U.K. officials, it could block his extradition to the U.S. thanks to British double-jeopardy laws.

The US Justice Department started investigating potential rate manipulation about three years ago, in conjunction with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the U.K. Financial Services Authority. The SFO didn't get involved until last July, shortly after Barclays PLC, agreed to pay the fines to settle charges that its employees tried to rig the benchmark interest rate. Since then, the SFO has been scrambling to catch up. The process was facilitated by the extensive evidence already collected by the U.S. and the FSA, which those agencies shared with the SFO, according to sources familiar with the case.

It is most likely that both Mr Hayes and the UK Government will want him to be charged and tried in the UK, if he is to be tried at all. He may prove to be ultimately more valuable as a witness, but who knows what he might say under aggressive cross-examination.

This unpleasantness over Mr. Hayes reflects a strained relationship between U.S. and British law-enforcement, according to law-enforcement officials and lawyers in both countries, a bad relationship which goes back many years. A fairly modern example was the BCCI investigation, where the then head of the SFO refused to allow US investigators to even remain in the building of the SFO in Elm Street and ordered them to return to their hotel, pending 'clarifications' of their role!

Whatever the outcome, we must all hope that this case does come to trial. During the BCCI investigation, when the British were being remarkably obstructive towards the US authorities investigations, a senior New York prosecutor, John Moscow made a comment at a Cambridge conference. Standing in a packed hall, he threw down a challenge to the British civil servants present by saying;

" ...Don't even think of trying to sweep this mess under the carpet - If you do, you won't have any space between the carpet and the ceiling..."

How right he was then, and his words still have the same resonance today

Friday, February 07, 2014

An Open Letter To Michael Gove.

In my last blog, I made a series of observations about the comments made by a former No.10 policy wonk on ways of improving education in the UK.

Since writing that article, I have listened to Michael Gove talking about his desire to create a teaching environment in this country such that there will be no distinction in teaching standards between the Independent sector and the ordinary State school.

This is a highly laudable ambition and one which no doubt might be capable of achievement, but before any moves can be made to begin to recreate this brand new bright tomorrow, those responsible for administering and supervising the State education services, have got to sit down and take stock of what is going on around them.

I am not talking about the teachers - they have already been made subject to more than enough demands for change. I am talking about the plethora of Government administrators, politicians, advisers, and other hangers-on, who seem to feel that they are qualified to advise, propose, or determine how teaching must and will be performed in this country.

I know a little of that which I speak. I come from a Welsh family in which it was widely held that to be a teacher was a most honourable profession, one which sought to guide, inform and better equip its recipients for their function in adulthood.

My mother was a highly talented teacher, my aunt was a teacher, a number of other relatives in my family were all highly-qualified teachers, both in schools and in university. I now teach, albeit to law students in an LL.M program. My wife is a teacher of adult students, and our children have both qualified as teachers, both with excellent classically academic degrees from leading Universities, coupled with high PGCE qualifications. You could say that teaching is for us a means of keeping faith with our backgrounds and our family heritage.

As a child, I went first to an ordinary State junior school in what was then a run-down, war-damaged suburb of South-East London, housed in a classic Victorian community school building. It was drab and shabby, with little in the way of resources, but I had the privilege of being taught by an inspirational man, Leslie Davies, a transplanted Welshman from Tredegar, who had, like so many of his generation from coal-mining families in South Wales, been saved from the rigours of the pit by his aptitude for study. His family had recognised this ability, and his father and brothers had worked tirelessly in the mine so that he could have the opportunity to go first to Grammar School, and then, via the benefit of competitive scholarships, to Jesus College, Oxford (the Welshman' s College), where he had read English.

He had gone into teaching straight from University because it was the profession he most admired and because he wanted to teach children to learn what was necessary to take their place in the world.

He was a highly gifted teacher who revered good English essay writing, mental arithmetic, and clear and expressive use of vocabulary. Every day we had to recite the mathematical multiplication tables until we knew them by rote. At any time during the teaching day we could expect him to suddenly turn on one of us and snap out a question, '...What are six sevens, Bosworth-Davies..?' and woe betide anyone who got a wrong answer, because it meant that we were all kept back after school to continue to recite the tables.

He demanded perfect spelling and grammar in any piece of writing, and any mistake repeated twice was met with a demand for the hapless child to write the word out 500 times after school, until it was literally burned into one's sub-conscious. I can still not write the word 'because' without remembering that empty classroom, and my wrist and hand going numb from constantly re-writing that word which I could never get right.

He wore hairy tweed jackets, smoked a series of foul-smelling pipes, often in the classroom at the end of lessons, and he used the cane which he kept in the cupboard behind his desk. I got it twice, once for failing to provide a piece of work which was up to the standard he expected from me, and once for refusing to tell him who had smashed a classroom window, when he had seen me in the vicinity when it was broken. He caned me first for disobedience to his order, but then gave me six class credits for standing by my friends and not grassing. He was that kind of man.
His regime was incredibly strict, he ran his classes with an iron hand, but he inspired immense affection and respect. He read great classic stories aloud to the class every Friday afternoon, and he insisted that we learn poetry by heart and recite it . Every single child taught by him inevitably passed the eleven plus exam, went on to Grammar School, (I was one of two lucky boys who won full Local Authority Scholarships to an Independent Public School), and the majority of his former pupils went on to University, many to Oxbridge.

He was an unashamed meritocrat, he believed that children would not learn unless they were pushed to the limit, and he practiced his philosophy by stretching our minds and our intellects at every turn. He would stand at the front of the class and repeat his mantra which was, for him, an act of faith.

"...You working-class children have got to realise that the only way out of your lower-class backgrounds is through hard work and scholarship. With education, you can make something of yourselves, but without constant hard work and study, you will simply not achieve anything..."

The point of this pen portrait is to amplify and emphasise the salient points about successful education. It requires very hard work, with commitment from both teacher and pupil, and it requires significant discipline in the classroom so that the time allocated to learning is not wasted. Pupils have to be willing to turn up on time, in a fit state to be taught and to learn, and with the full understanding that if they transgress, if they disrupt the class, if they become rude, insulting or aggressive, then they will be punished.

All the rest is mere window dressing!

How that social contract is devised and designed is an individual matter for the school, the parents and the pupils, but it is vital that whatever format it assumes, it is agreed and understood from day one. When I was a schoolboy, there would have been no point in my complaining at home that I had been in trouble with my teacher because I would have been punished again. Today, the cane is outlawed, but there are other forms of punishment which can be devised and utilised sensibly and fairly which do not offend against our more Liberal sensibilities.

Teaching is not rocket science. That is not to say it is not highly skilled, and not everyone has the talent or the ability to be able to teach children effectively. It needs a deep level of commitment, a significant depth of intellectual achievement and a burning wish to help children expand and enlarge their minds and their intellects. Not every person has the patience or the intellectual capacity to teach efficiently, but those who do, and within this group, I include the vast majority of decent men and women who daily lead the learning experience in our schools, should be respected and acknowledged for the expertise they possess, the years of study they have committed to work in this sector, and for foregoing the financial rewards which they could earn elsewhere but which they willingly renounce in order to teach!

For all these reasons, men like Paul Kirby, the KPMG bean counter and former political policy weasel, who believes that teachers' views are irrelevant -

(he is quoted as saying "...But the role schools play in our national and family life is far too important to leave to teachers. And it’s certainly too important to leave to their knee-jerk, as opposed to thoughtful, responses...")

- and he proposes that they must commit even more hours to become unpaid child minders or prison warders, need to be isolated (see previous blog in this series) and identified for the mean spirited, Gradgrind he truly is.

But there remain some vitally important issues which need to be addressed openly if the future of teaching is to be ensured and Mr Gove's (not unreasonable) ambitions for State schools are to be achieved.

No teacher, no matter how talented or dedicated can provide the full educational input if they are constantly being distracted by disruptive and sociopathic pupils who are determined  to cause trouble.

Such a situation would never have occurred in Leslie Davies' classes, we were all too aware of the potential response and the outcome for us if we had misbehaved in any way. Even to talk with friends without being first invited was forbidden and resulted in a punishment.

Having watched the recent BBC 3 tv series 'Tough Young Teachers', I have been both amazed, but also incensed by the apparent level of acceptance of conduct by pupils, which is downright disruptive. Children refusing to contribute to class lessons, walking on tables, throwing chairs, falling asleep, shouting, ignoring teacher requests and generally behaving in a boorish, aggressive manner designed to be frankly intimidating.

I am also appalled by the demands for the need for constant praise and encouragement which apparently is considered to be de rigeur, and trotted out ceaselessly to pupils, merely for undertaking the most simple and basic of tasks.

Schools must bring back a regime of pragmatic discipline which is understood by all, parents, teachers and pupils alike! It is the most fundamental of all requirements, and without absolute discipline in the class, nothing is achieved. This does not mean a return to the days of corporal punishment which I remember, but it does mean a social contract between teachers, parents and pupils, which all sign up to, and adhere to.

Disruptive conduct is often symptomatic of other problems. Many children attend school  improperly fed. Too many parents allow their offspring to choose what they want for the first meal of the day, and in so many cases, the foods eaten are wholly inappropriate. Children need a proper breakfast if they are to be at their peak of attentiveness. All too often, egregious conduct results from poor or no food choices, my son describes pupils arriving in class having consumed highly-sugared, so-called 'energy drinks' but no other food. Such drinks merely exacerbate any tendency to over-excitable behaviour.

Children need sleep, young people who are studying need 8 hours sleep a night if at all possible. Too much exposure to junk tv programmes, or worse, hours spent on electronic games or inappropriate Internet websites can cause sleep deprivation and ingrained tiredness, which leads to inattention, irascibility and poor behaviour.

None of these observations are rocket science, nor do they need to cost one penny more in the education budget to achieve. They are part of the social contract that parents should be required to sign up to, and which, years ago, were merely part of the ordinary way of life for the vast majority of ordinary people.

Another radical change that is demanded is that children must be made to see the importance of the need to undertake the work they are required to do. Again, this is a discipline issue, together with input from parents ensuring that homework is properly completed and delivered on time.

My son has identified a whole generation of youths who see no point in doing any school work at all. He describes them as 'congenitally bone idle and dysfunctional'. He talks about a certain type of youth who sees absolutely no point in doing any study or academic work at all, and who is completely disinterested in the fact that he will not achieve any school qualifications.

Having undertaken his teacher training in a very gritty sub working-class area of the North-West of England, he describes how the kind of youths described here viewed him, their teacher as '...merely an irritating obstacle between them and their careers as professional footballers or celebrities..." despite the fact they had neither the sporting skill nor any other obvious talents.

To start a regime of change which will lead to the eventual realisation of Michael Gove's ambitions, we need a fundamental, root and branch re-think of the relationship between schools, parents and their children.

On the first day of arriving at a new school, parents must be required to complete and sign a contract which will spell out precisely what is required of them and their children in the future.
The contract will set out the rules of engagement and will make it clear that any deviation from the requirements in terms of classroom conduct, or episodes of ill-discipline, will be grounds for exclusion. Exclusion of classroom disrupters has to be swift and effective before the damage is too widely inflicted on the rest of the class. Both parents and children have to be made to learn that education at the expense of the State is a significant privilege, and that they owe a duty of responsibility to ensure that their children attend school in a suitable manner, ready to learn and willing to comply with what are only normal parameters of civilised behaviour and good manners.

Any parent or pupil who is unwilling to agree to these terms will face permanent exclusion from the school, and placed instead in an authorised reception centre for disruptive pupils.
In such a way, Mr Gove would begin to develop a disciplined culture which would in turn, render schools fit for purpose, and enable teachers to do what they do best, to teach!

None of these recommendations are costly, nor do they need vast armies of advisers to implement them. Reintroduce basic civilised discipline in the classrooms of the State sector, and the British education service will flourish again.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Gove, leave those teachers alone

The latest piece of nonsense emanating from a former Government adviser dictates that school days could be extended to nine hours, and holidays cut drastically under a series of new measures being proposed for consideration by Downing Street.

Children would go to school from 9am until 6pm, instead of the current hours of 8.30am to 3.10pm, and holidays would be slashed from 13 weeks to seven.

These radical plans are being drawn up by David Cameron's former policy chief Paul Kirby. He believes the measure would solve a wide range of issues, as he puts it, 'transforming the lives of most households in the UK within two years'.

He believes the extended days could reduce youth crime, boost education standards and prepare children for the world of work by getting them used to full days.

Kirby clearly understands nothing about modern schooling, but being a policy adviser, he probably cares less. Nevertheless, this doesn't prevent him from promulgating policies of manifest lunacy, because of course, he will not have to be the person responsible for implementing them!

What does he possibly think such moves are going to achieve, and how does he think they are going to be realised?

Kirby is a typical bean counter, the sort of man whom Oscar Wilde described as "...knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing..."

Kirby, creator of the Audit Commission’s comprehensive performance assessment, was named as David Cameron’s new head of policy development in 2011, and led the management of departmental performance.
A consultant with KPMG, he was seconded to Conservative central office before the election where he came to be trusted by key members of the shadow Treasury team.
On his return to consultancy, he co-authored the radical report ...Payment for Success...", which called for payment by results to be “implemented aggressively, consistently and systematically” to every part of the public sector “without exception” to make the necessary financial savings.
 “People should be pretty clear that things could get even tougher over the life cycle of the Parliament,” he said. “This ruthless focus on outcomes is going to become the hallmark of public policy.”
Mr Kirby, has also worked in the Cabinet Office and for the BBC as well as the Audit Commission, where he was director of inspection and head of local government.
A beneficiary of the highly corrupting Whitehall 'revolving door' principle, whereby senior figures from the Big Four spend a period in Government, before returning to their partnerships, Kirby is a classic example – he was a senior partner at KPMG, then in February 2011 was appointed as David Cameron’s head of policy development. Until he went back to KPMG last January.
Of the apparently “respected” civil servant head of the No.10 policy unit, it was said when he was leaving his post: “The Prime minister thinks Paul did an excellent job recruiting and leading an excellent team.” 

Well, I don't know about you, but I would have thought this was fairly hollow praise indeed. Interestingly however, Kirby was not replaced by another Civil Servant, instead this crucial role reverted back to a political appointment. 

The highly influential Guido Fawkes blog reports; 

“...I am told it was Kirby’s decision to leave as he felt his main work had been done and the mid-term review was a natural point to leave... That’s not what Guido is hearing though..." 

"...A government source whispers that there was actually multiple reasons for the departure. Including that he was “completely useless”  had“ no political nous” and a “totally bureaucratic mindset.” More embarrassingly, details are emerging of a tantrum resulting in Kirby returning to KPMG:.."

“...He completely humiliated himself by demanding a promotion to permanent secretary. When he was told he had no chance, he opted to flounce out of government altogether rather than take a job in another department.”

Well, with no sense of modesty or even shame, Kirby now feels free to pontificate on education policy. In his own recent blog he utters the following gems!

"...What about this for a simple manifesto promise – “From September 2016, all state funded schools will, by law, provide 45 hours of education per week for 45 weeks of the year”. 

"...This increase by two-thirds in the time that kids spend at school is designed to allow all parents to work full-time without the need for additional childcare. It gives teachers the same sort of working week and annual holidays as other hard working professionals. It’s disruptive enough to be a real game changer in education, in employment and the economy more generally..." 

What this modern day Gradgrind -  (the notorious headmaster in Charles Dicken's novel Hard Times who is dedicated to the pursuit of profitable enterprise. His name is now used generically to refer to someone who is hard and only concerned with cold facts and numbers) - fails to understand is that teachers are already putting in very long days already, and their commitment to their job does not finish at 3.20pm, and most of them are at their desks at 7.30am in the morning.

My son and daughter are both teachers, and I know that they both start even earlier and are rarely away from their schools before 6.00pm in the evening, and this does not include the days when they have management meetings, or parent-teacher evenings to provide.

Mr Gradgrind Kirby apparently does not realise that future lessons have to be planned; teaching collateral identified and reproduced (because so many schools do not have enough text books for each child to have one of their own); Powerpoint presentations to be designed, pupils' work to be marked and a plethora of bureaucratic form filling to be completed.

When does this silly man think this work will get done, if not after the school day? You will note that he reverts to the traditional right-wing model of seeking to generate division between working groups by stimulating envy of the putative disparity in working hours enjoyed by teachers. Listen, bean counter, if you had to pay teachers by the hours that they really put in each day, the country couldn't afford it!

Not in the least embarrassed by his opening nonsenses, Gradgrind Kirby then starts to insult the very teachers we need to rely on to keep our schools operating. He states;

"...We will come to the education arguments (and the teacher fury) in a moment. But the role schools play in our national and family life is far too important to leave to teachers. And it’s certainly too important to leave to their knee-jerk, as opposed to thoughtful, responses..."

This is clearly not a very nice, nor a very informed man.

His blog piece is stuffed full, as you would expect from an accountant, with lots of statistics and figures. He has accountants' explanations for everything, coupled with statistics that make one's eyes glaze over with incomprehension. But these are figures for statistics' sake, they do take into consideration the realities and the practicalities of every-day teaching in the state sector.

He equates teachers with the role of child-minders. He states; !... Full-time school should provide all the free childcare that most people could want..."

When he isn't turning teachers into free nannies, he is offering them another role as prison warders. He states; "... 30% of all youth offending happens between 3 and 6pm each day, in the period between school finishing and parents getting home. Full time school would eliminate this period, the peak period of youth offending..." 
It is absolutely pointless seeking to make viable comparisons with teaching statistics from other countries. Frankly, it is pointless trying to make comparisons between the average state school and the average fee-paying or independent school.

The reality is that for children to do well at school and to take full advantage of the facilities that are on offer, they have to get to school in a fit state to engage with the process.

Both my son and daughter tell us, their parents, about some of the problems they have to confront daily, trying to deal with disruptive kids who don't want to work, don't want to conform to even the modern concept of acceptable classroom behaviour; who aren't interested in studying; who cannot see the point of contributing towards their education in the hope that they will achieve satisfactory grades, and whose behaviour can disrupt an entire classroom, wasting a significant amount of time.

My daughter most recently had to sort out a fight between two young boys in her junior school class, one of whom had spat in the face of the other. My son who teaches teenagers most recently was confronted by a youth who simply refused to do any work or contribute to the lesson, and who sat, vocally abusing my son, insulting him and showing a significant lack of respect, merely as a means of seeking attention.

If Michael Gove and those who advise him really wanted to make a difference in the state learning process, the first thing they must do is to stop blaming the teachers for the failures in the state school system.

They have to realise that without basic discipline and an environment where children want to work, teachers, no matter how good they are, can do nothing. An inspired and gifted teacher is rendered impotent to succeed, confronted by one sociopathic child who has decided that he or she is not going to conform to even the most basic form of acceptable conduct.

In state schools, there are some children who will confront teachers regularly, they will walk out of classes, they will refuse to attend detentions, and they will seek every opportunity to attract attention. They are an utter menace to good order and discipline, but it is difficult to exclude them without very good cause, so they return daily to continue to cause trouble.

Gove and his team would do well to examine the daily diet of children in  the State sector. Many schools are now happy to offer a breakfast club to ensure that pupils get a proper meal first thing in the morning.

"... Breakfast clubs can be especially valuable for children whose parents are not able to afford to provide them with regular morning meals. They can provide both short and long term health benefits. Children who receive breakfast often perform better at learning, and can also be better behaved. Breakfast clubs can also improve the child's long term health by providing a well balanced nutritious meal. Secondary benefits of breakfast clubs include improving attendance..."

They must go further, and start to demand that parents now recognise that they owe a duty to the schools their pupils attend and the teachers who educate them, to ensure that their children get proper sleep and eat sensibly and healthily; that they supervise the amount of time the children spend on-line and using electronic games; and that they acknowledge that the disciplining of children is a joint function between parents and the school. At the end of the argument, it is the parents who have the primary responsibility, no matter what the excuses or the extenuating circumstances, to ensure that their child knows the rules and how to behave when attending school.

If Gove and those who advise him want to have any sensible input to making long-lasting changes in the state school process, the best thing they could do is to focus their attention on the parents, to ensure the highest standards of discipline; to minimise the level of disruptive behaviour and to make sure that their children attend school in a fit and proper state to receive tuition.

Even better would be that they implemented a 5-year moratorium on any more changes or reforms or radicalisations in the teaching process, and offered instead a 'hands-off' policy, instead of harassing teachers at every conceivable turn.