Payment by results: what’s the reward for culture change?

In the last three days I’ve been on the road, meeting people, enjoying the new train franchises (up to a point) and promoting the future (cautiously). In addition, magpie-like, I’ve been picking up trifles to feather the Word of the Day nest. No new words, but reading free papers in the hotels I was delighted by two items that made me think there’s scope for a series on business and education when I run out of words for the day:

Carpetright chief piles on the incentives for academy teachersFinancial Times, 28 November 2007
“When it comes to hiring and retaining teaching talent for his academy schools, Lord Harris of Peckham, chairman and chief executive of the Carpetright chain, has got it covered. Successful applicants can look forward not only to bonuses of up to £200 under a novel payment-by-results scheme, but also 15 per cent off all their flooring needs at any one of the outposts of his carpet empire.”

The paper adds (in anticipation, I assume, of the derision of its normal readership): “The scale of inducements being considered may seem modest by City standards.” At least the FT had the wisdom to provide a little background on payment by results, including a critical comment from Headteacher – sorry: ‘High Master’ – and former English teacher Martin Stephen, of St Paul’s School, London: ‘Mr Stephen concluded: “You are actually damaging the child.”‘

Excellence, outcomes and culture change
The Independent, meanwhile carried an advertisement from The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). (In a strange link, someone told me this week that she remembered the Department’s new initials by calling it the ‘Department for Curtains and Soft Furnishings’; are they sponsored by Carpetright too?) Anyway, DCSF have ‘launched a bidding process to award a grant to deliver the business of the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (CfEO) in Children and Young People’s Services.’ That’s quite convoluted, isn’t it? ‘To award… to deliver the business..’. Doesn’t one ‘carry out’ a business? Ah, but the CfEO ‘will likely be a virtual body’, which explains a lot, such as the brief ‘to influence the required practice and culture change’. As if changing the culture weren’t enough (getting rid of post-modernism, perhaps, and re-introducing logical positivism?), the CfEO has also ‘to support a focus on outcomes and action’ – rather than ‘a soft focus on soft furnishings’?

Sorry, I can’t link to the advertisement itself (when I tried the ‘Independent’ website said it was an ‘IllegalArgumentException: No bean specified’, old bean…), so those big enough for blue skies thinking on culture change need to go to the Every Child Matters site.

Stephen rightly said this kind of thing was self-parodying, so I apologise that I couldn’t resist the extra jibes.

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Blam! There goes a clanger

There’s a strange headline on the main comment piece in the Times Educational Supplement on this week (23 November, page 28): ‘Politicians, don’t play the blam game.’ I thought this was a play on some new edu-jargon, but either I’m very dense or ‘blam’ was the sound of the TES dropping a clanger. That was a pity when the comment is making the very reasonable point that for all the talk of freeing the teachers from oppressive educational establishment, it’s government edicts, tests and targets that make the real establishment – and the Tories, with their talk of insisting on synthetic phonics, reading tests at age 6 and unannounced inspections, are no better.

A few pages earlier there’s a photograph of a placard with the words: ‘CAPITOL PUNISHMENT’ – which on inspection was a call to hang Ian Brady and Maxine Carr, not to impeach the US President. I suspect the sub-editor selecting that picture felt the mistake offered a silent comment on the placard’s sentiments – a pity that the sub-ed for page 28 wasn’t so self-aware. Unfortunately you can’t see this online as the TES restricts access to a few teaser articles until a week after publication, by which time I expect they will have corrected it.

‘Their name liveth for evermore’

Remembrance Day round-up

War MemorialThe period running up to Armistice Day (November 11th) usually produces a little crop of poignant stories, including both official British Legion publicity to news stories deemed apposite at this time of year. The Poppy Appeal this year featured McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, the original inspiration for the adoption of artificial poppies after the Great War (at first, it seems, by an American woman who arranged for artificial poppies to be made by women in war-ravaged northern France to help provide for children who had suffered because of the war). The Legion understandably wanted to use McCrae to support the Poppy appeal, not his appeal on behalf of the dead to ‘take up our quarrel with the foe’. Background from the British Legion or, for an alternative view, the Peace Pledge Union (this link is to the education section on the Great War: Sassoon was an early sponsor of the PPU).

Two memoirs by men who served in the war were in the news. Pipe-smoking Captain Alexander Stewart recounted the “Horror and dark humour of the Somme” according to the Guardian. Better-known J B Priestley wrote of ”trenches full of heads’ in his letters from the front, again reported in The Guardian.

Two poets also drew re-evaluations: Ivor Gurney, whom Adam Thorpe describes as ‘one of the finest of his age’ in The Guardian’s review pages. Before the month was out, Vernon Scannell had died; he served in the Second World War but wrote movingly about the First in ‘The Great War’. Alan Brownjohn’s obituary appeared in The Guardian, as did a less predictable glowing tribute from Simon Jenkins, who was taught by Scannell and concludes: ‘Scannell was even better than a good poet. He could teach.’

Finally, the BBC carried the touching story of how 89 years after Stanley Cubiss drowned when HMS Opal sank off the coast of the Orkney Islands in 1918, his wedding ring was returned to the family by divers who found it at the bottom of the sea.