Mike Vickers' Blog

July 4, 2016

The Land of Lost Content

Filed under: Education, Personal, Poetry, Sustainability, War — derryvickers @ 7:44 pm

 

As a child I lived in Congleton in East Cheshire

I was able to walk and cycle freely wherever I liked.  I and my friend would be out for hours and my parents never worried.

A favourite place was up to Mow Cop.

Mow Cop

The Folly of Lost Content

though I suspect the way up has changed a lot since then.

I fear that kids can’t do that anymore.  It’s a great pity (and nothing to do with the EU)

Why do I remember this now – its because a book has just been released on A E Housman.

Housman composed a slim book of poems ‘A Shropshire Lad’.

The book was reputed to be carried by solders on the Front in WW1 and I can understand why.

However Housman also wrote the verse:

The Land of Lost Content

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A. E. Housman

Malvern Hills

Malvern Hills like Shropshire and the Long Mynd

 

 

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April 10, 2016

DHI Seminar ‘Providing Independent Advice to Government: difficult choices and managing tensions’

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 10:04 pm

The David Hume Institute seminar was given by Naomi Eisenstadt in the Standard Life Building in Edinburgh

A few comments on the seminar.

  1. Despite her name Naomi is American rather than a German
  2. Appointed as independent adviser on Child Poverty to Scottish Government
  3. Scotland is different from California
    1. White bread  > brown bread > with jam then milk
  4. Poverty is not the same as inequality
  5. How poor is poor – numbers resonate
  6. More than ½ the adults in poverty have a job
  7. That a child is physically healthy doesn’t mean that the child is not in poverty
  8. A child of wealthy parents is not in poverty, but it does not mean that the child will grow up to be a productive and healthy adult.  Some kids from wealthier families go off the rails.
  9. 90% of the children with multiple problems, not just poverty (unemployment, poor maternal mental health, poor housing,  etc,) do not wind up in the criminal justice system.  But this is 10 times the rate for the wider population,
  10. Making sure My child is OK  – All parents
  11. Expose children to ‘the world of work’ at an early age
  12. High priority on early education is a proven fact
  13. Better joining up: parents > schools > teachers
  14. Poverty will never be eradicated but can be reduced
    1. The Nordics do better – the gradient between the poor and the wealthy is less
    2. High taxes mean better social care
  15. Lower paid are less likely to go to University (not unfortunately new)
  16. Quick Wins do well but often go unnoticed
  17. Caring is very very expensive – carers need to be well paid
  18. Naomi stressed that the ‘The problem is Me’ by which she meant that much of current policy protects pensioners from the impact of austerity, but is particularly harsh on young families.  She noted that she had worked very hard, but still felt the state protects older people like her, at the cost of younger people
    1. Which I expect applied to the majority of the evenings audience
  19. Theory is fine but practice better
  20. Scotland does better than England

Eisenstadt came over as a great practitioner rather than a theorist.

For more on Naomi Eisenstadt’s recommendations to the Scottish Government see https://www.holyrood.com/articles/inside-politics/naomi-eisenstadt-scotlands-independent-adviser-poverty-and-inequality.

Interestingly no one asked about the Scottish Government’s policy for Universal Child Guardianship.

March 19, 2015

Filed under: Education, History in the making, Poetry, Travel, USA, World Class — derryvickers @ 12:27 pm

Which of these eight women put forward in the New York Times to appear on the 20 dollar bill in place of Andrew Jackson –

Sojourner Truth, Susan Anthony, Rachel Carson, Margaret Sanger, Emma Lazarus, Frances Perkins, Wilma Mankiller, Harriet Beecher Stowe

do you know.?

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/03/18/putting-a-woman-on-the-20-bill

I admit I had heard only of two of them.

Emma Lazarus, a poet, who supported the immigrant cause penned the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. I had not known or had forgotten the inscription:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

An inscription that all of us in the UK should revere in the period up to the May election.

February 26, 2015

David Hume Institute – Politicians & Professionals series

Filed under: DHI SPIF, economics, Education, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 12:17 pm

 

A series of five lectures given by the five Party Leaders in Scotland at this time.

The four I went to were in order Ruth Davidson for the Conservatives, Patrick Harvie for the Greens, Jim Murphy for Labour and Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP.  I missed Willie Rennie for the Lib Dems.

How did their policies for Scotland compare.  Well they had a surprisingly lot of common round.

  1. Murphy and Sturgeon were singing from the same song sheet on education and levelling the playing field; even Davidson considered Scotland needs to be more meritocratic; children from the poorer areas of Glasgow need to have the same opportunities as the rest.
  2. Further Education should be equally prised as Higher Education
  3. Scotland needs to get people back to work: Murphy, the unemployed while Sturgeon the Mums – she advocates Child Care to do so
  4. Murphy and Sturgeon were again singing on a Fairer Scotland.  Harvie brought up employers reneging on conditions in the work place
  5. Both Harvie and Murphy attacked zero hours contracts
  6. All except Sturgeon seemed to agree that Scotland is too centralised and power needs to be distributed. Sturgeon however did mention the Community Empowerment Bill before parliament at this time and she did recognised that for education there is a balance between the centre and the councils – is education ring fenced or not
  7. The oil is a dying commodity but we should be harnessing all that expertise in Aberdeen
  8. Of course there were differences: Davidson is for cutting taxes rather than Scotland going Nordic, Murphy reminded us of the Mansion Tax and 50p in the £ for high earners while Sturgeon said that the Smith Commission would help but not enough of tax raising under Scottish control.
  9. Davidson was the only one to talk about defence but even she didn’t tackle Trident nor was she pressed by the audience
  10. Harvie made the point that people now look at life as a ‘hotel’; you take the room, pay for the service and move on; and I would expect all four politicians would agree with this sentiment in their own different ways.
  11. As Harvie said in respect of the Bedroom Tax there was a high degree of unanimity between Labour and SNP  in Scotland and agreement on the way forward could have been reached a lot earlier if the two parties hadn’t automatically taken up their usual antagonist positions.  It may be time for the Scottish Parliament as a whole to take a more active part in moving Scotland forward without the need for usual party warring.

So what about the performers themselves

  1. Patrick Harvie in my view gave the weakest performance possibly because the Greens politics is all things to all green thinking men.
  2.  Jim Murphy was not consistent in his delivery trying to tackle all Scottish problems as he sees them in the 45 mins allotted – he is of course on an uphill battle in trying to win back Labour voters and may well have been tired.
  3. Nicola Sturgeon gave the most polished speech (and was the only one on time!) and stood up to answer questions, but maybe somewhat complacent – her time will come when she has to put her policies into practice – I noted already a careful keeping of her power dry.
  4. To me Ruth Davidson was the easiest to listen to and faced the audience all the time and her position is somewhat easier as as she recognised the Scottish Tories have a long way to go and she will be considered to have succeeded if she makes any headway in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon – An Educational System for Everyone- the Foundation of a Fairer Scotland

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Left Politics, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 12:14 pm

 

Nicola Sturgeon at the David Hume Institute

The fifth and final lecture by Scottish Political Leaders

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, gave a very polished lecture and answered the questions with verve and composure.

But what did she say; well not that much.  Sturgeon focused, as her title suggested, on education in Scotland limiting her scope and the questions arising:

  1. The Education system in Scotland at present is not fair.  Opportunities for children favour the better off.  This is shown in children’s vocabularies – those from the poor schools are 13 months behind those from the well off.  The lower 20% do ½ as well as the well off.
  2. Education is not just for its own sake;  the economy is dependent on a qualified workforce.
  3. Scotland as part of the UK is suffering from the Coalition’s austerity programme –all three main parties in Westminster are equally culpable.  Against this, Scotland is doing its best to mitigate the effect of the austerity.
  4. Scotland has more university places per head of population save only for Finland
  5. Scotland has introduced its Curriculum for Excellence and this is going well.  Nevertheless Scotland is happy to learn from elsewhere – witness Sturgeon’s recent visit to Blue Gate Fields junior in Tower Hamlets.
  6. Head Teachers will be required to undergo retraining and achieve new qualifications; focus on ‘Doing rather than Being’
  7. Scotland is targeting from the early years and is introducing Child Care to get the Mums back to work
  8. Education is not just 5 to 18 but is life-long and adults also need to learn
  9. Scotland also recognises the need to bolster Apprenticeships and these have risen by 1/3 over the last 5 years.  The Government has taken on the Wood Report in full
  10. In questioning she emphasised that Councils are responsible for education in their regions and recognised that 2 Councils had reduced school hours and teachers employed.  The Government was in negotiation and in any case a Council’s educational budget is ring fenced.  Sturgeon stated that there is a balance of responsibility between Central Government and the Councils – and I got the impression that the point of balance could change!
  11. The Governments policy is free school meals for all – there should be no stigma to the less well off
  12. Sturgeon recognised the problem of private schools but the playing field has to become level.   I did not catch her solution
  13. Teaching is not just the prerogative of the school teachers but the parents need to play their part.  Communities need to help here and Sturgeon mentioned the Community Empowerment Bill going through Parliament at this time (though such help must tend to upset the level of the playing field)

Sturgeon finished by emphasising that she is passionate about education and  that the inequality in Education has to be sorted; in her view everyone needs to be brought up to the same level for Scotland to prosper economically and to flourish.

February 10, 2015

Tim Benton – Can we do it sustainably

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Sustainability, World Class — derryvickers @ 5:28 pm

A lecture at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 9th February 2015

Tom Benton is Global Food Security Champion He made a number of critical points on world growth and how and if it could be sustainable

  1. There are 805 million in the world hungry; there are 1 million people in the UK in food poverty
  2. All of us eat the wrong food. 2/3 of the food eaten is wheat, rice and maize; if we include sugar, barley, soya, palm oil and potato we get up to 86%
  3. The world population will increase from the current 7 billion to 10 billion by 2050
  4. Food for Europe comes through the Suez Canal – an interruption in flow and Europe would be in crisis – there aren’t enough ships to go via the Cape
  5. The World will be 4* hotter; it’s not the average temperature that matters to growing plants it’s the maximums which could 6* or 7* above the average – at 35*C maize will not grow
  6. 70% of water used for agriculture; 1 kg meat takes 10/12 tons of water for production; a green bean from Kenya takes 1 gallon of water
  7. Eat local food , it saves water and carbon
  8. After continuous increase in crop yields now starting to drop off
  9. Need to reduce demand for food
  10. 1/3 of food wasted – 3 for 1 but best by today.
    1. The need for supermarkets to always have food available requires that they have 200% resilience
    2. Our food laws have stopped recycling of waste
  11. Health cost is £2,500 per person per year in the UK
  12. 50% of Chinese heading for diabetes
  13. In 2050 we will be eating more than the World has produced so far; needed 120% more water 40% more crop land 10% less forest
  14. Loss of biodiversity
  15. Agriculture produces more carbon than cars
  16. A plea for more horticultural research
  17. Food sales dominated by Marketing and supermarkets. Remember that supermarkets provide the food that we want to buy. The answer is a change in us not the supermarkets – if we change our eating habits then supermarkets will change what they sell.  A bottom up approach is needed
  18. During WW2 we got it right

December 4, 2014

Education policy and Scottish autonomy: the end of a common British tradition?

Filed under: Education, Left Politics, Lesley Riddoch, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 11:26 am

I attended this Royal Society of Edinburgh event on Monday (1 Dec 14) to hear Professor Lindsay Paterson give an excellent lecture followed by very good questions and apposite answers.

Paterson prefaced his lecture by stating that he wanted to cover three topics: free tertiary education, secondary schooling and the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence.

Starting with free tertiary education whilst the tuition fees are free in Scotland and continue to saw in England, as bursaries are available in each country he considered the difference is more than it is cracked up to be.

To Secondary education he pointed out that the difference between Scotland and England is one of degree – Scotland introduced what were grammar schools first; these took in many who were unable to pay their fees; these have become half of the private schools in Scotland. The later ones such as Fetters are the equivalent of the English public schools. But most children continue to be educated by council funded schools.

To the Curriculum of Excellence again Scotland has stuck to its old tradition of providing a broad education through schooling whilst England has moved to specialisation much earlier in the school life time. Scottish education follows more closely the broad base while English education is now more capitalist oriented.

Paterson relates education to the welfare state which dates back to 1948. Education has changed since then but it remains largely democratic and in this respect Paterson considers ‘democracy’ works pretty well.

In summary Paterson felt that if education between Scotland and England was ideologically different then Scotland would have been right to become independent; in contrast he considers that education between the two states is one of degree. Scotland and England are both party to European Liberalism.

In support of this view Paterson reviewed the differences the recent surveys have shown between Scotland and England and concludes that while Scotland is to the left of England it is hardly statistically significant.

However Paterson recognises that such academic views as his, had little to do with the outcome of the Referendum and he was happy to quote Hume to a RSE audience ‘reason is the slave of passion’.

More specifically to the Referendum Paterson is scathing about the quality of debate; the No campaign was bereft of any substance while the Yes campaign was intellectually dishonest. The only politicians he had any time for were Nicola Sturgeon and Gordon Brown – in his view if you were to transport them back in time to 1948 they would both have been on the same side. If there is to be another Referendum then he quotes Pat Kane as saying there must be some hard thinking.

To some of questions he felt that

  • nationalism was inculcated pre-school
  • knowledge is education
  • gender equality is good in education and the public office but less so in private industry. It will take 50 years to really become a reality and then only if it is globally acceptable
  • Scotland never gave up its educational stance following 1707 and has always recognised there is a path from the parish school to the university
  • Oh and there was a quote from Lesley Riddoch but I didn’t take it down.
  • We tell ourselves that we are fundamentally different from England even if we aren’t.

But please note that Paterson spoke at a machine run pace and I may well have missed some points or misheard others. There is to be an audio recording on the web in due course so I will try and update the above when it becomes available.

November 20, 2014

Aesop and the position of the West in the World today

Filed under: Education, In Our Time, Philosophy, Poetry — derryvickers @ 10:23 am

To those who are addicted to In Our Time hosted by Melvyn Bragg; today he and his guests were talking about Aesop and his fables.  Simon Goldhill near the close of the programme made the very relevant comment that we in the West are still profoundly influenced by Greek culture.  We are introduced to this culture through Aesop and his fables right from the start of our lives and as we get older so Socrates, Plato and Aristotle break through.  There’s an interesting book by Ferdinand Mount ‘Full Circle’ where he sets out How the Classical World came back to us – perhaps it never went away.

But we need to remember that we in the West are so indoctrinated by the Classical World when working with people from other cultures that they have equally valid cultures too.

November 27, 2013

“The evolving Scottish Labour market; how the College sector fits in”

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 10:44 am

On this auspicious day, 26 November 13, when the Scottish Government issued its White Paper on Scottish Independence  I cast my mind back only as far as the evening before to the David Hume Institute’s  seminar and Professor Keep’s realistic assessment of the evolving Scottish Labour market.  There is little he said that gave me any assurance that the situation would be any different whatever the Independence decision.  As I picked up, not only is the demand for jobs low and what there are for low skills, but that the demand for such jobs that there are, are over-subscribed.  One consequence is that there is little incentive for business managers to provide their low level low paid employees to any training.

He quoted statistics that 18% of Scottish employees are paid less than the ‘living wage’; just 2% better than for the UK as a whole.  Even managers in the catering business are paid no more than 25p – 50p above the national wage.  Somewhat surprisingly he stated that those on the lowest pay are complexed and uncertain of their future and subject to high risk. But then it’s a situation, which fortunately, I have never had to experience.  Despite this Professor Keep stated that  UK workforce is the 2nd highest qualified workforce in (Europe).

Both Professor Keep and Mandy Exley, Principal of Edinburgh College, the other speaker,  did agree that there could be hope in putting employees, managers and trainers together to see if there could be some synergy in creating training programmes that not only give job satisfaction to employees but increase productivity leading to more profitability.  In this respect they considered the Wood Committee report gives hope:

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Education/edandtrainingforyoungple/commissiondevelopingscotlandsyoungworkforce.

Ms Exley quotes the very encouraging statistics that for the Edinburgh College 30% of the students come from the lowest paid 20% of the population.  She was particularly pleased with the College’s courses in engineering tied to the oil and gas and the renewables businesses  and would like to expand  the College’s experience to tackle the care, tourist and hospitality businesses, although she recognised that these are more ‘horizontal’ (which I take to be broad based) than engineering.

Nevertheless Professor Keep came back to the point that, despite the desire to increase job skills at the bottom end of the job market, there will always be the lowly jobs that have to be done by someone.

April 22, 2013

FinchleyStrasse

Filed under: Education, Personal — derryvickers @ 11:30 am

Radio 4 – A nice wee programme today Thursday 22 April 2013 at 11am on FinchleyStrasse ie Finchley Road.

Why did it appeal to me? because my Cousin used to live in Swiss Cottage in Fairfax Road just off the Finchley Road.  I spent much of my teens visiting London and staying with her and I dossed done when I took up my first job in Slough.

To the programme – it was all about the Jewish émigrés from Vienna who escaped from the Nazis and how they frequented the Cosmo café – just like they did in Vienna, and John Barnes (a John Lewis shop) was the main shopping attraction and how the Finchley Road had an avenue of trees down the centre until modernity bulldozed then away when the Finchley Road had become the main artery into London from the North.

If you move fast you can hear the programme at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s09k1

And you might enjoy a piece by Dannie Abse writing about his early days at the Cosmo café and the Everyman in Hampstead.

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9mEaq9FJWnIC&pg=PA7&lpg=PA7&dq=cosmo+cafe+finchley+road&source=bl&ots=F3pxRJeeSd&sig=w8QbmNyImeq_-TGcAKNNytgfpeg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3RZ1UbKpH4TFswbYqYHICg&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=cosmo%20cafe%20finchley%20road&f=false

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